Customer Insights and Ideation: Level Up Enterprise Product Design with UX Part 1

Tap the full potential of UX and the design process.

While User Experience is no doubt gaining a foothold in corporations, it is still an emerging field — and many enterprise companies struggle with how to best integrate design specialist into the product life-cycle.

Common problems include not budgeting for research or allocating time for exploration, embedding UX designers within development teams (where it is too late to make truly innovative contributions) or bringing in a designer at later stages to “make-it-pretty” or worse: to fix a flawed product already being rolled out to confused customers (aka crazy expensive product testing).

By it’s nature, a UX team will serve as an independent customer advocate; coordinating across lines of business and bridging the all-to-common product/development divide to ensure the “voice of the customer” is acted upon. This is particularly useful in large organizations where customer experience efforts are often hampered by geographically siloed teams. Products can benefit immensely by utilizing a user-centric design team to carry stories through the entire life cycle (idea inception to post-release).

A quick side note here before we dig in. An effective UX team includes three roles: Interaction design, visual design and research. A Lean UX team can (and should) step into each of these roles to some degree, but each individual will have an area of expertise; and a dedicated research arm will facilitate a steady cadence of experimentation. It seems that research is often the missing component, which is a shame as most of those truly ubiquitous designs are informed by behavioral science. There is a lot of psychology behind that ‘like’ button.

The end-to-end product design process

The UX team can provide value across the entire life-cycle illustrated above. Let’s break this flow into three sections.

  • First is idea validation: supporting product teams in ideation and prioritization; and collaboratively establishing a UX strategy for the product.
  • Second is design validation: This is the design process (or ‘design thinking’ if you prefer). Giving concrete form to those ideas with prototypes that allow product owners to quickly (an inexpensively) validate multiple product outcomes with customers (no developer coding needed).
  • The third area is delivery: Those validated ideas feed developer backlogs. UX works with development teams to address any front-end concerns and ensure UX standards are maintained. Post-release, UX tracks customer feedback and system analytics to drive iterative product usability improvements.

First, lets review the early stages.

Early Stages

From the Start: Idea Inception (Market Sensing)
Product management receives a constant feed of enhancement requests largely driven by customers. Among other sources, product management also generates or fields ideas from market research, development road maps, senior leadership, and government or contract mandated requirements. Of particular interest to a user experience team? Those ideas generated from customer support and metrics being generated from the product post-release.

UX Involvement: A well integrated UX team is actively engaged with customers (participating in focus groups, industry events and visiting customers); and therefore able to contribute early stage ideas for consideration. When design is working closely with product leadership, big picture ideas start to emerge here as well.

Discovery and Validation Research
The product team needs to determine which of these many ideas are worth taking into the market. In evaluating opportunities they may consider whether or not it aligns to companies strategic road map, competencies, ROI and customer impact. Ultimately, the product team will want to concentrate on building solutions that solve an urgent, pervasive customer needs: solutions worth paying for.

UX Involvement: To make this determination, data is needed. Qualitative feedback derived from customer visits and early experiments can validate needs and surface new issues (what a customer says they do is quite often different than what they actually do), and quantitative research will establish the pervasiveness of a given issue (is this an isolated incident or a globally frustrating experience). An established research group can quickly gather user data that digs deeper than market research to help positioning statements focus on solving user-persona problems.

The Product Roadmap
The roadmap is a company’s vision. Balancing costs and technical hurdles against strategic objectives (such as an improved user experience). The roadmap serves as the north star towards which all downstream efforts align: planning, design, delivery, marketing sales and support.

UX Involvement: It’s helpful to have UX involved in roadmap planning when implementing changes that impact a users behavioral patterns. Design commonly has a good sense of how changes should be rolled out to minimize pain and maximize adoption.

The design team is available to help create well articulated problem statements which describe the problem to be solved from the personas point of view. A use scenario with market evidence and real-world context helps design frame the solution. Well written project requirements articulate the problem well, but do not contain design or development suggestions.

From a design planning perspective: features to be delivered within the next few releases are generally considered to be iterative enhancements with minimal UX changes, while long-term strategic objectives require more time to explore and validate with customers.

Next: Discovery Sprints: Validating ideas with design and testing