20 Tips for Selling UX to Clients

20 Tips for Selling UX to Clients


We asked 20 UX professionals to share their tips on how to convince clients that a UX process is the best way to design (or redesign) a product or service.

Here’s what they said…

Do you ever feel like you’re banging your head against a wall when it comes to selling UX to your clients or colleagues? User-centred processes are slowly gaining traction in the mainstream, but there is still some evangelising to be done!

We asked 20 UX professionals to share their tips on how to convince clients that a UX process is the best way to design (or redesign) a product or service. Here’s what they said:

Tip #1: It’s About Them, Not About You

“Many of us feel like we’re throwing ourselves against brick walls trying to sell stakeholders on what we know is right for the organization. We see ourselves as the benevolent crusaders fighting for justice, and management as the obstinate enemy. That rarely gets us anywhere.

What if instead we took their side, vowed to serve our stakeholders with the same compassion and commitment we serve our customers. What are their problems that need to be solved? How can we make their pain go away? It is from a place of caring and listening, a position of service and partnership, that we find our way in.”
—Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) coaches leaders on how to mindfully and compassionately design their products, their companies and themselves. Her life’s mission is to put humanity back into business. 

Tip #2: Use Cheek & Charm, not Logic

“Be honest about why you really need to do something like user research—it’s not because ‘it’s the right thing to do’, but because you need information to design well. With clients who know me well, I say “I can design something decent whether we involve users or not. The difference between the two is that if I don’t involve them, we’ll make mistakes and not know we’ve made them. If we involve users at least we’ll know what we screwed up.”
—Donna Spencer

Donna Spencer is a multi-faceted designer, designing for digital, conferences and clothing. She loves working with clients who know her well enough to appreciate some cheek or silliness. You can find her on twitter @maadonna, where she rarely talks about UX, but usually motorbikes and clothes.

Tip #3: Up the Stakes in Stakeholder Walkthroughs

“Walk through your prototype with a dozen or more senior stakeholders. Don’t do it yourself. If you’re confident in your design put the mouse (or device) in the hands of the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).  Ask them to run through the prototype live, in front of everyone else.  If you fail you learned fast. You possibly failed due to constraints imposed by the HIPPO and they’ll have a new appetite to loosen them.  More likely, the HIPPO experiences just how easy it is and the other stakeholders can’t (or won’t) argue with that.  If you fail you win, if you win you win.”
—David Bradford

David Bradford is a freelancer who fell in love with UX 15 years ago. He’s indulged in his passion with the likes of Telstra, Seek, Medibank, Deloitte Digital and is currently working with the outstanding CX team at ANZ.  He offers two choices—delightfully simple experiences OR simply delightful experiences … by design.

Tip #4: Have a “Working Wall” in Your Workplace

“People are often unsure about the benefits of UX. A working wall is a visual way to show all the steps throughout a project’s lifecyle and can be a great way to showcase UX to people. You can talk to the benefits as well as indicating the time and involvement in each step.

Client can ask questions about the process and readily see your progress and the reasoning behind why different decisions were made. For others in your workplace it can be conversation starters through the visibility and openness of what it is that you are doing.”
—Natalie Eustace

Natalie Eustace is a passionate User Experience Designer working in Christchurch. She recently completed a Masters in Human Interface Technology with the HIT Lab NZ, and her work currently focuses on digital product experiences.

Tip #5: Your Last Client Can be Your Best Sales Tool

“Clients will listen to the first-hand experience that past clients have had with you. Include a brief case study and contact details in any proposal, even when working internally. This communicates your past experience, and demonstrates your confidence in the quality of your work, and it provides a very convenient way for your new client to verify for themselves what they can expect from you.”
—Steve Baty

Steve Baty is a strategic designer with 16 years of experience and is a co-Founder & Principal of Meld Studios, co-chair of UX Australia, and a former President of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)

Tip #6: Have a Process, But Don’t be Precious About It

“When introducing UX design practices into an organisation, managers and stakeholders will be reassured if they can see a process which has distinct phases, activities and outcomes. This allows them to see how a final product will be derived, and also reassures them that they can assess the project’s progress at any point. However, just as you iterate your design you should also iterate your plan. Review the plan regularly in the light of changing information and requirements. Being overly protective of the original plan could indicate a lack of confidence on the part of the UX team.”
—Shane Morris

Shane Morris has managed, mentored and trained UX design teams in consulting environments and software product firms for over 20 years. Previously a User Experience Evangelist at Microsoft, he is now Director of Automatic Studio, a small digital product design consultancy based in Australia.

