The Importance of UX Strategy

What is UX Strategy

UX Strategy lies at the crossroads of UX design and business strategy. It’s a plan-of-action on how to find out if the user experience of a product is aligned with the business objectives (Levy, 2015). It is used to create an understanding between designers and the goals of the business/product/feature. More specifically, it’s a document of guidelines and rules that outline how the design team aims to achieve the organisation/product objectives. Every part of the strategy should be researched, vetted and approved by relevant stakeholders (Hoekman, 2015).

However, the execution of (and creation of) a UX Strategy depends a number of factors. In the below section these factors will be discussed, an explanation of Levy’s 4 tenet’s of UX Strategy will be described, and to conclude, a case study showing how UX strategy has been successfully applied will be examined.

Type and Size of Organisation

Innes (2015) speaks of two questions that a well formulated UX strategy must address:

  1. How do we design the best user experience for a specific product?
  2. What is the best way to create and manage UX at a company?

The type and size of an organisation will impact UX strategy. For start-ups or smaller companies the focus might be on quick a deliverable or roll out of a specific feature on one product, however in larger, more established organisations there could be a variety of teams working on several products, who have adopted their own strategies. These strategies might be suitable for one product/project but not another. Different situation require different UX strategies. This might work for some businesses however, companies like IBM and Google are dropping project based strategies in favour of a solid one-size fits all UX strategy. An example of this can be seen with Google Material Design (GMD) which is a Design Language that has been created for designers at Google(Innes, 2015). GMD provides designers with detailed guidelines and specifications to ensure consistency and quality across their product range.

Creating the UX Strategy

The point of a strategy is not to prescribe what to do. It’s a document that drives decisions (Hoekman, 2015). It focuses on

  • Goals over action
  • Ideas over to-do list

It does not describe specific features but outlines project objectives. It should be easy to understand and follow by everyone involved. Its aim is to create a shared vision of the product and how to create it (Levy, 2015). Hoekman (2015) suggests being able to fit a full UX Strategy on no more than two sides of a piece of paper when printed as long-form text. This is so people will read it, and so it can be reviewed in a short meeting. It should be an artifact that can be accessed with ease and even hung up to view and refer to on a regular basis. Often during projects designers can go off in a tangent so having the strategy clearly visible to refer to creates constraints which helps to establish design decisions (Hoekman, 2015).

The Four Tenets of UX Strategy

Levy (2015) prescribes a framework of four tenets that make up the foundation of UX Strategy. These are business strategy, value innovation, validation of user research and killer UX.

4 tenets of UX Strategy (source: O’Reilly)

Business Strategy

Is the identification of the guiding principles for how a company will compete in its industry and where you should invest to achieve business objectives” (Levy, 2015). It is how the company is perceived, it’s objective for scaling and making money. Competitive advantage such as cost leadership and differentiation are methods for organisations and products to increase success. Differentiation is where designers can make an impact. Understanding business strategy will help design teams identify steps to take that will lead to satisfying users mental modals when they think about using your product. Creating a business strategy is about identifying opportunities by running experiments, learning and iterating until something worth value is identified.

Value Innovation

Can be accomplished by focusing on the primary utility of a product and making the experience of it an indispensable aspect of how we live our lives” (Levy, 2015). This is what it being created that is different. The objective is to create value innovation in an uncontested market. This is done through continuous research and redesign. However, it must be constant as the marketplace, technology, customer values and value chains are forever evolving (Levy, 2016). This can be even more difficult when the competition is giving away their product for free. Kim and Mauborgne (2015)describe value innovation as “the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost, creating a leap in value for both buyers and the company”. This occurs when organisations align newness with utility and price (Levy, 2015).

Value Innovation = The simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost (source: four-tenets-ux-strategy)

An example of this can be seen with Tinder who have disrupted the online dating industry. The value for the user has gone up by offering a “frictionless” way to engage in online dating, for free. This is disruptive innovation. The other type of innovation is sustaining innovation. This might happen within an established organisation within an existing market. Sustaining innovation occurs differently from disruptive innovation and is about finding opportunity to do small change. This happens more often on existing products.

Sustaining vs disruptive innovation (source: LinkedIn)

Validate User Research

Is when the proposed product is approached as an “experiment” that needs to be tested by your hypothesized customers” (Levy, 2015). The aim is to validate assumptions and designs. It verifies if the value proposition is on the right track. In an agile working environment this can be done regularly. The experiments should test and prove hypotheses. The aim is to measure how valid something is. Ries (2011) describes a build-measure-learn feedback loop where the product should be tested early and often. If something doesn’t test well organisations have the insight and opportunity to persevere or pivot. This saves time and resources spent on building products that won’t be used. Drawing from experience, when dealing with senior management with outlandish product/feature recommendations, validating user research is key to focusing on the right problems and decision making. A useful way to do this is to bring the various stakeholders to user research and testing sessions. This way everyone involved can see for themselves how a product/feature performs in front of real users. This collaboration will help organically build agreement on the value innovation and any changes that follow.

