How to change someone’s mind

28 Jun 2019

Image: © fizkes/

The art of influence is a critical component in the competent UX practitioner’s armoury, writes Fathom’s Gareth Dunlop.

When we deliver user experience (UX) training courses to delegates in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe, we always kick off the first day by asking attendees what motivated them to attend and what they are wanting to achieve from the course. Among the most common answers are: ‘the tools to push back when we’re being asked to deliver work that doesn’t make sense’ and ‘the ammunition to persuade colleagues that the data doesn’t corroborate their viewpoint’.

The challenge of persuasion appears to be a common one and so the art of influence is a critical component in the competent UX practitioner’s armoury. The starting point for achieving it lies in embracing a counterintuitive truth.

I’ll explain it by taking you back to the UX training classroom. When delegates respond with the answers above, I often follow up by asking an apparently straightforward question: ‘What does it feel like to be wrong?’ The responses are typically along the following lines:

  • Embarrassed
  • Awkward
  • Annoyed

These answers seem so self-evident that it may surprise you to learn that they are incorrect. Allow me to explain. Consider a room of 100 people and their views on the following:

  • Does God exist?
  • Is the current president of the United States of America good for the world?
  • Who is the greatest footballer of all time?

Across those 100 people, some will believe that God exists and some won’t. Some will be fans of Donald Trump and some won’t be. Some will love Messi, others Maradona and, closer to home, some might assert that Best is the best ever.

So, by definition, as they hold diametrically opposed views, rational logic dictates that some must be right and some will be wrong. However, how do the people holding the wrong views feel about their views? They feel brilliant about them!

‘Most design projects don’t need more self-proclaimed expertise from self-proclaimed experts’

Which brings us to an important dynamic: being wrong feels great but realising you are wrong feels embarrassing, annoying and awkward. It is for this reason that many UX professionals face the task of persuading a colleague that their solidly held beliefs and preconceptions about design are wrong.

At Fathom Towers we think long and hard about this challenge regularly and, while we won’t pretend to be able to answer it perfectly, we can share what has been most effective for us. We work hard to graciously yet firmly present three aspects regarding how insight could and should influence design direction.

To persuade someone to change their mind with data you need to convince them of the price of bad UX and the opportunity afforded by good UX, and you need to show them the human stories behind their product (preferably with video and/or audio).

  • The price of bad UX: Seek to make a connection in the mind of your colleague about the relationship between experience and success, and find industry-specific examples and benchmarks if you can
  • The opportunity of good UX: Using the increasing volume of evidence and reporting available, illustrate how the leaders across every sector (including yours) have out-invested competitors in the customer experience
  • Display the human stories: If the previous two points are the gentle sparring, this is the knockout punch. It is at the customer coalface that hearts and minds get changed. Show your colleague what it is really like to use your product or service by showing them primary-researched video and audio footage

This approach appeals to both left brain and right brain, it helps your colleague connect experience design with commercial success, and it gives them the clues to help them understand what that means for your organisation.

Most design projects don’t need more self-proclaimed expertise from self-proclaimed experts. Usually they need customer champions who can represent the customer (who typically isn’t in the room), using language that inspires confidence and evidence that provides direction.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their digital products by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing, customer journey planning and accessibility. Clients include BBC, Bord Bia, Firmus Energy, Kingspan, AIB and Tesco Mobile. 

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.