Interview: Paul Bryan and UX STRAT 2013

May 20, 2013

For many years, UX strategy has been an important part of my work, so I’ve observed the evolution and recent expansion of the profession of UX strategy with interest. Paul Bryan, who is shown in Figure 1, has played a key role in developing UX strategy as a profession—first by establishing the UX Strategy and Planning group on LinkedIn, now by organizing the UX STRAT 2013 conference, which will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 8–11, 2013. So, for our UX Strategy special edition, I’ve interviewed Paul to find out more about his take on UX strategy and plans for the upcoming conference.

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Figure 1—Paul Bryan, organizer of UX STRAT 2013
Paul Bryan, organizer of UX STRAT 2013

Pabini: In a nutshell, how would you define UX strategy?

Paul: UX strategy is about building a rationale to guide UX design efforts for the foreseeable future. UX strategy communicates a vision, priorities, design direction, and roadmap to serve as a North Star for all of the people in an organization who are planning and building digital products and programs. UX strategy is fundamentally based on data, but also encompasses creative leaps that let teams innovate and adapt to rapidly evolving technology contexts.

Pabini: Tell me about how you came to be a UX Strategist. What aspects of your education and professional background led you to a career in UX strategy?

Paul: I started designing Web sites in Barcelona in 1996. I was on a steady course as a UX Architect, having worked in that capacity for Sapient until 2002, then in my own consulting practice. In 2009, I had the privilege of working closely with a Business Strategist for a large retailer for six months, putting together a UX strategy foundation and roadmap that deeply integrated user experience vision, concept, design, and planning with business strategy and operational plans. That experience was both challenging and extremely satisfying, so I started seeking out similarly strategic engagements in my consulting practice.

Pabini: For people who want to pursue a career in UX strategy, what are the mindset and skills that a UX Strategist should have?

Paul: UX Strategists need to have a strong background in UX design and a deep understanding of their company, its customers, and its competition. I wrote about this in a UX Strategy column for UXmatters titled “3 Keys to Aligning UX with Business Strategy.” UX Strategists need to have a firm grasp of their company’s goals, priorities, and plans at a detailed level. They need to have a clear understanding of their customers’ interactive behavior patterns and how those patterns are evolving across various digital channels and touchpoints. And they need to understand the market context in which their digital products are competing.

Pabini: What prompted you to start the UX Strategy and Planning (UXS&P) group on LinkedIn?

Paul: I had completed a series of consulting engagements that were directly related to UX strategy and realized that this was a direction that I wanted to pursue professionally. My colleagues told me that this topic was too small a niche for a group, but I was convinced that UX strategy would be a significant growth area for user experience—a path away from the commoditization of UX skills that seemed imminent with increasing globalization and the improvement of automated tools.

Pabini: Tell me about the community that’s evolved from the UXS&P group. Do you or other members of the UXS&P community have any plans to create a more formal UX Strategy organization?

Paul: Last year, I formed a consulting group that brings together experienced talent for UX strategy consulting engagements and cleverly named it the UX Strategy Group. But rather than starting a formal UX strategy organization, I’m currently more interested in helping existing organizations like the UXPA to serve the needs of UX Strategists and develop a strong vertical offering in the area of UX strategy. The UXPA has given its active support to UX STRAT from its inception. The formation of a more targeted UX Strategy organization may be warranted at some time in the future, but for now, I think the best approach is to support an integrated offering rather than creating another specialty silo. We need to understand what everyone else in user experience is doing to be effective UX Strategists.

Pabini: What made you decide to organize the UX STRAT 2013 conference?

Paul: If you scan the discussion topics in the UX mega-groups on LinkedIn, then scan the topics in the UX Strategy and Planning group, I think you’ll see why the people who are interested in UX strategy were not getting what they needed from generalist UX conferences. If your goal is to figure out the smartest way to guide a large digital product or program, with visitors and revenues measuring in the millions, discussing the best prototyping tool or Photoshop filters or form-field patterns is just not going to cut it.

I felt that UX professionals who are responsible for establishing a vision, developing priorities, and creating a roadmap for future user experiences needed their own forum for discussing frameworks and case studies that would help them improve their chances for success.

Pabini: What are your goals for the conference?

Paul: My main goal for UX STRAT 2013 is that the presentations and workshops provide a comprehensive foundation for the emerging, global practice of UX strategy. I realize that may sound pretentious to some and overly ambitious to others. Nevertheless, I think UX strategy offers a sorely needed guiding light for establishing a vision and direction for the massive number of UX design efforts taking place around the world.

Developing a UX strategy for a project is a North Star of sorts that can lead to the alignment of user experience with business strategy, a vision of where a digital product is going, the ability to measure its progress, and ultimately, a greater likelihood of a successful customer experience. I’m hoping that UX STRAT 2013 will be a platform where emerging leaders in the new discipline of UX strategy can share their ideas and methods. I hope the seeds we plant there can grow into a fully developed profession in both small and large companies.

Pabini: What is the focus of the UX STRAT conference?

Paul: Its focus is on developing a strategic approach to guide the vision, prioritization, and design of user experiences. Speakers will present case studies and frameworks that will enable attendees to implement changes in the programs and products for which they’re responsible, ensuring that they are guided by a solid, data-supported rationale rather than guesswork.


Pabini: Who should attend the UX STRAT conference?

