I’ve managed UX teams at Google for nearly a decade. As a result, I’m frequently asked, “What are your tips for success at Google?” It’s usually not what you learned in school.
To set yourself up for a successful UX career, you need to shift your mindset from that of a product designer to a product owner by embracing the business side of design. While it’s difficult to change your thinking habits, it goes along way in making you more effective—both with your immediate team and in the partnerships you need to forge to turn your ideas into fully realized products. Here’s how that’s possible.
Learn how to “speak shark”
I am a huge fan of the reality TV show Shark Tank. For those not familiar, the basic premise is that entrepreneurs come out and pitch their business or product ideas to an audience of seasoned, successful businesspeople— the Sharks. Sharks grill the “guppies,” asking them detailed questions about how they’ll take their products to market, how they’ll make money, what their sales projections will be, and so on. Sharks then make offers to invest, so entrepreneurs get knowledgeable investors, Sharks get equity, and everyone wins. Or, quite often, everyone loses.
The antics of this entrepreneurial pressure-cooker are entertaining, but the show also demonstrates that business acumen and product savviness go a long way when trying to sell your ideas. The more knowledgeable and business-smart an entrepreneur is, the better they do under questioning. It’s an immensely valuable skill. I call this “speaking shark.” It means thinking like a CEO.
Fully understanding the product area you’re working in is one of the best ways UXers can position themselves as experts, united in true partnerships with both cross-functional teams and their end users. It’s not enough to just do product research, like competitive analyses or market surveys. You are the expert on the user, and that means understanding the full landscape in which your users exist. To get the lay of the land, read industry news, and understand where that industry and competitors are going. The goal is to build a POV on the product and business.
As a manager, encourage your team to think about the following prompts:
What business are you in? What problem are we solving?
For whom? Why?
How do we compete? What is our differentiator?
How do we make money?
What is the growth strategy? What are the ecosystem risks?
Upping your vocabulary and understanding of basic business and product terminology is another fairly simple way of being able to speak shark. Get familiar with business metrics like KPI, sales revenue, net profit margin, gross margin, customer lifetime value, and product metrics like daily/monthly active users (DAU, MAU), churn rate, conversion rate, engagement etc.
The type of product you work on — subscription vs. content sites vs. API products vs. e-commerce — will determine the metrics you gather. Regardless, as a design leader, you have to be able to understand the product and business metrics to be able to demonstrate how UX drives business value.