5 articles to convince leaders that design and usability matters

5 articles to convince leaders that design and usability matters

A curated list of articles suggested by the larger design community

Daniel Burka

Daniel Burka

03-Sep-2019, 3 minute read

We asked the larger design community for suggestions. People came through with excellent suggestions and we thought it would be helpful to share them with you:

Human-Centered Design and Performance Improvement: Better Together

New England Journal of Medicine, June 2018

A really useful article about human-centered design at Kaiser Permanente (a large US health system) and the impact on healthcare quality and safety gains over the past two decades. This article applies particularly well to a health audience, but is applicable across the board.

The Business Value of Design

McKinsey Quarterly, October 2018

Regardless of what you think of McKinsey (and we have mixed feelings) this high level article on design’s value makes a compelling case backed up with performance metrics. The charts are excellent and the authors make a strong case that design reduces costs and drives value — compelling to business leaders and government officials who deal with budgets.

De-risking custom technology projects: A handbook for state budgeting and oversight

18F, August 2019

18F is a part of the United States government. They recently published this excellent 40-page handbook to reduce waste in government technology projects by using modern development practices like agile and human-centered design. The very first chapter is “Basic principles of modern software design” and jumps right into the value of human-centered design practices. The document is a gem.

The Total Economic Impact of IBM’s Design Thinking Practice

Forrester, February 2018

This article is a bit more specific to ‘design thinking’ than to design generally. If you are looking to convince a government team to adopt design thinking practices, this article makes great arguments. The authors write in the language of business, using terms like ROI (return on investment) and NPV (net present value), which might convince for your audience.

Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

Neilsen Normal Group, January 2012

This isn’t the freshest article, but veteran usability expert Jakob Nielsen makes a clear, plain-spoken case for investing in usability. If you are struggling to explain usability and the importance of user research to someone important, this short article is an excellent primer.

What makes an article convincing?

For us, the best articles about design and usability are:

  1. Written in the language of leaders. Outcomes, money, time, effort, human resources, and return on investment.
  2. Backed up with evidence. Too many design articles make claims without the types of compelling evidence that will convince leaders.
  3. To-the-point. Leaders have many people trying to change their minds. Giving a health minister a whole book (like Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think) is a big ask. Likewise, suggesting they read everything on the wonderful UK Government Digital Service blog is a chore. Focused, to-the-point articles are a great resource.
  4. Built on stories that leaders will recognize. It’s ideal to share stories from within government to a deputy minister or from within a health system to a hospital manager. Stories from a Silicon Valley startup aren’t very compelling to government officials who will ask, “How does this apply to me?”

Articles aren't silver bullets

As many smart people rightly pointed out, articles on their own may not be very effective. Convincing decision-makers requires building relationships and often showing them the power of design in practice. But, having some evidence in your back pocket is helpful and it is useful to arm people like Dr Kaur who are out in the field doing the convincing without a designer in tow.

Have another useful article to share? Add it in the comments.

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