Why UX teams need to be mind readers


The fast moving, diverse and fragmented mobile industry is driving forward new approaches to digital product development. Projects getting stuck in drawn out waterfall deliverables might miss out on great business opportunities. Keeping up with speed, innovation and wisely dealing with tremendous device fragmentation have become key success factors.

Responsive design, a device agnostic approach, content strategy, iterative processes and Lean UX are flourishing as part of a demand for consistency across interfaces. Getting the product out on the market, visual and smooth as soon as possible, creates a crucial business advantage. But it is not the whole story.

Users like or dislike

It’s not enough to get the product out there. It has to find its place on the market. It has to find its place in the hearts of users. We, the people, the users, all of us interacting daily with content on mobile or multiple devices are the true judges. And the verdict is often more simple than we think. It is a matter of like or dislike. Emotion rules decision-making. Will this new product enhance my life, making it easier and happier?

The American legend in business communications Dale Carnegie said: “When dealing with people, remember, you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” Kurt Mortensen, the author of Maximum Influence states that we are persuaded by reason, but are moved by emotion. Based on several studies he concludes that up to 90 percent of the decisions we make are based on emotion. According to Mortensen emotion will always win over logic and imagination will always win over reality.

Tapping into the emotions and imaginations of users is about building a relationship and forming the future. What does this mean for UX production teams?

Smarter teams

Each project is different. The problems to solve are different. The users differ as well as the clients. And each member of a production team is unique. Therefore there is no such thing as one single method for all solutions. Flexibility is the key. It becomes crucial to tailor the process depending on the project’s complexity. Processes and teams that are flexible resonate more with the fast moving mobile world.

Working within User Experience is inevitably about teamwork. The users, the client and the production team are the corner stones of co-creating a collaborative route. Effective teamwork is vital because many teams operate over long periods of time and engage in everyday problem solving.

The New York Times recently published the article “Why some teams are smarter than others”. Based on studies the following three characteristics distinguish the smartest teams.

First, equal contribution of work, and equal participation within the team (instead of one or two people dominating the group). Second, good emotion-reading skills (independently of whether the members could see each other or not) based on a “Reading the Mind” test. Third, the presence of women. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. The last characteristic “was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men”. The smarter teams communicated a lot and were more able ”to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe”.

Right and left hemispheres

I do believe mindreading isn’t exclusively a characteristic of women. It might be more a feature of the right brain hemisphere, and therefore something both women and men can cultivate by stimulating its attributes. I do consider it to be an urge to come to an end with the cultural heritage and misconception of the right hemisphere as being subordinate to the left. When in balance both are working as best buddies. The right hemisphere helps us to comprehend visual imagery and make sense of what we see. It is the center of emotions and holistic modes of thinking, while the left hemisphere is verbal, logical and exact.

The thought processes of the right-brain include the tendency to synthesize compared to the left-brain tendency to analyze. Society’s (and businesses) overall tendency to reward the analytical left-brain skills inhibits a balance to take place, and therefore also inhibiting smarter teams take form. Right-brain dominated tasks need to become equally rewarded as left-brain ones.

Hierarchy bye-bye

One important tendency within UX is the removal of hierarchy in favour for more flat and cross-functional collaboration teams. Product managers, designers, researches, developers, are put on the same level. Competencies are prior to job titles. “Equally important: you put everyone on the same level. No single discipline dictates to the other. All are working toward a common goal”, states C Bowles and J Box in the pragmatic guide Undercover User Experience Design.

As a result people take more responsibility as they feel that they are trusted. Collaboration and equal participation flourishes. The smarter UX team is the one that rewards right-brain and left-brain skills equally. A sustainable flat team structure requires that visual designers and logical developers are considered as equally important and thereby equally rewarded. The same goes for the fact that women and men need to become equally involved and equally rewarded as well. Otherwise a flat structure is just another buzzword illusion.

Although the structure is flat the UX designer still plays many roles in bridging between image, interaction and code, balancing the different tasks of the hemispheres. According to J Gothelf, Lean UX, the UX designer is responsible for keeping an eye of the big picture and guaranteeing that the team is in line with the vision.

This requires communication and collaboration. It requires holistic and contextualizing modes of thinking. It requires good facilitation skills and it requires mindreading.

Expanding the UX team

A flat collaborative structure invites us to transcend rigid silos, waterfall models and job title prestige. It invites us to explore innovation with a humble approach towards each other and the products we create. It also invites us to expand the circle. In my world the main UX team consists of three sub-teams that engage and collaborate throughout the whole process. I call it the UX Trinity Team: Users (Participants), Client (Business owner) and UX Production team (Facilitators).

The UX Trinity Team


Somehow we are back to the starting point where products need to make sense for the users, by supporting an easier, happier and more enhanced life. Not to forget that people find value in forming part in a community of connecting and sharing experience. We also know that client engagement throughout the process guarantees better solutions, as the client holds the flag of the business objectives. The production team acts as facilitator between user and business needs throughout the product development.

The members of the UX trinity team are equally dependent on each other to make the best product coming true. In this complex but iterative process mindreading becomes a necessary good.

By Marie Glad

Marie Glad is an independent UX and communications consultant that has been in the business since 2000, always with simplicity and user focus in mind. She participated in the Mobile UX Revolution panel at SXSWi 2015.

Marie Glad is mentioned in this Guardian article by Oisin Lunny:
Mobile UX: the invisible link to the digital world