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Nobody Listens to UX

Maybe nobody is listening to nobody because we’re all too busy worrying about being heard. 

Chris Kiess about main problem of UX:

If they just would have listened to the team, to UX, we could have saved them so much heartache and work!

My colleague was working on her second cup of coffee and clearly fired up for our routine morning check-in as she recounted a story I had heard so many times before. Her team had conducted their research, knew the customer and despite outlining a vision in a service line meeting, the product team had decided to go for the money.

They went in a different direction. One that favored a business case.

The results were, let’s say, less than favorable. Now, they were attempting to reboot the product in a direction that, coincidentally, aligned with the original proposal from the UX team.

“Nobody listens to UX,” she told me.

I thought about that for a long time after our conversation. I thought about how I had experienced similar situations. I’ve even said the same thing myself a number of times in my career.

Nobody listens to UX.

A few weeks after that conversation, my wife showed me a quote from the 7th President of Rice University, David W. Leebron. It was a blurb from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article featured 9 outgoing presidents who weighed in on how higher education is changing.

Leebron stated, “Being a college president is a lot like walking through a graveyard. There are a lot of people underneath you, but nobody is listening.”

This is what my colleague was telling me! This is exactly what I often say to myself — nobody is listening.

If the president of Rice University felt that nobody was listening to him, then perhaps this problem is more closely related to the human condition than our respective organizations and professions. Perhaps we shouldn’t take it so personally when a team doesn’t listen to UX.

Maybe everyone, at some level, feels no one is listening.

If you could put on Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak and walk around your organization, I bet you’d hear developers and product managers saying, “Nobody ever listens to us.” I bet there are big corporate meetings where the CEO says, “Why doesn’t anyone listen?” And I know for a fact that there is a college professor in a classroom somewhere in the world thinking in the back of her mind, “Is anyone listening to me?”

Maybe my colleague is right and no one listens to UX. But maybe UX teams do their fair share of not listening to anyone else. I don’t know.

Maybe nobody is listening to nobody because we’re all too busy worrying about being heard. I can’t help but think our organizations and our world might be a better place if we spent more time listening than fretting over being heard.

That might just be the answer. The greatest gift we can give anyone is our time — time spent listening to them. When people feel heard, they feel a connection with those willing to just listen. So, if we want to be heard, then perhaps we have to take the first step, give our time to another person and establish a connection with them.

You can be the best UX strategist, UX designer or UX researcher the world has ever seen. You can learn how to manipulate Figma with the best of them, implement ginormous design systems or build experiences that make users swoon. But UX is a people sport. And until you understand people and how to cultivate relationships, your work will largely be unappreciated and you will mostly be unheard.

It’s a chicken and egg argument. In order to be heard, we have to listen. It won’t work in every scenario. But it’s a good start.