Overall, the quality of the workshops that UX STRAT 2013 offered was excellent.
Presenter: Nathan Shedroff
The philosophy behind Nathan Shedroff’s “Beyond Business Basics”: “Forget about what strategy is. It almost doesn’t matter. Instead, focus on what strategy does.”
Nathan Shedroff, shown in Figure 1, is program chair for the California College of the Arts MBA Design Strategy program and author of multiple books on the topics of UX strategy and design. He delivered a fascinating workshop at UX STRAT 13, “Beyond Business Basics,” which covered a relatively unexplored aspect of the user experience domain, that nebulous area where UX strategy and planning meet business strategy. This excellent workshop was an effective introduction to an MBA-oriented user experience model.
Photo by Pat Lang
The workshop provided insights about how to pursue UX strategy within the context of a business organization and its marketplace. User experience doesn’t occur in isolation, and while purists might argue that it’s all about the customers, the reality is that business goals matter just as much. You can use a relatively simple process model of needs > intent > offer > experience, Nathan argues, to structure a UX strategy within the context of customer needs and business drivers, both of which are always evolving.
A sound UX strategy focuses on relationships and the value that relationships bring to customers, the UX team, and the business as a whole. As shown in Figure 2, Nathan identified five types of value that exist in a quantitative/qualitative hierarchy: functional, financial, emotional, identity, and meaningful value. Taken together, these add up to total value. While business has traditionally focused on the first two quantitative types of value, user experience is better equipped to focus on the higher-order, qualitative types of value along this continuum. As UX professionals, we are in a good position to promote the perspective that everything businesses offer to customers constitutes an experience that we can design, keeping these different types of value in mind. “Experience creates value. Experience is strategic.”
The trick, Nathan maintains, is to find the intersection of customer meaning, UX practice meaning, and business meaning that brings these types of value into focus and priority. That intersection affords the clearest vision of how to formulate a UX strategy that not only crystallizes UX planning and execution, but has the greatest chance of success because it ensures alignment with both customers and stakeholders—the business organization.
Nathan identified 15 core meanings, shown in Figure 3. Providing two or three of these could offer high value to customers, User Experience, or the business. Find the common meaning across these groups and you have the basis for a UX strategy that lets you create experiences that everyone views as having high value.
“Meaning is the deepest connection you can make with a customer / user / audience,” Nathan told us. Once you’ve identified this common ground of meaning, your UX team can pursue its strategy with a higher degree of confidence that you’ll achieve buy-in from both customers and the business.
Strategy allows a UX team to create compelling experiences within a thoughtful context, as well as with an eye for their future direction. Given that much of what an experience comprises is invisible—significance, intensity, breadth—providing context through a UX strategy can help a UX team to maintain a strategic focus that’s not always apparent in its traditional tactical deliverables. This strategic focus lies at the center of corporate, customer, team, and competitors’ meaning priorities, as shown in Figure 4. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the UX team to take the lead in defining and communicating the vision for the higher-order meanings that customers seek out.
Unfortunately, a four-hour workshop could not contain Nathan’s enthusiasm for his subject matter, and his last segment on leadership was limited to a couple of sentences that he delivered in closing the session. This was a shame because he clearly intended the leadership segment to be the culmination of the other material that he covered.
Overall, this was an effective and interesting workshop. It made me wish that I lived in the vicinity of CCA so I could explore their MBA Design Strategy program. (There doesn’t appear to be an online program.) However, this workshop would have benefited from being a longer session—a full day rather than just half a day. Given the wealth of material that Nathan had to cover, it would be very unlikely that he would be able to compress all of it into just four hours and still be able to share all of his deeper insights. I highly recommend your taking a full-day version of this workshop if you have the opportunity.
Even the summary level of Nathan’s material that he was able to cover in a half-day workshop convinced me that understanding the need to align User Experience to business, as well as to customer needs, is a concept that we should all be aware of as UX professionals. Creating elegant user experiences isn’t enough—your company and customer must want them.
Presenters: Megan Grocki & Jonathan Podolsky
This workshop hit the mark for a conference focusing on UX strategy. According to Megan Grocki, Experience Strategy Director at Mad*Pow and shown in Figure 5, journey mapping is a key component of developing an elegant experience strategy—and I heartily agree. In my experience, it is impossible to create a realistic roadmap for making improvements to a customer experience without having a clear understanding of the current realities. Further, we seldom work in single-channel environments today. Ensuring a cohesive, consistent customer experience across an omnichannel ecosystem is now not just necessary; it is fast becoming more challenging.
