My interest in this topic came from a few places, including the following:
- The failed effort to create a UXPA International Certification program, which I undertook during my three years as Director of Certification for the UXPA. That was quite an eye-opening experience, given the strong and vocal opinions both for and against certification.
- Emerging professional trends, both within and outside of user experience, that emphasize speed to market—for example Lean, agile, and “fail forward fast.”
- The competitive challenges that we face teaching user experience at Rutgers—for example MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), programs like General Assembly, and the increasing number of 1- to 3-day UX intensive workshops. Is it me or are they multiplying like rabbits?
- The continuing confusion over what user experience is and isn’t versus other UX-related disciplines that are not called user experience, such as customer experience (CX), information architecture (IA), service design (SD), and experience design (XD).
- Getting a bit existential about what UX strategy means for us—and selfishly, for my next 20 plus working years—and for our future UX leaders.
I purloined the idea to frame this as 10 Commandments from another list of 10 that I coauthored a few years ago at my previous company—where, to better market what we did to external audiences, we created the “10 Immutable Truths of Experience Design.”
Here are some questions that I asked myself and the UX STRAT audience, which I’d like you to consider before we get to the Commandments.
- Do you believe that UX strategy is inherently different from other UX/CX/IA/SD/XD research, design, and evaluation work? Or is it a combination of all of these? Or perhaps an umbrella that covers all of them?
- What about service design (SD) and experience design (XD)? Are they identical to UX strategy?
- Beyond our self-styled professional titles, do you believe there is—or should be—some criteria that qualify someone as a UX Strategist?
- Have you worked on a UX-strategy project that did not involve a digital interface?
- Are there deliverables that UX Strategists should employ rather than people in other roles—for example, customer journey mapping?
- And, if this field is indeed emerging, for those at the start of their careers looking for the color of their parachute, what type of people are better suited for UX strategy? Right-brainers or left-brainers? Whole-minders?
Ultimately, the two questions that I’m constantly asking myself are:
- How can I be the best in an emerging field that is still defining itself?
- How can we help build this profession to grow and support those who come after us?
Three final points about the title of this article lest anyone think that I’ve used the word Commandments to mean anything prophetic or irrefutably conclusive:
- Similar to the biblical 10 Commandments, which are a mix of the practical and the emotional—don’t kill people—and those that are a bit more cerebral in nature—don’t covet your neighbor’s ass, my UX-strategy commandments cover a broad scope.
- Religious affiliations aside, I’d submit that, like the biblical 10 Commandments that Moses received, some of these UX strategy commandments are a bit easier to follow than others. Considering the same examples from the previous bullet point, few would dispute that “Thou shalt not kill” is not an easy commandment to check off. But not coveting your neighbor’s stuff is not so easy. (You should see the massive home-brew setup my boss has in his basement, I covet the hell out of it!) The 10 Commandments of UX Strategy are key areas of our profession that I think all UX Strategists must strive toward and, to the best extent possible, should try to infuse in their professional practice.
- I like the definition of a Commandment: “noun—a statement of what to do that must be obeyed by those concerned.” The 10 Commandments of UX Strategy is far a catchier title than “10 Things We Must Obey,” right?
- Commandments are nuanced. Arguably, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” should not apply to a soldier fighting in defense of his or her country.
- And finally, as I said to the UX STRAT audience, which comprised folks who could speak to any of these commandments better than I can, I know I’m preaching to the choir. I don’t expect these commandments to strike many of you as eye-opening revelations. So, in reading this article, please consider this as my attempt at trend analysis or aggregation rather than as anything resembling thought leadership.
The 10 Commandments of UX Strategy
- THOU SHALT FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE
- HONOR YOUR COMPANY AND CUSTOMER, BUT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS
- THOU SHALT NOT STEAL THY EMPLOYEE’S HUMANITY
- REMEMBER TO KEEP HOLY THE CONTEXT
- THOU SHALT NOT KILL THY CAREER
- THOU SHALT NOT BEAR SPECULATIVE WITNESS
- THOU SHALT STAY FAITHFUL TO UX GOVERNANCE
- THOU SHALT NOT SPEAK UX IN TONGUES
- THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP DIGITAL ONLY
- THOU SHALT PRACTICE UX WITH HUMAN-CENTRIC INTEGRITY
I. THOU SHALT FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE
UX strategy requires a solid understanding of business goals, vision, and drivers. There will always be strategic UX initiatives and projects, but those with the greatest chance of providing long-term sustainable business value are UX solutions that stay framed in the big picture. As the title of Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine’s excellent book Outside In suggests, we need to help our companies look outside in. Seek the UX strategy behind even the most tactical engagement. There will always be tactical engagements, and chances are that you’ll be doing a lot more of them in your career than the game-changing, C-level enterprise transformations. But you must ensure that you do everything that you do, no matter how small it may seem, with an eye toward and a focus on the bigger picture—creating the holistic experiences that we all should seek to create.
Within this big picture is an implicit understanding of value. UX Strategists have a great understanding of the human impact of business decisions, and it’s important to recognize and be prepared to articulate that human impact, as well as the value that businesses are trying to create for themselves, customers, and shareholders.
II. HONOR YOUR COMPANY AND CUSTOMER, BUT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS
What are the specific business levers that enable your company to win over competitors, and how can the user experience that you create directly impact them? You should not speak the name of UX strategy unless you can articulate the competition, the company, and the customer. So, in contrast to the Biblical commandment, you should covet your neighbor’s ass if he’s making money on it. Find out why, and continually look ahead and behind you. I give the full copyright to this commandment to Paul Bryan and his UXmatters column “3 Keys to Aligning UX with Business Strategy.” He nails it.
III. THOU SHALT NOT STEAL THY EMPLOYEE’S HUMANITY
There are at least two sides to every interaction, and often, both are human. You must pay attention to the mutual success of these interactions. There are optimal paths for both to be successful. As Frederick Reichheld wrote in The Loyalty Effect, “If you wonder what getting and keeping the right employees has to do with getting and keeping the right customers, the answer is everything.” This is fast becoming a need-to-have for the up-and-coming generations, especially Generation C, the brightest of which will take their skills to companies that create the work experience and environment that they have come to expect.
IV. REMEMBER TO KEEP HOLY THE CONTEXT
Unfortunately, our global supply of true ‘genius design’ potential—for example, Steve Jobs—is inversely proportional to that for well-intended senior executives, Product Owners, and creative designers who get gut feelings that are unencumbered by facts. Of course, we need to know the context of interactions before we can hope to create an optimal product or service. However, I have yet to meet anyone in this field who, for even a few years, hasn’t had to compromise doing needed context-based research to meet a budget, deadline, or executive demand. And we make these decisions fully aware of the potential negative—or, if we’re lucky, just less-positive—impacts on the audience who ultimately inherits our design solutions? It is incumbent upon the UX Strategist to advocate strongly that UX research be part of any attempt to create or redefine a user experience. But pick your battles because you likely won’t win all of them. Still, fight hard to get research included in your projects.