The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Ronnie Battista—UX Practice Lead at Slalom Consulting
- Liam Friedland—Vice President, User Experience and Global UX Team Lead at Informatica
- Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
- Peter Hornsby—Senior Information Architect at Friends Provident; UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Shane McWhorter—Executive Director, User Experience Strategy & Design at Product Concept, Design and Experience
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Jo Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd
- Susanne van Mulken—UX Strategist at Informaat
- Yury Vetrov—Head of UX at Mail.Ru
Key Methods, Tools, and Deliverables of UX Strategy
Q: What are the key methods, tools, and deliverables of user experience strategy?—from a UXmatters reader
“There is both an external dimension and an internal dimension to user experience strategy,” answers Susanne. “The first of these I call UX strategy for service innovation, and it is oriented outward. This dimension of UX strategy revolves around questions like the following:
- What should the user experience of our service be in 3 to 5 years from now?
- What users should we focus on?
- What dialogues and interactions do we want users to have with our organization—in what type of service ecosystem and through what types of touchpoints?
“The second dimension I call UX strategy for UX maturity, and it is oriented inward. UX Strategists who are focusing on this dimension ask questions like these:
- What can our organization do to make UX design a source of unfair advantage to us?
- How can we increase the UX maturity of our organization, recruit UX specialists, and make all of our employees more UX aware.
- How can we incorporate the activities of UX professionals into our existing business processes and take care of effective governance.
“Both dimensions are to some extent dependent on each other: the more UX mature your organization is, the better your results with service innovation. And showcasing service-innovation projects can help create the right mindset for the organizational change that is necessary to achieve a higher level of UX maturity.
“Here are some of the methods, techniques, and deliverables that UX Strategists employ:
- UX strategy for service innovation:
- methods—service design, touchpoint design, creating design libraries
- tools and techniques—personas, customer journey workshops, co-creation workshops, future scenarios, competitive UX benchmarks, visualization techniques such as storyboards and wireframes, UX testing
- deliverables—key service principles, personas, service ecosystems, service blueprints, roadmaps, service briefings, release plans, mockups, wireframes, hi-fi prototypes, design patterns and components, content models, UX specifications
- UX strategy for UX maturity:
- methods—strategic planning, which means describing a path between AS-IS and TO-BE situations, in terms of processes, tools, skills, resources, and culture; process engineering, UX training, UX recruitment
- tools and techniques—co-creation workshops with interdisciplinary teams of stakeholders, UX maturity benchmarks
- deliverables—organizational vision, roadmaps for embedded User Experience, process design, communication plans
“In both dimensions,” concludes Susanne, “strategic planning, co-creation, and design thinking are key to coming to the right decisions. Both of these dimensions of UX strategy involve creating a vision and a strategy roadmap to establish that vision.”
“This is a tough question to answer,” responds Jordan, “because UX strategy practice can vary greatly across different organizations—even within a single organization. I could write a 1,000-word essay on this question and still only scratch the surface regarding how to select the right methods for the right circumstances. The best answer I can give is my own approach to experience strategy,” which is represented in Figure 1. You can read about Jordan’s approach in his blog post “The Underutilized Catalyst for Success.”
“I find that I can apply the same tools I use to understand user needs at the strategic level,” says Leo. “Using presumptive design to elicit user needs often leads to larger questions about business value, market whitespaces, and other strategic concerns. Telling a good story is the key deliverable in any strategy conversation. Get your storytelling down.”
The Evolution of UX Strategy
“I think it’s important to note that the term user experience strategy is slowly evolving into experience strategy. UX professionals are beginning to roll things like customer experience, content strategy, and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) into experience strategy, which is becoming an umbrella term,” replies Jordan. “The lines between who the user is versus who the customer is are blurring—or maybe they’ve already merged into one thing. Users can make purchases online, and customers are beginning to have connected, interactive experiences in bricks-and-mortar stores.
I believe a fundamental shift has already begun toward understanding who the customer is at a very deep level. Regardless of whether customers are interacting with a company though their Web site, mobile app, store, vending machine, kiosk, or anything else, they are telling us something about themselves. User experience strategy is about listening. Both how intelligently companies listen and what they do with the information once they’ve obtained it contribute to a company’s ability to implement a successful experience strategy.”
