Actual, practical UX strategy

design, strategy

Paul Bryan, of the LinkedIn UX Strategy and Planning group, contributed There is no such thing as UX strategy, on UXmatters. Bryan’s clearly got a handle on the subject, but some of the user responses (“This UX Strategist role should be a skill of a PO;” “I thought we decided there was no such thing as UX Strategy…and that UX was strategy?”) revealed a widespread lack of understanding on what it is and who should do it (and no, it’s probably not product owners. A PO truly gifted in UX is not only extremely rare, but has many non-UX roles to fulfill. Adding this to their plate is the wrong call.)

While I agree with Bryan’s thesis that there should be better understanding and use of UX strategy, but in the article he behaves as though this is a goal. Having seen UX strategy happen and consciously done it myself for the better part of a decade, I submitted the following comment:

It is real, and it’s happening in some places. I think the reason for the confusion lies in lack of definition about not simply what UX means, but what strategy means.

For me – and I’ve been doing user experience under one title or another for over 14 years now – UX is “everything that is the case;” it’s everything the user experiences in the context of your brand. Designing good UX is not possible without understanding product strategy; designing great UX is not possible unless product strategy integrates UX strategy. Frequently the only person who can do that is the UX designer, unless you’ve hired product people with design backgrounds, which is rare. User experience rests on the three pillars of user research, usable IA/UI/IxD, and purpose-driven vision. You have to understand your users’ goals, your client’s goals, and be able to bridge them.

So there are different flavors of UX strategy, and a good UX strategist uses them all at different times.

  • Brand-integrated user experience design that is not only usable and delightful, but actively furthers the brand. For example, it’s not enough to simply provide a space for a promo on a page; the UX designer should help drive which promos will not hurt the purpose of the page, and may even increase user value and enjoyment. You have to integrate the web, print, TV, off-site advertising, enewsletter, and other items to have an integrated UX strategy. (Yes, this does actually happen at times.)
  • UX evangelism strategy. Figure out how to get people thinking in user terms. At a highly numbers-driven social network, I introduced them to the concept of measuring not just user-generated content (UGC) but user-generated activity (UGA), lumping it all under user-generated experience (UGX). Product owners and others measured UGA on their own, which forced them to think from the user’s perspective.
  • Research-driven UX strategy. In the example in the second bullet, UGX became a strong driver of overall UX strategy – we consciously presented activities to users in a particular order, based on user research and testing, designed to both optimize their experience and increase the ROI on their activities. We also studied communication patterns of UGA and UGC, determining where the best user value and ROI lay there as well.
  • Road map strategy. As user advocates and researchers, UX strategists can contribute significantly to road map work. For example, putting on our analytic hats we can show product strategists how to objectively measure concepts they tend to consider intangibles, such as competitiveness. We can also show how UX focused strategies such as the ones above can be integrated into their road map for the benefit of both user and company.
  • Last but certainly not least, there is perspective-drive UX strategy. Here, the underlying narrative/perspective of the users on the site should drive UX strategy. For example, examining user personas recently to get the unifying “hook” behind a software app, I realized that while the users themselves were very different in many key ways, they were all concerned with the same ultimate goal. It’s actually not in the app itself, but putting that goal first in my design immediately became the underlying theme/narrative behind all my UX choices. If a design choice doesn’t further that goal, it’s probably the wrong choice, and it’s out.

These are some of the many aspects of UX strategy I’ve used, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. While which ones work for you depend on your role, good UX designers should probably consider all of them as much as possible in our work.

Thanks for the great conversation-starter.


Originally posted on UXtraordinary.com.

Shirky on purpose

design, design thinking

You know you’ve got a good piece of software when people use it for purposes for which the designers never intended or designed.

— Clay Shirky

Designing for purpose

design thinking

This is the first of several presentations applying different psychological systems to user experience.

Designing for users is a tough job. To optimize our designs and strategy, UX professionals frequently turn to concept/site testing. The problem is that most design strategy and testing thinks in terms of input → output. We provide input, users perform a desired response (click-through, purchase, content creation). How to break out of this mold?

Perceptual control theory (PCT) assumes that all output is based on the ultimate goal of improved perceptual input. If you replace “input” in the previous sentence with “experience,” you’ll see the direction this discussion is going…


Originally posted on UXtraordinary, August 3, 2009.

Messy is fun: challenging Occam’s razor

design thinking, psychology, taxonomy

The scientific method is the most popular form of scientific inquiry, because it provides measurable testing of a given hypothesis. This means that once an experiment is performed, whether the results were negative or positive, the foundation on which you are building your understanding is a little more solid, and your perspective a little broader. The only failed experiment is a poorly designed one.

So, how to design a good experiment? The nuts and bolts of a given test will vary according to the need at hand, but before you even go about determining what variable to study, take a step back and look at the context. The context in which you are placing your experiment will determine what you’re looking for and what variables you choose. The more limited the system you’re operating in, the easier your test choices will be, but the more likely you are to miss something useful. Think big. Think complicated. Then narrow things down.

But, some say, simple is good! What about Occam’s razor and the law of parsimony (entities should not be unnecessarily multiplied)?

Occam’s razor is a much-loved approach that helps make judgment calls when no other options are available. It’s an excellent rule of thumb for interpreting uncertain results. Applying Occam’s razor, you can act “as if” and move on to the next question, and go back if it doesn’t work out.

Still, too many people tend to use it to set up the context of the question, unconsciously limiting the kind of question they can ask and limiting the data they can study. It’s okay to do this consciously, by focusing on a simple portion of a larger whole, but not in a knee-jerk fashion because “simple is better.” Precisely because of this, several scientists and mathematicians have suggested anti-razors. These do not necessarily undermine Occam’s razor. Instead, they phrase things in a manner that helps keep you focused on the big picture.

Some responses to Occam’s concept include these:

Einstein: Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Leibniz: The variety of beings should not rashly be diminished.

Menger: Entities must not be reduced to the point of inadequacy.

My point is not that Occam’s razor is not a good choice in making many decisions, but that one must be aware that there are alternative views. Like choosing the correct taxonomy in systematics, choosing different, equally valid analytic approaches to understand any given question can radically change the dialogue. In fact, one can think of anti-razors as alternative taxonomies for thought: ones that let you freely think about the messy things, the variables you can’t measure, the different perspectives that change the very language of your studies. You’ll understand your question better, because you’ll think about it more than one way. And while you’ll need to pick simple situations to test your ideas, the variety and kind of situations you can look at will be greatly expanded.

Plus, messy is fun.

Originally posted on former personal blog UXtraordinary.com.