“The premature outlay of huge amounts of money in pursuit of the wrong strategy is the thing to avoid. You need to have an experimental mindset” -Clayton Christensen

Killer UX Design

“Is accomplished when the product interface allows its user/customers to easily accomplish their goals with little resistance” Levy (2015). A frictionless experience. Killer UX Designers drive the value innovation by:

  1. Working collaboratively with stakeholders and teammates at the idea’s inception: The UX Designer can then design structure experiments to test the success of the value innovation to customers using measurable results, design decisions based on real results and not assumptions or biases.
  2. Help determine the key features that are critical to your product: This will include identifying and discovering core functionality needed for users to complete full journeys, major tasks and goals. Prioritization of MVP features are identified through story boarding, user scenario generation and competitor bench marking.
  3. Learn everything about the existing market space to identify UX opportunities that can be exploited: By having a detailed understanding of what’s currently available design teams can look to offer a solution that is more efficient and valuable.
  4. Talk directly to potential and existing power users to discover and validate the products primary utility: Drawing from experience, this is the most crucial and often most neglected step in the strategy. However, spending time focusing on this will lead to better understanding of the key pain points and problems to solve.
  5. Weaving the UX through all touch points — online and offline — enabling an experience that is frictionless: This involves thinking systematically about the full process of engaging with a product. Not just the actual use but the intended and post use of a product. A good example is using an airline where you might book a flight from a laptop, scan your boarding pass on your phone digitally to get on the plane and physically travel and avail of the on-board services while travelling to your destination. The aim is for all touch points of the journey to be smooth and frictionless.
“Killer UX equals better conversation” — Jamie Levy

A Case Study: AirBnb

Back in 2007, Craiglists was a common place for users to sublet accommodation. It was extremely basic. There were no user profiles, verification of hosts and guests or frictionless ways to organise payment. But in 2007 this was normal.

(Source: airbnb)

Enter Airbnb. In 2009, Airbnb were barely making $200 a week. Stressed with the task of identifying their value proposition/innovation they re-assessed their product. Joe Gebbia (co-founcer of AirBnb) noticed a pattern in all 40 listings on the site and decided to take action. Realising that the quality of their photographs “sucked” Gebbia’s team of 3 rented a camera, headed for New York and spent time replacing the amateur photography with beautiful high-resolution pictures at customers listing properties. A week later revenue doubled to $400.

Fast forward to today and we see value innovation that completely disrupts the travel and housing industry made up of all the workings of a successful UX Strategy.

Value innovation mixed with killer UX has created a platform that is of the highest-quality built on trust between users. This was established in 2009 when higher quality images were uploaded to listing and is consistent with the interface and experience today which is simple, clean, useful, usable and beautiful. Couple this with a service that is frictionless from sign-up, staying and paying, to building of trust through user verification and approval through electronic word-of-mouth, secure effortless payments, social interaction and engagement, and you create sustaining and disruptive innovation under one roof.

They’ve embraced the fact that value innovation and user expectation is continuously changing and that non-scalable and non-technical solutions (like updated images using a camera in New York) are viable ways to solve a problem and improve the experience. New and existing staff are encouraged to act like pirates to identify new opportunities by thinking of, and acting on new ideas through constant validation user research and testing. In fact, they even make new starters build and ship new features on their first day to earn “sea legs” and show that great ideas can come from anywhere (“How Design Thinking”, n.d.).

They’ve remained current by understanding the evolution of the industry and shifted their strategy and focus from rental business to travel business where it no longer offers “a place to stay” experience, but a new feel “at home” travel experience. This is reflective in the property images where the interiors are more personal, intimate, with the outdoor images illustrating environments reminiscent of likable, warm, homely memories (Churruca, S.(2015)

Airbnb old strategy focusing “on a place to stay” and new strategy “welcome home”.

To Summarize

UX Strategy is a method that validates a solution can actually solves a problem for real customers in a dynamic marketplace and ensures product/market fit (Levy, 2015).

“Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” — Marc Andreessen

It helps the entire team and the stakeholders reach a shared vision for efficiency. When aligned with the right business model it can define a disruptive or sustaining product, as seen with Airbnb.

Using a strategy like Levy’s 4 tenets provides a solid guideline for any project. Understanding the business strategy and validating the user experience strategy through identification of value innovation and user research reduces the risk of wasting time making things people don’t want while also identifying real value. Combined with Killer UX it is a practice that if done correctly provides a much better guarantee of releasing a product that is successful.

References

Churruca, S.(2015). Don’t ever forget about Value Proposition Retrieved January 08, 2017, from http://www.ux-lady.com/dont-ever-ever-forget-about-value-proposition/

How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business. (n.d.). Retrieved January 08, 2017, from http://firstround.com/review/How-design-thinking-transformed-Airbnb-from-failing-startup-to-billion-dollar-business/

Innes, J. (2015, September 19). UX strategy: Fad or new world order? User Experience Magazine. Retrieved on 8th January 2017 from http://uxpamagazine.org/ux-strategy/

Kim, W.C. and Mauborgne, R. (2015) Blue Ocean Strategy. Harvard Business Review Press; Expanded edition edition.

Levy, J. (2015). UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want.O’Reilly Media.

Levy, J. (2016, June 10). The four tenets of UX strategy. Retrived January 8th2017, from https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/four-tenets-ux-strategy

Ries, E. (2011). ).The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses. London: Penguin Group.

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