Strategy Versus Tactics
“A start to addressing this question is to define the difference between user experience strategy and user experience tactics—then consider how tools and methods differ at the strategic versus the tactical level,” advises Shane. “One way to define the difference between UX strategy and UX tactics is through examples:
- An example of a design tactic that is necessary to delivering an effective user experience is ensuring that important things look important to users and unimportant things look unimportant. However, this tactic can deliver a quality user experience only if we define importance and unimportance correctly. And what do we mean by correctly?
- An example of a strategic practice is tracing UX questions back to their source. We can trace them all the way back to a company’s business mission. Does the product mission support the business mission? Does the roadmap support the product mission? Does the product blueprint support the roadmap? We can continue asking such questions in regard to use cases, requirements, conceptual design—all the way down to the pixel.
“All of this leads to a single answer to the reader’s question: A key approach of UX strategy is to ensure that each detail of a user experience is informed not only by best-practice design,” continues Shane, “but by best-practice product management. A UX strategy must be traceable, step by step, up through the product-management chain, clearly showing the role each design element plays in support of business success. A UX strategy ensures that questions about what is important and what is unimportant get answered correctly at each product-management stage—before design even starts.”
“UX strategy has two seamless parts: vision and execution,” responds Yury. “Vision defines the business problems that an organization wants to solve through a product’s user experience—for example, increased sales, brand consistency, better user acquisition, higher customer loyalty, or efficient product portfolio management. Execution is about planning how an organization can achieve its vision—basically defining a plan and allocating the resources to get there. Tactics, on the other hand, are the approaches an organization takes to realize a plan. Vision and execution go hand in hand and are inseparable; you can’t realize your vision for a complex project without clearly understanding how to make it so.
“Different companies may have the same vision, but execution is usually unique for each particular organization because it is highly dependent on internal processes and structure.
“Design maturity is one of the key concepts of UX strategy; it shows what a company knows about design—both in theory and practice—how it already uses design to solve its business problems, and what struggles it has had with design as a process.
“There are several typologies of maturity levels for User Experience within an organization—for example:
- Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Corporate Usability Maturity: Stages 1–4’ and ‘Corporate Usability Maturity: Stages 5–8’
- Design Ladder’s ‘Library of Case Studies,’ by Danish Design Centre
- ‘Understanding the Corporate Lifecycle,’ by Ichak Adizes
“You should consider both where a company stands as a business and whether it needs good design—and if it does, how sophisticated its design methods and processes are. These are the environments in which we work—and sadly, in most cases, we can’t jump up several levels of the UX maturity ladder at once. Watch for an upcoming UXmatters article from me on this topic.
“As with any plan, Yury continues, “your vision and execution will be under stress once your proposed strategy is being implemented. Then changes happen the hard way. So you’ll need metrics to monitor progress and the authority to alter your plan to address newfound issues. And of course, you need the leadership qualities that are necessary to bring your vision to life at last and the strength to oppose authorities’ unfounded beliefs.
“You should also remember that it is critical that you not only achieve your vision, but sustain it in the future. This means you should not try to be a lone superhero, but instead should be a facilitator of organizational change, moving your organization another step up the maturity ladder. Remember, problems with internal processes and an organization’s overall mindset have caused the problems in the product that you need to solve. For example, you may want to solve issues with inconsistencies in the observation of branding guidelines, but soon find out that there’s a deeper problem preventing this: different business units that aren’t working together.
“Summing up this process as some kind of method:
- Discover current business problems, and determine what User Experience can do to solve them.
- Find out where the company stands on both the UX design and corporate maturity ladders.
- Propose a detailed plan to solve the problems, and establish success metrics.
- Build a team and get the necessary resources to accomplish your plan.
- Start implementing your UX strategy, while closely monitoring progress and making adjustments during execution.
- Change not only the products, but the company itself.
“You should also study related disciplines like project management, leadership, and facilitation to help you get through these steps. As I mentioned earlier, UX strategy is all about vision and execution. So there are no conventional artifacts or tools, as in research or design. A leader and his team make UX strategy happen. The key deliverables that result from the realization of a UX strategy are a new product and a new process.”