Tip #7: Re-think Documents and Deliverables

“Don’t get lured into believing your detailed research reports and documentation are compelling tools to change digital experiences. Stakeholders are busy, so you need to do the hard work of finding out what needs to be done, how to do it and then tell them as succinctly as possible. Real changes can only happen if senior stakeholders understand the impact of the problems you find, and to help them you may need to re-think how you deliver your work. I’m a fan of using comics to make the on and offline journey easier to visualise.”
—Bonny Colville-Hyde

Bonny Colville-Hyde is a UK-based UX consultant with over seven years of experience working across a wide variety of sectors and clients. She co-runs the Bristol chapter of Ladies that UX, and can often be found talking about how to make UX comics.

Tip #8: Never Assume

“You are not your user. As much as you can follow patterns from others, you should not implement things just because you can. Speak to your users and find out what their primary tasks are, and not what you think they are. Real answers may surprise you.”
—Dean Birkett

Dean Birkett is a UX generalist working for Europeana, the cultural innovators. He frequently tweets on UX topics, and has a keen interest specifically in Accessibility.

Tip #9: Ask Stakeholders About the Risks of a Not “Quite Right” Site or Product

“Sometimes very little is at risk, sometimes everything is at stake. We may know that meeting user expectations is key to the success of a site, app or product, but only your stakeholders can tell you if this is something they want to spend time finding out before they launch. It is essential they understand and own the risk should they decide to postpone tasks that will impact on the experience being delivered.”
—Sally Bieleny

Sally Bieleny is a consultant and user experience specialist who has been helping people use technology for 15 years. She is a member of the innovation team at Object Consulting and has spent the past five years building and now leading their national User Experience Practice.

Tip #10: Use a Low Fidelity Prototype to Gain Buy-in from Stakeholders and Management

“Stakeholders and management are much more likely to get on board if they can see and interact with a low fidelity version of what you are proposing. It doesn’t have to be perfect or use any fancy tools. The best low fidelity prototype I’ve ever seen was done in MS PowerPoint and it was very successful. As an added bonus you can use it for early testing and co-design activities.”
—Ashlea McKay

Ashlea McKay is a UX designer with an industrial design background with extensive experience in conducting user research activities and facilitating usability evaluations. Ashlea has recently launched her own blog and is also a guest blogger for Optimal Workshop.

Tip #11: More Conversation, Fewer Wireframes

“Selling UX to clients is much more about explaining our approach to UX, which tends to involve lots of conversations, workshops and sketches, over big documents and reams of wireframes.”
—Andy Budd

Andy Budd is a founding partner of Clearleft and the author of CSS Mastery. He also curates the dConstruct and UX London events and is responsible for Silverback, a low-cost usability testing application for the Mac.

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Tip #12: Face-to-face Contact is Key

“Emailing Usability reports to stakeholders is pointless, face to face presentation is the way to go. So fight all the way for that meeting its the only way to emphasis the importance of UX. And also more visual and less text.”
—Paddy Breslin

Paddy Breslin is a long time Graphic Designer making the transition into UX. He is based on Ireland’s fantastic west coast and a massive fan of vintage VWs.

Tip #13: If Users Don’t Exist, Look for Analogous Users to Study

“Stakeholders may dismiss the idea of user research because they are focused on creating a product that doesn’t yet exist, and therefore users don’t exist. Help them see the value of the design process by identifying analogous users you can learn from. Find users who are addressing the need you’ve identified in other ways (i.e., organizing something manually instead of through your yet-to-be-launched app), or who have adopted a disruptive technology in a different but parallel category (i.e., Kindle users).

