Tools Of Change For Designers: Advocating

Advocating is the fifth core tool that designers can rely on in their role as agents of change. Consider this: At this moment, and for the past five weeks, I’ve been advocating; that is, I’ve been blogging to say something I think is important. And that’s advocating. Sometimes it’s easier to define something by defining what it’s not.

  • Advocating is not inquiring – that’s asking questions.
  • Advocating is not listening – that’s staying open to the words and actions of others and hearing what they really have to say.
  • Advocating is not empathizing – that would be relating to others through their feelings and the perspective.

Advocating is what I am doing right now; that is, talking (via my writing) to make a point. The challenge most of us face is that we don’t know when we’re advocating.

As designers, we are trained to listen, to ask good questions and to empathize. However, we are not effectively trained to advocate; to communicate what we want and need for ourselves, and to communicate what we, as advocates or proxies for the customer experience, need. It turns out that given the work each of us engage in, it is essential that you advocate for yourself, your projects, your team and your discipline!

Advocating is not simply getting credit where credit is due; it’s about putting yourself out there. Advocating is about knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it so that the right people will listen and act on your behalf to get things done. It’s about leaning forward and allowing natural forces to pull you into the conversation.

When I was a kid, I learned that walking was, essentially, the act of leaning forward and falling into the next step…by putting one leg in front of the other and allowing gravity to pull me ahead. Advocating is similar. Let the gravity of your job pull you forward. Lean into it. And, as with walking, it’s essential to put one foot in front of the other so to speak.

Advocate for the customer, or as some designers say (and as much as I detest the term) “the user.” Advocate for your stakeholders and for better experience design overall. If people don’t know who you are, what you’re capable of, what value you create and how you make things better simply by showing up, then we are all missing out. It is essential that designers advocate for better experiences across channels, up and down the interaction chain.

Part of our job is to help people see that what shows up in an interface is only a small piece of the puzzle. Another key part of our job is to thread the needle through the interface—from the business model, through service design interactions, experience moments and ultimately the UI.  And, from a omni-channel point of view, it doesn’t matter if the experience moment manifests for the end user, pre-sales engagement, post sales support, software developers or any other persona.

In an omni-channel world, it is about personas and what I call atomic-segments—the smallest meaningful unit of people who have the same expectations. Consider an expectation to be the sum of non-negotiable demands and wants or desires.

As I see it, limiting our understanding to “users” doesn’t make sense because the term is overloaded at best and pejorative at worst.

As agents of change, and to create the kind of world we want to live in, we have to take into account and accept responsibility for crafting the interaction chains that lead to high utility and usable designs that deliver extraordinary value-for-value exchanges. You have to connect this stuff all the way back because great interfaces aren’t enough anymore. We have to link design deep into our organizations.

These are the things that I’m asking all designers to take responsibility for:

  • IlluminatingShedding light
  • Educating Learning and helping others learn
  • Negotiating Collaborating and compromising
  • Activating Getting it done and being the change you want to see in the world
  • Advocating Talking about the things that matter

These are the things I’m asking you to think about and do. There is a huge opportunity in front of us.


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