Paul: We’re selecting the presentations for UX STRAT based on their relevance to experienced UX professionals—particularly UX strategists, researchers, designers, and leaders. If you’re responsible for creating plans, setting priorities, and budgeting projects related to user experience, the UX STRAT conference is intended specifically for you.

Pabini: What do you hope people will get out of the conference?

Paul: I’m hoping that the people who attend the conference will

  • learn about UX strategy methods, tools, and deliverables
  • find out how UX leaders are using data to formulate their design strategies
  • hear how companies are redesigning their cultures and products around their customers
  • discover new ways to communicate UX strategy to your organization
  • network with experienced UX professionals whose focus is on UX strategy

Pabini: Tell me about the program that you’ve planned for the conference. What kinds of sessions have you planned?

Paul: The format of the conference will be single-track, plenary sessions, so the attendee experience will be more like a think tank than a series of lectures that attendees passively attend. There will be ample time for discussion. Attendees can interact after the conference, too, since most are members of the UX Strategy and Planning group on LinkedIn.

Pabini: Who will the keynote speakers be?

Paul: There are two keynote speakers:

  • Nathan Shedroff—Chair of the groundbreaking MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts
  • Aarron Walter—author of Designing for Emotion and Director of User Experience for MailChimp

Nathan is a pioneer of experience design. He speaks and teaches internationally and has written extensively on design and business issues. Nathan’s keynote speech at UX STRAT 2013 will set the tone for the entire conference by addressing the combination of UX design and business strategy.

Aarron will describe how his team at MailChimp collects, analyzes, and uses data to drive their UX strategy in his keynote.

Pabini: Will the conference include workshops?

Paul: Yes, we’ll hold workshops on September 9. Tim Loo of Foolproof is leading a workshop about “Redesigning Business Culture and Thinking Around the Customer.” Josh Seiden, editor of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, will also lead a workshop, covering the practical aspects of implementing Lean UX. We’ll announce additional workshops once we’ve finished evaluating all of the proposals that have been submitted.

Pabini: What is the venue for the conference?

Paul: The conference venue is fantastic! We’re holding UX STRAT at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. It’s a very modern facility with free wireless. Presentations will be in a 250-seat amphitheater. It’s a very intimate setting, and every seat will be a good seat. There will be lots of breaks with free snacks and coffee, so I fully expect people to get to know one another very quickly. The hotels are walking distance from the venue, and there’s also a free trolley attendees can take if the weather isn’t good. But September is usually a very nice month weather-wise for Atlanta.

Pabini: How much will UX STRAT 2013 cost?

Paul: Those who register early can save. The registration fees are as follows:

  • Two-day conference, September 10–11:
    • Super early registration, through June 30, 2013—$599
    • Early registration, through July 31, 2013—$699
    • Regular registration—$799
  • Two-day conference, plus two half-day workshops, September 9–11:
    • Super early registration, through June 30, 2013—$949
    • Early registration, through July 31, 2013—$1049
    • Regular registration—$1149

Pabini: What kinds of events are you planning that will offer networking opportunities at the conference?

Paul: Networking will be a major focus of the event—given the experience level of most attendees. Therefore, we are planning numerous breaks to give people plenty of time to meet other attendees. Plus, the single-track, plenary format will naturally create an intimate, professional setting for getting to know other attendees.

Each presentation will include a Q&A session, which will help people to become familiar enough with other attendees to talk with them on breaks and after the scheduled presentations are over. We are planning a Happy Hour for the first night of the conference, with locally brewed beer, giving people another chance to meet people they’ve noticed during the presentations.

Pabini: Who, in addition to yourself, is involved in putting on UX STRAT 2013?

Paul: The UX Strategy Group I mentioned earlier, which includes Mark Schraad, Shane McWhorter, Jenny Sun, and Andrew Schechterman, is the core team that is helping me to organize the conference.

The UX STRAT Advisory Board meets regularly to keep the conference planning on track for excellence. The Advisory Board consists of the UX Strategy Group consultants, plus Tim Loo, Ronnie Battista, Mona Patel, and Cory Lebson, all of whom are well known in UX circles.

I’ve also received an incredible amount of support and advice from mentors and partners who have deep experience organizing conferences. The UXPA has expressed strong support for UX STRAT from the beginning. Amy Kidd, UXPA’s Director of Events, has met with me on a regular basis to share expert advice on organizing the conference, with the full support of the UXPA board. The UXPA has approved my proposal for a presentation and workshop on UX Strategy and UX STRAT 2013 at their national conference in July, in Washington D.C., and we’re planning a number of co-promotion activities.

Organizers of other UX-related events have also been very generous with their time and counsel, including Brad Smith of WebVisions, Dan Szuc of UX Hong Kong, Bruno Figueiredo of User Experience Lisbon, Simon Pulman-Jones of the EPIC Conference, Andrew Hinton and Kevin Hoffman of the IA Summit, and Suzanne El-Moursi of Interaction 13.

As you, of course, know, our primary media partner is UXmatters, and UX Magazine is also helping us to get the word out about the conference.

Pabini: Any final thoughts?

Paul: I’m amazed at the brilliance and creativity of the people I’ve had the privilege of interacting with in the course of planning this conference. My biggest excitement about the conference is the opportunity to spend a few days in the same room with them, taking part in a broader conversation about my favorite topic: UX strategy. 

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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