As far back as 1973, Thomas J. Watson Jr. had been known to say that “good design is good business” (IBM, n.d.). In more recent years, due to both the success of Apple and increasing quality expectations, there has been a massive investment in design from many of the larger technology companies, such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft (Innes, 2015).
This large investment in design as a business strategy is also due to those at an executive level experiencing the significant impact user experience (UX) design as a competency has had firsthand on positive business outcomes in a range of diverse non-traditional technology industries, from automotive to oral care (Innes, 2015).
With this, in order to adapt with the marketplace, there’s been a growing need to integrate UX design into all aspects of business – However, up until recently there hasn’t been a formal framework for acting on this (Levy, 2015). In order to maintain the seat design has been granted at the table, the competency now needs to evolve by practicing at a more strategic level (Innes, 2015). This is how the concept of UX strategy was born.
According to Jamie Levy (2015), UX strategy is a way of thinking, and not a means of formulating and executing the perfect plan. Rising above the traditional business definition of strategy, UX strategy has been described as an evolutionary process that actually involves researching and recognising all of the constraints and concerns in the various aspects of a business and putting them in front of relevant stakeholders to make decisions that serve researched, vetted, and defined goals (Hoekman Jr., 2015).
When politicians change their minds, we call it flip-flopping. When we change our minds about strategy, we call it good design.
Different types of companies and situations require different UX strategies – A smaller company such as a startup would typically focus on the short-term problem of developing a minimal viable product (MVP) and evaluating it against the market, while larger, established organisations like IBM are concerned with optimising their internal processes and efficiently managing all of their product teams at scale (Innes, 2015).
In an effort to integrate design as a competency into an organisation that has been engineering-lead for over twenty years, IBM is currently undergoing a top-down transformation that has adapted and scaled IDEO’s Design Thinking methodology into a framework that infuses UX strategy into the large, diverse product teams that make up the modern digital enterprise (IBM Design, 2016).
According to Innes (2015), a well-formulated UX strategy should be able to answer these two fundamental questions:
- How do we design the best user experience for a specific product?
- What is the best way to create and manage UX at a company?
Shifting an organisation to adopt a UX strategy isn’t something that happens overnight. Hoekman Jr. (2015) outlines two key concepts that encompasses the purest form of UX strategy that allows for teams to adapt to a problem space quickly:
- Goals over actions
- Ideas over to-do lists
Similarly to the above, Gothelf and Seiden (2013) outline a number of areas in which changes should be made to integrate a Lean UX mindset into an organisation. Areas that are key to UX strategy include the following:
- Focusing on outcomes over output
- Valuing problem solving
- Shifting organisation culture
A simple and effective example of integrating UX strategy into business and engineering can be seen in Figure 1 below, where the diagram describes how UX resource allocation can be used tactically to support a product strategy. Speaking from experience, in order to bring a team to the best user outcome, the construction of diverse teams helps frame the approach to the problem and bring unique perspectives and expertise to the team – this is a core principle of IBM Design Thinking (IBM Design, 2016), and of course comes with it’s challenges.
Empathy: first with each other. Then with our users.
Multidisciplinary teams can bring with it conflicts in points-of-view, but also requires surrendering operational decisions to them, similarly to those practising Scrum as a methodology – diverse teams will be blocked in doing good work without first being empowered to do so (IBM Design, 2016).
In order to formalise UX strategy as a competency, Levy (2015) has developed a formula that contains four key tenets that make up her framework, as seen in Figure 2 below. These include the following:
- Business strategy
- Value innovation
- Validated user research
- Killer UX
Exploring and executing on each of these tenets when incorporating a UX strategy may be the deciding factor between how a product delivers real value through UX, and how it creates real value for the product’s stakeholders (Levy, 2015).
The first tenet of UX strategy, business strategy, provides a product’s stakeholders with the organisation’s guiding principles to aid in positioning itself, while still enabling them to achieve its goals (Levy, 2015). This is achieved by continuously distinguishing and leveraging its competitive advantage in the marketplace. The two quickest and most effective ways of achieving a competitive advantage are through the following:
- Cost leadership
- Market differentiation
It appears that startups have a greater advantage over larger organisations when it comes to cost leadership and market differentiation, as they can focus on a gap in the market without experiencing the financial overhead that their competitors at the top of the market are exposed to. This in turn allows them to sell their product or service for substantially less than their larger counterparts, while also validating and delivering a more specifically-targeted experience. Larger organisations are then forced to revisit a business model they may have had in place for years in order to compete in the market.
Levy’s (2015) second tenet of UX strategy, value innovation, is described as both the pursuit of market differentiation while still maintaining a low cost for a product – this can create a leap in value for users, and in turn the organisation as well.
With this, disruptive innovation is a concept that has evolved as a byproduct of players in the marketplace striving for competitive advantage. It describes how a product or service begins at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly grows up through that market, displacing it’s established competitors (Christensen, 2012). This is something that occurs quite frequently – larger organisations end up producing products or services that become too complicated, expensive, and sophisticated for many users in their market, and unwillingly create opportunities for smaller companies like startups to produce disruptive innovations.
Levy’s (2015) third tenet of UX strategy, validated user research, as highlighted in Figure 4, is incorporated into a product’s life cycle in order to validate collaboratively as a team whether it’s on the right track with it’s value proposition. This appears to be the recurring theme across all areas and aspects and areas of UX design – it’s almost second nature for designers to want to validate every artefact and decision made in order to stay on the right trajectory.
Finally, without killer UX design, the fourth and final tenet of UX strategy (Levy, 2015), only consistent user experiences can ever produced. There’s no tried-and-tested formula for achieving this, but facilitating constant collaboration with stakeholders, learning the existing market space inside-out to discover opportunities, and keeping open communication with a product’s users is half the work.
In the case of X-Force Exchange (see Figure 5 below), a threat intelligence portal, IBM were able use some up front design to validate and apply the concepts of cost leadership and market differentiation married with user-centered design to deliver a wealth of valuable real-time expertise and knowledge in cyber security, while offering both non-commercial and commercial tiers, charged on a per use basis, providing immediate value for security professionals daily.
Developing a UX strategy for an organisation has been found to be incredibly challenging, but also has been proven to provide significant positive outcomes (Innes, 2015) – this blog post aimed to outline the importance of incorporating UX strategy into a broader business and engineering context. As outlined, it takes an organisational shift in culture, outlook, and processes in order to successfully maintain it.
Christensen, C. (2012, July 10). Disruptive innovation. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts/
Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. (2013). Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience (First ed.). O’Reilly Media.
Hoekman Jr., R. (2015). The Field Guide to UX Strategy: Turning Vision Into Action. UXPin Inc.
IBM. (n.d.). Good Design Is Good Business. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/gooddesign/
IBM Design. (2016). IBM Design Thinking. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.ibm.com/design/thinking/
Levy, J. (2015). UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want. O’Reilly Media.
Innes, J. (2015, September 19). UX strategy: Fad or new world order? Retrieved October 4, 2016, from User Experience Magazine, http://uxpamagazine.org/ux-strategy/