Photo by Pabini Gabriel-Petit
So what is a journey mapping? According to Megan, it is “the process of illustrating a complete story of the relationship between an individual and a system / service / product / brand / organization over time.” Journey maps, explained Megan, illuminate the ways in which organizational silos can often adversely impact user experience. They highlight rough points, or inconsistencies, in customers’ current experiences, thereby fostering increased customer empathy. Most important, they serve to facilitate stakeholder consensus and buy-in to a strategic vision prior to design—and they highlight priorities for what to prototype and test.
Each journey map starts with a deep dive into customer engagement with the business or organization. This means looking at:
- goals—both those of the customer and the business
- touchpoints—points of interaction involving a specific human need, in a specific time and place
- channels—each medium of interaction with customers where touchpoints occur
Megan advises involving C-level leaders in your journey mapping workshops whenever possible. Since these may be half-day workshops, they can be hard to schedule, but they are definitely worth the effort. The higher the stakeholders’ level of collaboration, the easier it is to socialize the journey maps. Invite between ten and fifteen people to participate in journey modeling, including stakeholders, designers, product managers, and developers.
The larger part of Megan’s workshop involved five hands-on activities within small working teams of participants. She presented us with a common design challenge for a mythical client, Main Street Dental. While all teams focused on the same client, Megan assigned different personas to various teams, and each team focused on their assigned persona. She encouraged us to regard the personas as dynamic, not frozen in time.
In our first exercise, Megan asked us to identify current goals, touchpoints, and channels for our target mythical business client, paying attention to both apparent challenges and opportunities—as well as gaps in knowledge. The second exercise included an empathy-mapping activity for our assigned persona, as Figure 6 illustrates.
In the third activity, we individually brainstormed ideas through facilitator-supplied lenses, words representing concepts or ideas to help us look at a problem or scenario in a different way. Then, in the fourth activity, each team worked as a unit to create an affinity diagram of all of the ideas the team members had generated, as shown in Figure 7. At this point, large areas on the walls of the conference room became sticky-note landscapes, where team participants winnowed out duplicates and corralled their ideas into useful categories.
The fifth and final activity for each team was to create a future vision of the customer experience. Each team created what Megan called a narrative prototype, the purpose of which was to share our vision with our fictional stakeholders. Our goal was to represent our proposed customer journey visually—as a story that we could communicate to stakeholders. Megan advised us that “there is no right or wrong way to visually represent a customer journey.” (Indeed, we ended up with as many styles representing our journeys as there were teams present in the workshop.)
Megan then briefly shared and discussed a great many examples of journey maps, two of which are shown in Figures 8 and 9. These two figures depict a single persona’s journey through a pregnancy. Figure 4 shows the persona’s varying levels of confidence and anxiety during the charted timeline. Figure 5 provides a simplified view of the journey, highlighting opportunities, strategies, and concepts. The many examples varied widely in terms of their style, polish, and emphasis.
The wide variation in the journey models that Megan’s slide deck included—as well as in those that our participant teams created—truly brought home the creative nature of journey mapping and the importance of considering audience needs when visually representing customer journeys. Figures 10 and 11 show a couple of the journey maps that the workshop participants created. Both break down the dental-patient experience into phases.
Photo by Margie Coles
Photo by Pabini Gabriel-Petit
While the journey mapping process is undeniably valuable, in and of itself, for all who participate, the final narrative prototype is only as effective as it is successful in speaking to its intended audience. And, in this case, one size definitely does not fit all. The intent of journey maps is not to be static things that are frozen in time. Journey mapping is an ongoing, iterative process. Periodically schedule journey-mapping workshops to allow your team to reflect on and synthesize your research—and continually involve stakeholders.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the workshop was thinking about ways not only to analyze customer touchpoints, but also to organize research findings into meaningful visuals for a wide variety of stakeholders. While I very much enjoyed the workshop and am eager to explore customer journey mapping further, I was looking for a bit more guidance on determining how the components of the customer journey might influence the resulting narrative prototype. For a good chunk of time during our fifth and final activity, mapping the future journey, my team seemed a bit lost. While, overall, Megan and Jonathan did a good job of facilitating the activities despite the large number of participants in the workshop, for this last, more complex activity, a smaller number of workshop participants would perhaps have allowed more direct facilitation to alleviate our floundering and focus our efforts.
Megan suggested some excellent online resources to enable us to examine others’ efforts in creating journey maps and provide more food for thought, including a rich collection of journey maps on Pinterest. To close her workshop, Megan suggested four traits of solid journey models—that they be valuable, believable, useful, and elegant. To be believable, journey maps must be based on user research. Amen to that.