An interesting story plays out in the lives of User Experience professionals working in large corporations across the globe each day. Just like in nature, where the king of the jungle rules by fear, respect, and sheer exertion of power, the business realm is often ruled by a similar creature—the HiPPO (“Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”).
The HiPPO is a force to be reckoned with, deriving his/her power from years of corporate ladder-climbing, having won many battles by sheer determination and intuition. The HiPPO did not achieve this status by accident. They are smart, adaptable business people, ripe with experience and success. Unfortunately, HiPPO’s often have the least contact with users and likely have minimal understanding of a customer’s wants, needs and expectations.
User experience designers are tasked with an incredibly diverse set of requirements, many of which are either ignored, “taken under advisement” or worse, acknowledged but dismissed by the HiPPO. These situations, while often frustrating, re-enforce the deep need for someone to come to the aid of those who can and will veto decisions based on a gut-feeling. It is a tenuous and often unspoken struggle against the uninformed, under-advised “hunch”-ers. It is an unfortunate battle. One that must be waged, not with blood or tears, but with data, research and education.
Everyone loves to be proven right. The HiPPO is no exception. One of the best things you can do to help change this creature’s behavior and potentially impact the overall culture of the company is to begin with data. The only thing better than having real, measurable data to justify design decisions is having brought this data to the HiPPO early on, helping them understand the various data points being measured and providing context in which to make decisions. Data reduces the opportunity for decisions based purely on “experience.”
Data alone is not enough to counter the gravitational pull of the HiPPO’s self-confidence. Research is another key ingredient in turning the HiPPO into a hero. Data requires thoughtful analysis in order to provide meaningful insights. Gathering internal and external benchmarks as well as competitor data can also help clarify and justify the motivation behind key decisions. Research creates the data-backed story that can guide a product to success.
Finally, you must understand that the HiPPO has a fundamental belief that he/she is always right (and they often are). Unfortunately, this mindset stifles creative thinking and problem solving in others. The easiest way to combat this is by educating the HiPPO without them feeling like they are being told something they don’t know. Leverage ideas they have proposed in the past, strengths they possess or ways in which their expertise can be best utilized. If you can help to educate the HiPPO—giving them a window into the heart and mind of the customer—you will go a long way in helping them feel ownership of the ideas being proposed and at the same time give the user a voice they normally don’t have.
There can be little doubt that this will take more time and energy. But if you want to turn your HiPPO into a UX Hero, providing them with data, research and education gives them a chance to see how user-centric design thinking can create a more viable product. And hopefully, turn them into the champion of a new culture within the organization.
Good luck. It’s a jungle out there.