Remind them that at this stage in the process your aren’t trying to test a solution but rather gain more perspective on what the opportunities are in the unmet need you are all focused on addressing.”
—Steve Portigal

Steve Portigal is the founder of Portigal Consulting, a boutique San Francisco agency that helps companies to be more innovative. He is the author of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights and curates the growing archive of fieldwork War Stories

Tip #14: For Every Point You Fight For, Have Data to Support It

“Teams can spend a lot of time solving the wrong problem which can dramatically skew the thought process and direction of the project. I’ve found the most effective way to sell UX to clients is to ensure you first identify the real problem, and  present it alongside an amazing solution that is backed up with data.  When you are selling your solution, stand your ground and let the data talk for itself, very seldom have I seen anyone argue with data.”
—Russ Morgan

Russell Morgan is a UX Director and Entrepreneur. He has Over 7 years experience in the digital development industry, and is the co-founder of UXMNL, a User Experience Design agency, and Foolproof Labs a mobile & web production house, both based in Manila, the Philippines.

Tip #15: Get Some Smaller Wins on the Board

“Redesigning may sound scary to a client who is not well acquainted with the UX process. To tackle this, try making small changes to your design and explain how your minor design iterations would help increase users’ time spent on a page, encourage more sign ups, etc. Winning the small battles helps you gain the trust you’ll need later on to tackle a larger chunk of the project.”
—Izwan Ismail

Izwan Ismail leads the UX division at VLT Labs, a Malaysia-based startup studio that partners with founders to build and innovate tech products. Izwan founded UX Malaysia, a community concentrated on the growth and evangelism of User Experience in Malaysia. Izwan is an Industrial Designer by training.

Tip #16: Be a Problem-solver, Not a Roadblock

“Make stakeholders lives easier by clearly communicating how your design will solve their business problems and support their objectives. Use evidence, gathered from data and UX research, to communicate why your design will be an effective solution.”
—Chris Gray

Chris Gray is a UX Research and Designer with 15 years of experience. He has worked with SEEK, Coles, ANZ, Liquorland, Telstra, and Honda, helping them to solve business problems by focussing on the customer.

Tip #17: Take People on the Journey

“Springing a design solution onto your clients, stakeholders or management can be scary for you and for them. Take people along the journey—bring them along to user research sessions to participate in analysis and co-design sessions. Failing that, set context by telling the story that lead to your design in the first place. What was the problem you’re solving, who was involved in the research and design, what you learned from your journey. Tell a story. Make it human. Make it personal.”
—Ruth Ellison

Ruth Ellison is a UX designer, geek and Maker. She has over 12 years of experience creating inclusive user experiences for government and private industries. In her spare time, she creates science themed jewellery with her laser and 3D printer, under her design label CrankyBot.

Tip #18: Remember your Clients are Human, too

“The sentence, “It works better for your multi-channel strategy to align this interaction model this emotion” does not sound like a real sentence that comes out of a real human. When explaining or selling UX ideas to clients, remember, they are human too, much like the users that you are designing for. Explain your UX decisions by talking about the human intention and reasons.”
—Cathy Wang

Cathy Wang has worked across the globe in North America, EU, and MENA serving the worlds biggest corporations providing innovation consulting. Cathy builds businesses and open new markets based on the belief that the design thinking can really change the world.

Tip #19: Back Yourself

“Own your UX knowledge and expertise by being transparent and bold in what you do. Choose how much you fit into an existing workplace culture, and whose toes you need to gently stand on. Use your big-picture understanding to encourage context-sensitive, lean design practices that bring the true nature of your project work to light faster and with greater focus on the actual experience being designed. At the end of the day, transparency, openness and adaptability matched with a strong vision will both give your client confidence and ultimately make your work better.”
—Luke Chambers

General tinkerer, web tailor, user-centred design soldier and tall-ship sailor, Luke Chambers is one half of the founding partnership behind UX Mastery. When not flying by the seat of his pants in UX projects (with a healthy respect for the ground) he likes sailing tall ships, writing retro detective fiction and gardening with his three chooks.

Tip #20: Involve Stakeholders in Usability Testing Sessions

“Real users are ideal participants for your usability testing sessions, but if you need buy-in from stakeholders, getting them to participate in these tests can also be invaluable—mostly because it will help them see the value of what you’re doing, which can often result in them becoming allies later in the project.”
—Matthew Magain

Matthew Magain is a designer, illustrator and entrepreneur from Melbourne who freelances under the name of Useractive. He enjoys sketchnoting at conferences and spends his spare time writing and illustrating children’s books.

Do you have any great tips for selling UX to clients or colleagues? Let us know in the comments!

Written by
Luke Chambers
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