How stakeholders negatively impact Product’s UX!

I have been to quite a few job interviews throughout my career from small to big and all sorts of organizations. I will share my experience and what I have learned about how some stakeholders knowingly or unknowingly destroy the product UX.

The Situation

Once I went for an interview for one of the biggest British household names from the courier sector for a UX designer contract position. Sat in a room with 3 stakeholders, after introductory discussion, one of the interviewers who happened to be the product owner, presented me a PDF containing a nicely designed user interface of the project they were looking to hire a UX designer for. I did know beforehand about the project, I was also told that it’s an ongoing project, which I have to take over from an agency. I was expecting that the agency would have done the user research, information gathering and other analysis. However, all I was being shown was a PDF slide after slides of pure UI design.

I asked, What is this? if you don’t mind me asking, their response; it’s a UX deliverable we’ve commissioned a few months ago to a “very well known” agency as mentioned in the role description.

I politely told them that what they are showing me is a UI design, which is kind of the last step of a fairly complex UX design process. And it is usually based on identifying your users, analysing your competitors, idea generation, testing the ideas, designing wireframes, testing the prototype with users etc. There must have been something your agency has based this UI design on. To my surprise, that was all they’d been given.

This was the point where I realized that they have no idea what UX is. What exactly happened was that agency, sold them cool looking user interfaces claiming to be the UX design and obviously billed them for the UX. (Agency side story after this section)

Another interviewer who was quiet until this point said that she agrees with everything I have said but unfortunately a significant amount of money has been spent in this UI in the last few months therefore even UX best practices haven’t been implemented, we aren’t able to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. And this has been seen and approved by the top management. I asked what exactly they need me for? The answer was to convert this UI into an interactive prototype for the developers!

The Lesson

Obviously, that’s where I decided not to go ahead with this role. We carried on talking for a full hour though.

Now you can see, how stakeholders went on spending loads of money without actually understanding the UX, or perhaps misguided by the agency. In either case, there was no way back without having some serious accountability. Senior management had approved their UI and a lot of money was spent already, at this point saying oops, we’ve messed it up would have definitely had some heads rolling.

No one wants to bell the cat now. And that’s my friends how BAD product is borns!

Now the Agency side

This time I was working on a project for another big UK household name from the financial sector. I was part of an agency that was working for this organization. During this short contract, I was able to witness in great detail, how the agency delivers the UX project.

Here goes: I was given one chunk of a fairly large ongoing project, but I saw that agency was delivering just UI to their client for other parts of the project I wasn’t involved with. I cannot name the client but I can guarantee that if I name it, at least UK residents will not comprehend that this company would actually accept UI inside the UX envelope. Anyhow, I did my part of the project using UX best practices as much as I could. From time to time I warned the agency project owners, account managers and PMs of what we are doing is not really a UX, it’s just a UI. And how it could actually harm their relationship with the client if someone like me ends up working for them and starts asking the question as I did during my interview.

But that probably fell on the deaf ears and things remain the same, unfortunately. I moved on after completing my bit. I don’t think there was a deliberate attempt to misguide the client, but just a lack of basic UX understanding, since there are so many UX designers whose main focus is still UI design could be another reason.

Now picture the first part of this story, where I have been shown exactly the same thing as the agency I was working doing for their client. You can see exactly where is the problem, both sides stakeholders do not have a clue what UX really is.

These are just 2 experiences out of many more with very similar situations. UX is still relatively new to many businesses and without proper training to their non-UX staff, this issue will not be resolved. I am sharing some tips for the people who deal with the client from either side, without UX background.

Tips for Stakeholders

  • Whether agency or internal stakeholder, please learn the basics of UX if aren’t familiar with it.
  • UX field is very vast and with a lot of misinformation floating around, if you do not have a UX designer, get one, or at least take advice from one if you cannot have one onboard.
  • Understand the difference between UI and UX design.
  • Colourful UI printed on paper or converted into PDF does not become UX design. Don’t be fooled by that.
  • Always ask the agency to provide the details and results from different UX exercises they’ve conducted before reaching the UI design.
  • Always ask about your user’s research.
  • If you’re agency side stakeholder, always ask for the user analytics from the client and use that data to build your concepts.
  • Demand proofs of the user testing, remember if it hasn’t been tested by the users, you may as well just go straight into UI.

Last but most important, if you realize that you missed the UX process, there is always a time to do it correctly. You may don’t realize but the best time to fix the product is before it goes live, yes you might lose some initial investment and miss some deadlines, but it’s still worth comparing to what you might end up launching without fixing it.




I am a senior UX specialist with strong expertise in Experience, Interaction and Interface Design.

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Ahsan Jalil

Ahsan Jalil

I am a senior UX specialist with strong expertise in Experience, Interaction and Interface Design.

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