The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; Vice President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
- Leo Frishberg—Principal Architect, User Experience at Tektronix Inc.
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Publisher and Editor in Chief of UXmatters; Principal User Experience Architect at BMC Software; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
- Mike Hughes—User Assistance Architect at IBM Internet Security Systems; UXmatters columnist
- Tobias Komischke—Director of User Experience at Infragistics
- Jim Nieters—Senior Director of User Experience for Travel Products at HP; UXmatters columnist
- Robert Reimann—Lead Interaction Designer at Sonos, Inc.; Past-President of Interaction Design Association (IxDA)
- Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
The Purpose of a UX Vision
Q: What are the purpose and benefits of having a UX vision?—from a UXmatters reader
A UX vision should be part of the overall roadmap your company follows. What type of user experience do you want your customers or users to have? How will it support them in achieving their goals? How will it help your company to achieve its goals and build your brand? You should have clear answers to all of these questions that are well known to your entire team. Instead of a product team’s just making UX design decisions on the fly, you should first deliberately lay the groundwork for all design decisions by defining your UX vision. Be proactive, not reactive.
“The purpose of a UX vision, or strategy,” answers Robert, “is also its primary benefit: a human-centered approach, or roadmap, to a product or service that an entire enterprise—including marketing, development, sales, and executives—can rally around and work to achieve. Thus, in theory, having a UX vision ensures that all customer or user touchpoints positively reinforce the brand and the customer or user experience, resulting in a more cohesive and coherent product and customer relationship.”
“In brief,” responds Leo, “a UX vision is the articulation of what a company expects to do to make money, from the perspective of the people they expect to use, experience, or purchase it.”
“A UX vision is a short statement or visualization that communicates the essence of the experience you are attempting to enable for users, customers, or guests,” replies Steve. “Your UX vision provides a way of gaining collective agreement about strategic direction, so all of the members of a product team—collectively or independently—can make decisions that are consistent with that overall direction. The UX vision can also serve as an elevator pitch and acts as a beacon, providing guidance to other people about where you and your team are headed.”
“Achieving anything meaningful requires that you have clearly articulated goals,” advises Pabini. “Defining your UX vision articulates your goals for a business unit or a project, enabling a common understanding of those goals and unifying your team in striving to achieve them. By defining your UX vision, you set a standard by which you can evaluate every decision you make along the way and judge whether it supports, enhances, or detracts from that vision. As a project progresses, it is essential to maintain the coherence of your UX vision.”
UX Vision from Two Perspectives
“I see at least two different kinds of UX visions,” answers Tobias. “You may want to create a vision for implementing User Experience within a company. Or you may want to come up with a UX vision for a product. The way you address each of these visions is different, but the overall goal is the same: you want to make sure that, ultimately, users of an interactive system have the best experience possible.
Typically, a UX vision anticipates a future outcome, and that is the reason a vision can be so powerful. Science-fiction literature and movies are visionary in that they describe what could be in the future, in a way that is compelling to us. A vision is possible and achievable—but without doing something to get there, you will not get there.
“If your goal is to integrate User Experience into a company, such a vision would describe what the company would be like after you’ve achieved that integration—or perhaps after the first phase. What would customers and users think about it? What would its product lifecycle management process look like? What would its products be like?
“If your goal is to develop a cutting-edge product, the vision would describe its characteristics once it’s built: What would it look and feel like? How is it different and better from today’s product?
“For both types of UX visions—for a company or a product—the more concrete, vivid, and detailed your UX vision is, the better. It’s sometimes hard to tell how creative you should be and to what extent you should consider constraints. Yet, when President John F. Kennedy announced the plan to send humans on the moon within a decade, he knew it was possible and didn’t want obstacles to define the vision. A vision’s purpose is to inspire people and show them new ideas that may be beyond their current frame of reference.”
UX Vision for Products
“A UX vision accomplishes several goals for a company—both upward and downward,” says Leo. “Upward goals identify strategic opportunities for marketing and business leaders, who may face potentially disruptive markets or technologies and the like. In this context, the UX vision provides concrete examples of how a potential solution fits into a user ecosystem that may be just emerging. Further, the UX vision provides leaders with an artifact that facilitates discussion within the context of business models—not only defining what we should be building, but who we should be approaching and how we can segment the market or product space to best achieve our future goals. For more about this, see my article on the upward benefits of a UX vision, ‘Architecture and User Experience (Part 6: An Ecology of Use).’
“Downward goals provide benefits that are equally important. For the marketing or product manager, engineering teams, the salesforce, support teams, documentation teams, and so forth, the UX vision provides the target in the landscape that everyone can focus on. Keeping all of the individuals on a team focused on a desired outcome before a product actually gets built is a huge accelerator. Team members can find better ways of getting to the vision, they can reflect on and critique the vision—hopefully improving it as well—but most important, they become socialized to the strategic direction the company has decided to take.”
UX Vision: An Example
“We just finished a project for which we created a UX vision for a future product in the energy sector,” relates Tobias. “We spent 4 months defining the user interface for a single workflow. The output was not the product. It wasn’t even an interactive prototype on the target development platform. What we delivered was a narrated video presenting how our key personas would interact with each other and the system to execute the workflow.
Did we consider each and every technical constraint of the different development platforms? No. Although we did have solution architects on the team who contributed insights into feasibility issues. With our video, we didn’t want to convey how to build the next-generation system, we wanted to inspire our client to envision what the future could look like. Once we delivered the final artifacts for the project, the client was very happy with the result. They told us the time and money was well spent and gave them novel ideas that helped them secure more funding for additional steps that would advance them toward realizing the vision.”