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Riding the UX Horse to Create Empowered, Successful, Loyal Users

Dramatic Impact

Theater and the creative process of design

A column by Traci Lepore
April 24, 2017

In an ever-changing field such as User Experience, it is sometimes good to step back from the whirlwind for a moment and get back to the basics. This is especially true today, when design trends are leaning more and more toward service design rather than product design. Often, users no longer want just a product. They want an entire ecosystem that supports and enhances their experience. Thus, they’ve raised the bar. Today, for companies to achieve their business goals, we need to meet users’ high expectations, which are higher than ever before. We need to deliver an ideal user experience.

In this column, I’ll discuss how User Experience and Product Management (PM) can work together to deliver ideal experiences and create empowered, successful, loyal users.

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The Business Benefits of Delivering an Ideal Experience

For companies to succeed and grow, they must reap the multifaceted outcomes of delivering on high customer expectations. Let me quickly illustrate what it means to deliver an ideal experience, as depicted in Figure 1. In the simplest terms, when we provide something that has meaningful functionality that people can easily learn and use, and whose use provides pleasure, we have achieved an ideal user experience.

Figure 1—An ideal user experience
An ideal user experience

Image source: Multitouch Lab Journal

Once you have successfully provided that ideal experience, some bonuses accrue naturally, as follows:

  • Providing meaningful functionality results in competent users who
    • know their goals are on target
    • can fully complete their intended tasks
  • Offering a usable experience results in confident users who
    • feel empowered because doing things is easy
    • trust you and are, therefore, open to exploring more of your ecosystem
  • Delivering even just a bit of pleasure results in satisfied users who
    • share their positive experiences with others who might be prospective customers
    • become brand ambassadors who are deeply loyal to your company

It is essential that your company understands the importance of achieving and maintaining a proper balance of functionality, usability, and pleasure. Focusing too heavily on just one of these will prevent your achieving success overall. Consider this: If you don’t have sufficient functionality for users to complete their work, they will leave and choose another product that does—no matter how usable or pleasurable your user interface is. On the other hand, all the functionality in the world doesn’t matter if it isn’t usable. Users will abandon your product or service for something that is easier to use, even though it might not meet all their needs. Frustration is not an emotion users will tolerate for long. Finally, some organizations may consider giving users pleasure a luxury—on which they are not willing to invest time. But if your product or service offers a pleasurable experience, you can scale your user base, and your satisfied customers will spread the word about why your product is the best.

How do you find that balance? This would be a lot for the product manager to consider alone. The UX designer must support that effort. As Peter Merholz says, design is the thing that

  • generates value
  • tames software complexity
  • coheres service experiences
  • enhances all practices
  • defines new offerings
  • informs planning

In light of all this, it is particularly important to consider how UX professionals and product managers can work together to ensure they deliver an ideal experience.

The Importance of the User Experience / Product Management Relationship to Design

While everyone who is involved in the UX design process has a specific role and certain responsibilities in creating a design solution, it is well recognized that the two key people who are the driving force behind the vision and its execution are the product manager and UX designer, as Figure 2 shows. Since both of these fields are growing and evolving, let’s review exactly what each of them does and how they can work together effectively.

Figure 2—Differences between a Product Manager and a UX Designer
Differences between a Product Manager and a UX Designer

Image source: UXPin

What should be clear is that this relationship is one of support and extension. Therefore, if the product manager and UX designer are true partners:

  • What the UX designer does complements what the product manager does.
  • UX insights and artifacts drive product-management activities forward.
  • The UX designer can help provide the rationale and logic for the strategy.

The Design Process as a Support System

The key way in which the UX designer supports the product manager is by helping to provide a structure and backbone that dictates how to start the work, determines a logical plan for the work, and pushes it forward. Having an effective design process—such as that shown in Figure 3—ensures that your team can transform a product strategy into a concrete solution that your team can develop, validate, and iterate. Implementing an effective design process also helps to ensure that your team creates an experience that is usable and pleasurable for people to use.

Figure 3—The design process provides structure
The design process provides structure

Image source: Peterme.com

All this may sound too good to be true, so you may be thinking: how does a design process actually accomplish all of this? The answer is simple: an effective design process offers structure and support, helping UX designers provide three critical things to product managers that enable them to achieve their goals and responsibilities, as follows:

  1. Design artifacts—living documentation that is concrete, shareable, refined iteratively, and provides clear guidance
  2. UX research—insights that are contextual, clarifying, and drive strategy
  3. Strategy—direction that ensures a product delights and engages users, meets their functional needs, and is easy to learn and use

Deconstructing Design Artifacts and Their Value

There are several common design artifacts that UX designers create and share with their product team and other stakeholders during the course of the design process. These design artifacts provide a tangible foundation for a product team’s conversations, helping them to focus on the target users and their needs and workflows. They also provide the basis for a shared language. Because these artifacts give a project a well-grounded beginning, the product-development process can move faster.

