Advocacy within User Experience

By Kasia Wasko


Within User Experience, we devote a massive amount of our energy into empathy. Our understanding of users, their needs, and behavior is paramount to creating quality experiences. These qualitative insights, however, do not automatically create those successful experiences. Rather, empathy is the beginning stage of the process that alters our design decisions and actions. We are not simply passively collecting, researching and listening, we are finding opportunities to become better advocates.

The Fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

This story might be pretty familiar to you. It begins with a group of blind men, who try to learn what an elephant is like.


Each one finds and describe a single part of the elephant, such as the side of the tusk. When the blind men share their notes, they find that they are all in complete disagreement. The parable implies that while an individual’s subjective experience can be true, it fails to account for the total experience. In many ways, I think this parable highlights another challenge; defragmented information and UX efforts. Each effort can identify and study the trunk or the tusk. None can put together the full picture. The result is a handful of partial information and missed opportunities.


Within user-centered design, we hope our efforts are able to put together the big picture. But that cannot happen within a vacuum. Sometimes, it means that when we take on a project, we are considering not only the problem at hand, but also the history of that problem,

“It frequently means inheriting a legacy of past decisions and considering a multitude of business pressures. It’s messy, and users often suffer as a result.”
— Lyle Mullican

Evolution and Advocacy

By stepping into the role of an advocate, we distill the problem into user needs, business needs, and its’ evolution. We then are able to find where business needs align with user needs. Managing those alignments is a large part of advocacy; Finding ways to compromise and adapt, is a larger challenge within advocacy. In many ways, an advocate needs to persuade others to value these needs, the same way an advocate needs to take on a level of impartiality.

“Users may ask for the moon. They may describe symptoms instead of the fundamental problem, or jump to conclusions about what the problem is. For example, when a user complains that “the system is slow,” it might mean that response time is poor, or that the system is confusing and accomplishing a task takes too long. The user might feel strongly that the solution is adding a search system, when in reality, a few IA improvements would be effective.” – Lyle Mullican

 In many ways, the role of the advocate is to find and identify the core problems from inputs of feelings, attitudes, behaviors, business goals, and data. As a product lives and breathes, use cases and scenarios change. It’s important to be mindful of these opportunities, and work to make your product responsive.

By keeping the product constantly evolving, your brand and service stays relevant, flexible, and user friendly.  This process of refinement, is a change from the perception of a product. The product isn’t just a platform for your brand or your product. Rather, it’s an experience that is helping users accomplish tasks. By understanding the malleability of your digital product, businesses can begin to find ways to optimize their internal processes. We find ways to aid in finding those optimizations that help facilitate good governance and sustainability for the business and their digital experiences.




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Lee, Kate Kiefer. "Don't Poke the Bear: Creating Content for Sensitive Situations." A List Apart The Full. A List Apart, 24 June 2013. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.


Mullican, Lyle. "From Empathy to Advocacy." A List Apart The Full. A List Apart, 05 Jan. 2015. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.


Rosenfeld, Lou. "Seeing the Elephant: Defragmenting User Research." A List Apart The Full. A List Apart, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.


Wachter-Boettcher, Mica McPheeters Sara. "Design for Real Life: An Interview with Sara Wachter-Boettcher." A List Apart The Full. A List Apart, 11 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.