The strategy of user experience lies between UX design and business strategy. It allows companies to reasonably prioritize design tasks and not get distracted by non-essential aspects popping up here and there during the product development process.
What is a UX strategy?
Let us turn to Richard Rumelt, a strategy’s strategist and the author of an iconic “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” book. Mr. Rumelt says a strategy is a coherent mix of policy and action designed to overcome a high-stakes challenge.
A good UX strategy has coherence, coordinated actions, policies, and resources to accomplish important actions. Many companies, most of the time, don’t have this.
Why there are so many bad UX strategies?
According to Richard Rumelt, a strategy becomes weak due to one or more of the following four reasons:
- Fluff. Any strategic talks are always covered by a fog of abstract words and esoteric concepts that exist to create the illusion of wisdom. When you hear about ubiquitous computing, user interface scenography, and human-computer IxD evangelism, you know that someone has been inventing overkill terms instead of doing the job.
- Failure to face the challenge. A brilliant solution to a wrong problem may be worse than no solution at all. Good designers never start with the problem given to them. Rather, they start with research, trying to understand what the real issue is.
- Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are rather dreams than action plans. Objectives of intuitive design, Apple-like design, and human-centered design are the most common.
- Bad strategic objectives. Sometimes management sets design goals guided by anything but design. The product should be attractive and cheap so that marketing could sell it. It should be distinguishable from competitors for branding reasons and reliable, as engineers insist. Developers should be able to code it in reasonable terms. “You can’t put it all together and still have an actual product,” says the design team.
As the result…
The kernel of a good UX strategy
Any good strategy consists of some basic structural elements Richard Rumelt calls the kernel. There might be more than just the kernel, but when this core structure is absent, there’s a serious problem with a strategy.
The kernel of a strategy consists of three elements:
- A diagnosis that defines and explains the nature of challenge designers have to overcome;
- A guiding policy for dealing with a challenge;
- A set of coherent actions that are set to carry out the guiding policy.
Three elements of every excellent strategy
A diagnosis in a UX strategy
If you look at the double diamond of a design process, introduced by a British Design Council, you will notice one strange thing. Exactly half of the design process is dedicated to finding the right problem. And only the second part is about finding the right solution to the problem.
The double diamond of a design process
First, designers expand the scope of the problem and diverge to examine all the issues that underlie it. Next, they converge upon a single problem statement.
A guiding policy of a UX strategy
Experienced designers don’t try to look for solutions until they are sure that the right problem was diagnosed. And even then, instead of solving the problem, they stop to consider a wide variety of potential solutions to choose the best one — the guiding policy of a UX strategy. That is called design thinking.
The second diamond in a double diamond of a design process is dedicated to exploring the wide variety of solutions before converging upon one. Developing a range of half-formed ideas and thoughts may not seem like making a progress (that often drives managers crazy) but it is the only way to make sure the problem is going to be solved in an optimal way.
A set of coherent actions in a UX strategy
The double diamond shows the two phases of design: diagnosing the problem and discovering the right policy that guides the solution. But how does this work in reality? The answer to this question gives the cycle of human-centered design.
The cycle consists of four activities:
- Idea generation
The iterative cycle of human-centered design
In the observation stage, designers have to deal with the uncertainty that is inevitable at the onset of any project. To beat the uncertainty, they do qualitative research using the following methods:
- Requirements gathering
- Field study
- Diary study
- User interview
- Stakeholder interview
Design research supports both diamonds of designers’ double-diamond. The first diamond requires a deep understanding of people’s pains and gains. Once the problem is identified, research is needed to find out how people perform a certain activity, what are their habits and cultural norms.
The stage of idea generation, or ideation, also takes place inside both diamonds. This is a fun part of design: it requires creativity, brainstorming, and courage. Just be aware of criticizing ideas in this stage. Even crazy, obviously wrong thoughts may contain an insight that can be useful in later stages.
This is a little too accurate
The only way to know if the idea is reasonable is to test it. Testing requires building a quick prototype. It can be a sketch on sticky notes, PowerPoint slides, a cardboard model — whatever serves the purpose.
Gather a small group of people and make them use prototypes as near as possible to the way they will actually work. Observe their behavior and learn.
The excellent UX strategy consists of problem diagnosis and problem-solving guiding policy. Those two build up a design process double diamond. Inside the diamond lives the iterative cycle of human-centered design.
But it’s a perfect picture — design doesn’t really work that way. Because according to Don Norman’s law of product development, the day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget.