How To Best Define UX Strategy?

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In the User Experience (UX) community, there’s an ongoing debate about how to best define UX strategy. Is it something that’s best characterized by an approach or philosophy you bring to doing design work? Or is it more structured, like a formal framework or strict methodology?

To give a short answer: yes.

Boiling UX strategy down to a single, exclusive definition kind of defeats the whole purpose of the concept. That’s because the greatest strength of UX strategy is its fluidity. In order to be viable and effective, a UX strategy needs to adapt to rapidly changing information and circumstances. However, that adaptability doesn’t mean it lacks structure or methodological rigor. An effective UX strategy may utilize an array of tools, processes, methods, and people to create user experiences, but it never loses sight of the human element of that work.

There’s a tendency for UX designers to become so wrapped up in providing a great user experience that they forget who they’re actually designed for in the first place. When you find yourself trying to own the user’s experience, dictating how they should engage with or feel about a product or brand, you’re serving your ego and needs rather than the user’s. A UX strategist’s mission is to think about how to provide experiences users find easy, efficient, satisfying, and compelling, not pursue their own narrow ideas about what users should want.

A good UX strategy incorporates three key concepts that help to focus design efforts on creating innovative and engaging experiences:

Service Design

The user experience extends beyond the (relatively) simple mechanics of user interface. It encompasses every touchpoint of the user’s engagement, including things they aren’t even aware of. People don’t always recognize when they’ve had a good user experience, but they never forget about bad ones, which can have a long-term impact on a brand.

Service design doesn’t just think about how a product or service is delivered. It’s not only a company’s phone app or website; it’s also the way their staff behaves, how well they light and decorate their stores, and even whether or not the billboards they’ve posted all around town are obnoxious. By reimagining what contributes to user experience, you can approach problems from new directions and optimize solutions more effectively.

In some ways, service design focuses on how organizations and end users form sustainable relationships in a community context. Rather than emphasizing the purely transactional aspect of consumer products and services, UX strategists can create lasting connections in the service of bigger causes that affect all users.

Boiling UX strategy down to a single, exclusive definition kind of defeats the whole purpose of the concept

Lean UX

The days of lengthy product research and development are long gone. Today’s organizations are pushing for faster solutions that enable them to move quickly in a dynamic economy. For UX strategists, that means embracing the principles of lean UX, which focuses on adaptability and efficiency to get to the ideation and design stage faster than ever.

Lean research gains much of its speed by incorporating design teams into the research process, which allows them to get a firsthand glimpse of what the users they’re actually designing for want and need. Much of this research takes the form of investigation, a dedicated effort to observe and empathize with people to understand their perspective on an experience.

The key question here is “Why?” Utilizing strategies like ethnographic studies and body storming, lean UX doesn’t concern itself with obvious questions but tries instead to get at the questions researchers never even thought to ask. Only after getting to the root of how people feel about their experiences can researchers and designers begin to understand “why” they feel that way. Then, they can get working on solutions.

Disruptive Design

Disruption has been a favorite buzzword of the start-up world for quite some time, but it plays a special role in the realm of UX strategy. Delivering superior user experience solutions often requires counterintuitive thinking and unconventional approaches to problems. Doing something new and different can be exciting, but it’s also hard work that takes a lot of time and resources.

More importantly, it also means overcoming fear. Organizations and people can become incredibly risk-averse in both their thinking and their actions, even when they know that taking a risk is the right thing to do. Doing something different creates disruption, which can lead to tension and conflict. Vested interests will always push back against changes to the status quo, even when they know that clinging to that status quo will only lead to the same suboptimal outcomes. Good UX strategy asks “what if?” and must be able to make a convincing argument that it’s possible, even necessary, to try something new, exciting, and different, even if doing so creates a lot of risk.

The fear of rejection, failure, or accountability can absolutely cripple a UX strategy if it prevents innovative design solutions from being brought to life. What’s the point of identifying creative new ways to deliver a superb user experience if you’re not willing to fight to implement them? If an organization makes the decision to embrace design thinking, UX strategies have an obligation to push through whatever fears or misgivings they may have to carry through on the potential of their research and design process.

A good UX strategy, then, is an approach, a framework, a philosophy, and a methodology all at once. It combines service design, lean UX, and disruptive design principles to create amazing ideas that change everyday user experiences and redefine the way people relate to brands. The process of getting to these solutions can be difficult, with provocative questions and radical new ways of thinking creating tension and conflict along the way, but the end results of this continuously iterative UX process ultimately have the power to positively transform people’s lives.

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