UX Strategy Makes It Sweet!

The first time I heard about the “Innovation Sweet Spot” was when I took a course on user-centered design, my hand reflexively shot up in the air, just like Arnold Horshack. My question: “If business is always part of this equation, how can you be sure that some product manager won’t steer the project towards their own desired approach?” The instructor looked nonplussed and said “you can’t, that’s why it’s important that your organization is committed to user-centered design throughout the development process.”

I felt betrayed. I was so excited to learn about UX design after years of burn-out as an ordinary visual designer, warily chasing the whim of product managers, and the like. If it always only comes back to pleasing the client, how can I focus on the needs of the people who actually use the things I make? I’ve been struggling to accept this reality ever since that day I first laid eyes on the Innovation Sweet Spot Venn diagram. Product managers are usually subject matter experts, they’re supposed to have intimate knowledge of their users, but what if they don’t?

Bringing your business in phase with technology means you can realize some functional innovations. Bringing your technology in phase with your users can help you realize some process innovations, but if the business isn’t empathic to the needs of its users there will probably never be any emotional connection with the product. I call this “Unsweetened Innovation”, because as you can see from the diagram, there is no sweet spot. I’m a designer not a business person, I don’t really have any solutions of my own for this problem in my toolbox, then several weeks back I picked up a copy of the book called UX Strategy by Jaime Levy.

The author talks about the importance of competitive research, but it seems to me that most product managers understand the importance of knowing their competitive position. As I read on, I found the missing piece of the puzzle; business strategy needs “validated user research”. That means you create a value proposition, which is a marketing statement that summarizes why a customer should buy a product or use a service. You then develop a hypothesis based on what you know about your proposed users (and there isn’t just one type of user), so you need to create several “provisional personas”.

You need to test the value proposition with people who fit the description of your provisional personas, you can do this with a survey or in-person interviews, probably both. Doing this will help pull the business strategy in alignment with the needs of the user, and that’s a critical step of the strategy process that is sometimes overlooked. UX design is of limited use if it is in service of a poor business strategy, and the only way to know if your business strategy will work is to show it to your users. I know I’d heard these ideas before, but it didn’t really sink in until I read this book. I think making time for reading books like UX Strategy is really helping me integrate what I’ve learned so far, and that’s sweet!