Design artifacts give a product team concrete visual representations of their vision, are expressed in a shared language, and help ensure the entire team develops a shared understanding and alignment around the problem and its solution. These artifacts define the design solution. Table 1 shows the efficacy of certain design artifacts in supporting meaningful functionality.

Table 1—Design artifacts that support meaningful functionality
Artifacts Facilitate These UX Responsibilities Support These PM Responsibilities

Personas

User Flows

Designing user interfaces

Defining service-level user needs

Ensuring the right product or service direction

Standard design paradigms and components

Sketches

Wireframes

High-fidelity mockups

Applying UX design to products or services

Maintaining proper team communications

Coordinating the work across different departments

There are several points in the design process when collaboration around these UX design artifacts provides significant value, as Table 2 shows. The product manager can rely on the UX designer to ensure the team provides truly meaningful functionality to support the competency of their users.

Table 2—Collaboration points for design artifacts
Market Definition Requirements Definition Story Scoping with Development Implementation Review Post-Implementation Support Service-Level Support

Role of UX

Developing personas, scenarios, and journey maps to characterize users, their needs, and their desired experience

Defining requirements

Developing artifacts that represent them

Validating the vision and design concepts

Sharing design artifacts

Helping chunk and estimate the work

Ensuring execution meets users’ expectations

Developing documentation and product usage guidelines

Integrating feedback into iterations

Developing personas and journey maps that outline users’ touchpoints with the product

Value UX Provides

Articulately communicating the team’s focus and characteristics of target users

Articulately communicating the vision

Setting the timeline and expectations

Managing project timeline and milestones

Helping with quality control

Helping ensure the right product direction

Helping ensure users’ success

Helping ensure users’ success

Helping with quality control

Looking Beyond Functionality: Achieving Usability Through UX Research

Once the design artifacts are complete, you are well on the way to achieving the necessary functionality. Next, you need to ensure the product’s ease of use. Having insights into users’ intentions and workflows enhances your ability to do this successfully. Through UX research findings, you can gain insights into the daily life and needs of users and gather feedback on how they use your product or service. Clear characterizations of users provide direction for what you need to do.

The product manager communicates this clear picture of the users and their needs to the product team and integrates the research findings into the roadmap, giving them the proper priority. Table 3 shows the efficacy of certain research methods in clarifying and supporting usable features.

Table 3—Research that clarifies and supports usable features
Research Methods Facilitate These UX Responsibilities Support these PM Responsibilities

Personas, user flows, contextual inquiry, Web analytics, surveys, competitive analysis, usability testing, and heuristic evaluation

Experimenting

Optimizing product design

Applying UX design to a product or service

Eliciting user understanding

Ensuring the right product or service direction

Maintaining proper team communication

Dealing with budgets and stakeholders

As with creating design artifacts, there are several points in the process when collaboration on UX research enables the UX designer to provide value to the product manager, as Table 4 shows. Such collaboration enables the product team to achieve the usability that is necessary to ensure confident customers.

Table 4—Collaboration points for UX research
Market Definition Requirements Definition Roadmap Prioritization Release Planning Post-Implementation Support

Role of UX

Gathering valuable input on users and what the company needs to do to compete

Gathering valuable input on what users actually want and need to drive requirements

Capturing existing and new insights into users’ mindsets

Providing insights into release priorities and organizing the timeline

Providing insights into how well things are working for users through usability testing and other research

Value UX Provides

Articulately communicating user segments and business value through artifacts

Articulately communicating the vision through design artifacts

Helping ensure the right product direction

Helping ensure users’ success

Dealing with budgets and stakeholders

Dealing with budgets and stakeholders

Helping ensure the right product direction

Helping ensure users’ success

Exceeding Users’ Expectations Through Strategy

Our final piece of the puzzle is understanding how we can go beyond users’ basic expectations to truly delight them, then defining the future through strategy. If we can stretch our perspective using our existing strategy tools, we can determine not just the functions users need, but also the emotional experience we want users to have. As a consequence, the design solution will surprise and please users.

The tools I’ve already discussed—design artifacts and UX research—can help provide the insights you need to go above and beyond users’ expectations if you take the time to interpret them and dig deeply into the clues they provide. What you learn through UX research will help excite your product team and stakeholders about the possibilities. Users will believe you truly understand their needs. Table 5 shows how strategically optimizing your design artifacts and UX research can ensure a pleasurable user experience.

Table 5—Strategy and tactics for a pleasurable user experience
Strategy & Tactics Facilitate These UX Responsibilities Support These PM Responsibilities

Personas, user flows, competitive analysis, and heuristic evaluation

Applying UX design to the product or service

Maintaining proper team communication

A/B testing, envisioning, and journey mapping

Experimenting

Optimizing product design

Helping ensure the right product direction

Maintaining proper team communication

Dealing with budgets and stakeholders

There are several points in the process when the right strategy and tactics enable the UX designer to provide maximal value to the product manager, as Table 6 shows.

Table 6—Delivering pleasurable experiences
Market Definition & Analysis Requirements Definition Roadmap Prioritization Service-Level Support

Role of UX

Analyzing research data to understand the needs of both the users and the business, as well as the competitive landscape

Communicating recommendations on how to meet users’ needs through design artifacts and data

Providing strategy

Helping to chunk, estimate, and prioritize work

Providing insights and recommendations on the ecosystem’s success

Addressing gaps

Value UX Provides

Helping ensure the right product direction

Providing insights into how to exceed users’ expectations

Helping ensure the right product direction

Helping coordinate effort across the team

Providing an execution plan

Dealing with budget and stakeholders

Helping ensure the right product direction

Providing insights on how to exceed users’ expectations

This final piece of the puzzle may seem more elusive. But, as I’ve stated, the clues are already there. If you take advantage of these clues, you can find ways to do that little bit extra and deliver pleasurable experiences to users that will have them singing your product’s praises. That is the best reward imaginable for your efforts.

Fostering a User Experience / Product Management Partnership

Building a true partnership between Product Management and User Experience is not an easy task, as I’m sure is clear at this point. As a UX designer, how can you help to guide and foster this relationship? There are clear points at which you should encourage Product Management to ask for your help and when you should be proactive in making sure collaboration occurs. Next, I’ll provide some tips that will help you in developing and using design artifacts, planning and using UX research, and strategically optimizing your design artifacts and UX research.

Tips for Developing and Using Design Artifacts

To use design artifacts to their best advantage, follow these tips:

  • Market and requirements definition:
    • Provide guidance on how to use personas during envisioning sessions to roughly outline features early in the process.
  • Documenting ideas and designs:
    • Provide storyboards or walk through illustrations of concepts or designs and share them with the product team and stakeholders.
    • Provide big-picture presentations that show a roadmap and illustrate short-term and long-term goals.
    • Provide guidance for connecting personas to the narratives of stories and epics.
    • Provide or recommend documentation that helps users succeed—for example, how to’s for specific workflows or recommendations on how users should approach certain business activities.
  • Ensuring quality control:
    • Provide summary reporting of visual quality-assurance outcomes.
    • Observe development tasks to understand the feedback users are giving.
    • Institute a release- or sprint-based review of particular areas.

Tips for Planning and Using UX Research

To optimize the value of your UX research, follow these tips:

  • Market and requirements definition:
    • Offer to brainstorm and rough out ideas about how to work around gaps or prioritize closing them, working with prospective customers.
    • Participate in conversations about user frustrations and share designs with users to obtain feedback.
  • Ensuring quality control:
    • Do usability testing and heuristic evaluations to understand how to improve your designs iteratively.

Tips for Strategically Optimizing Design Artifacts and UX Research

Here are some tips for strategically optimizing your design artifacts and UX research:

  • Market and requirements definition:
    • Analyze what competitors are doing and understand the differentiators in your market.
    • Provide heuristic reviews of the current state of features to understand where you are doing well and where a product needs improvement.
  • Release planning and roadmap prioritization:
    • Help with prioritizing and chunking feature work.
    • Regularly measure the implementation against your artifacts—such as personas, scenarios, and journey maps—to ensure consistent adherence to your goals.

Make sure Product Management shares data, participates in UX research, and includes User Experience in conversations. Productive collaboration will ensure your success.

Creating Empowered, Successful, Loyal Users

Sometimes, it may seem that you’re getting caught up in the whirlwind of the UX design process and the stress of figuring out how to do the right thing will never end. But, when a product team comes together as a team and teammates support one another, you can meet your customers’ high expectations. Once you do, your customers will be

  • cool and confident
  • invested in their work
  • capable—because their tools support them
  • honest—telling it like it is, good or bad
  • respectful and caring about those who work with them

In other words, your users will be empowered, successful, delighted, and loyal, and they’ll help you take your business to the highest level! 

Principal User Experience Designer at Oracle

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Traci LeporeWith over fifteen years of experience as an interaction designer and user researcher, focusing on user-centered design methods, Traci has experienced a broad range of work practices. After ten years of consulting, Traci transitioned to working on staff with product teams at companies such as Avid and Oracle. Through her UXmatters column, Dramatic Impact, Traci shares how she infuses aspects of theatrical theory and practice into her design practice to bring a more empathetic, user-centered focus to her work. Traci holds an M.A. in Theater Education from Emerson and a B.S. in Communications Media from Fitchburg State College. She is a member of the Boston chapters of UXPA and IxDA and has spoken at conferences such as the IA Summit and Big Design. She is also a nominee for the 2016 New Hampshire Theatre Awards in the best supporting actress category.  Read More

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