A friend asked me if I could take a quick look at a web interface that he was building. I reviewed the site and emailed him a few usability suggestions to consider. The suggestions basically focused on his approach to include a number of additional information points that would be useful to more sophisticated IT folks like him. He didn’t realize that they could potentially add a layer of confusion for those who were less sophisticated users. A few days later, I got a return email back, thanking me for my suggestions and noting that I helped him to realize that “Just because *I* find something on the page useful doesn’t mean anyone else will.”

His email got me thinking about how usability practitioners can help stakeholders to see the world through a lens that is not just their own. Here are some thoughts on what seems to work.

“It’s low hanging fruit.”

Look for the simple tweaks that you believe will have the largest impact. Even if a stakeholder has not completely bought in to the value of a suggestion and can’t see beyond their initial lens, if it’s a small tweak that will take little time, they may be willing to do it or have it done anyway.

“I have years of experience.”

Although saying explicitly “listen to me because I know what I’m talking about” is likely to cause annoyance, sometimes referring to the many other usability tests and clients where you saw this problem emerging may help. In short, you can tell your client that (a) many others have had this same issue and (b) they fixed the issue and there was noticeable improvement in user satisfaction.

“It’s best practice.”

Sometimes noting that something is best practice is enough. Other times, clients want to see the documentation that this is, in fact, the case. If you make this claim, be prepared to back it up. Although this means being familiar at some level with the literature, things that truly are best practice can often be Googled on the fly (for example in a meeting) with a good resource uncovered very quickly.

“Let’s go ahead and check the readability of this page in Word.”

Although the Flesh-Kinkaid grade-level checker in Word is only a formula and not one that is necessarily absolutely precise, if I encounter a paragraph that users have trouble understanding, I may do a demonstration for the stakeholder, copying the text into Word and showing what the Flesh-Kinkaid grade level comes out as. Recently, a grade-level score of “22” (which can be interpreted as graduate level text) helped drive this point home.

“X number of participants experienced this problem in testing.”

Sometimes providing hard numbers or percentages from a usability test is a useful approach, particularly with clients that like to quantify problems. While usability testing is infrequently statistically significant, given what are often very small sample sizes, just noting that, for example, half of the participants that tried a task were unsuccessful may be enough to make a case.

“Let me tell you a story about this one participant.”

Sometimes it’s not hard numbers that matter, but rather the story of one participant. Telling the story, in effect presenting it as a case study, can present a justification for making a change. A single story told well can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than some generalized percentages.

“Let me show you a video to go along with my story.”

Tell your story, but if you have time, create some video clips to go along with it. I’ve seen articles written by well-known usability practitioners saying that picture-in-picture views that let you see the participants’ faces as they use the interface are not necessary. I strongly believe in capturing picture-in-picture since you’ll never know when that dramatic exclamation combined with a look of complete frustration will be captured on video. Use that clip to further enhance your story.

“You’re likely to hurt your sales.”

Sometimes you might not be able to convince your client or stakeholder to see things through another lens. So consider framing the story in their lens. If they are focused on sales or return on investment for making the change, then present your case that way and focus on how it’s good for their business.

Stakeholders will never buy into absolutely everything a usability practitioner has to say, but at least keep an open mind and a flexible approach on how you can most successfully make your usability pitch based on what might work best in any given situation.

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