UX, meet business

How to jump out of the endless cycle of crafting interface, and start to think about user experience from a higher point of view?

In the user experience (UX) professional area, at the moment most of the jobs are in UX design, and most of the UX designers come from visual design, communication design, or graphic design backgrounds. As a result, employers usually expect UX designers to take care of traditional design work, and UX designers also enjoy immersing in crafting details, without thinking much about things other than beautiful design.

UX should be more than that. It should be the partner of business. It should utilize user-centric methodologies to help a company make strategy decision. Why? Because companies exist to create profit, profit comes from users, and UX people know what the users are like and how to satisfy them. In that regard, UX designers should stop focusing only on the thin visual and functional layer of a website or application, and start to create the user experience that is aligned with business strategies.

For example, Instagram limited its experience on the phone for strategic purpose.

Why should I do that?

UX designers might disagree by now. “User experience shouldn’t be designed in flavor of business”, they would say. Actually, aligning UX with business benefits UX designers as well. Here are the two main benefits:

1. Solve the right questions and provide the right solutions

By understanding things like business direction, priority of the products, profit structure, competitor situation and marketing plans, it would be much easier to make design decisions such as the role of the home page, or whether to lead users who need help to call centers or FAQ page.

It also helps to prioritize the design elements, and focus on designing the experience that really matters. Otherwise, UX designers might end up keeping thinking up cool new ways to present the same old page.

2. Become important, impactful and convincing

Unlike sales and marketing, the value a good user experience brings to the company is usually intangible. As a result, the importance of user experience tends to be ignored, especially when companies have a limited budget.

Once UX work is connected with a company’s vision and business strategy, it not only is more comprehensible to management levels usually business people, but also shows that UX is highly relevant to the company.

For example, when it comes to redesign the experience for UBER, it is easy to start from the driver / rider experience. However, if we step back to take a look into its vision and think from that — “transportation as reliable as running water everywhere and for everyone” — there would be so many more personas and scenarios to consider.

How to connect UX with business?

There are two pretty useful existing frameworks. One is a top down approach, another is from bottom up.

The top down

Try to answer these questions in order: as a company, what are we now? What do we intend to do? How are we going to get there?

To do so, you need to start from understanding a company’s vision and mission. Then, understand the company itself by analyzing the opportunities, threats, strengths and weakness. Based on those external and internal factors, set a goal and come up with a road map to reach the goal. After that, break the road map down into actionable steps. Among those steps, find opportunities where UX can make a difference and create impacts. Eventually help the company reach the goals by refining and designing its user experience strategy.

In product companies, the road map could be replaced by product portfolios that can bring the company from current place to its desired position. The next step would be defining what the experience of each product should be, and then implementing it.

Larson, E., & Gray, C. (2011). Project management: The managerial process (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

This is also the way for project managers to manage the project strategically.

The bottom up

In the bottom up approach, start from understanding the holistic user journey, the touch points and pain points users might go through, and then think about how each department in the company could work as a whole to make the experience seamless and enjoyable.

Service blueprint is a good framework to use here. It is a grid with the phases and steps of time running along the horizontal axis. Along the vertical axis, on the other hand, lies three main agents that are related to the experience: users, touch points, and business.

Start from mapping out the main phases throughout the journey users have with a company, product or service. Next, identify the possible touch points, as well as understand users’ needs, feelings, pain points and so on in each step. Since the holistic experience is being taken into consideration, the touch points should be more than website or app. This model provides a chance to look at the user experience from a broader perspective, and to think about how the experience in different channels (web, phone, store, print, face to face, etc.) affect each other.

In the last step, define the role of each backstage units based on the user journey. The backstage includes all the functions, departments and organizations that are at the back-end of the experience. For example, customer service department, IT department, third party agency, etc. By mapping this out, you then will be able to determine what kind of backstage activities the company should have, and how each department should be designed in order to respond to users’ needs. That is the time when user experience makes an influence on the company’s structure.

A service blueprint

Conclusion

UX designers and UX team can largely expand their impacts on the company by developing a deeper understanding of the company’s business strategy and goals. Meanwhile, it is the UX designers’ responsibility to keep an open mind, and cooperate closer with people from business, marketing, and sales.



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