Agency UX Part 2 of 3

In part I of this series, Service, I introduced user experience design in the context of a creative agency, and conveyed the importance of having an open mind, establishing trust, and educating others as part of delivering great service to clients.

In this post I will outline my point of view on the second of three agency UX pillars: Solve.


This is what clients come to you for; to solve their problem. They may not know what it will look like, but they know how they want to feel when it shows up: great.

To make clients feel great about your solution, you will need to focus activity, trust each other and refer back to the desired outcomes.

Critical Thinking

This is the hardest part. Critical thinking is the act of deliberate, methodical problem solving, and it’s an essential component of successful brainstorming.

When practicing critical thinking you apply different creative methods during the brainstorm, at the same time that you explore the creative solution itself. While probing for that illuminating spark, you might switch between free-association and structured activities, or between gathering examples and sketching new ones. The critical thinker is aware of the environment, activity, and potential directions to go.

Take this simple scenario, for example. Your client wants an acquisition web page for their trial product and the UX has to nail it, if you want to hit your conversion goals. The brief mentions the following desired outcomes: customer awareness, high perceived value, quick conversion. So you begin with a team brainstorm. Your first activity is to list terms that could generally support the above desired outcomes. You get:

Curious, simple, attention, obvious, fix-my-life, short list, huge button, no-brainer, decision, free, humor, valuable.

The ideas are coming, but they aren’t gelling yet. You decide to switch gears. You ask people to use the list to fill in details in a new activity: mad-lib stories.

You outline a template, using the customer’s perspective:

First I was like, [blank]. Then [blank] happened. And then I was like, [blank]! Cool.

You get

First I was like, curious. Then huge button happened. And then I was like, no-brainer! Cool.


First I was like, humor. Then free happened. And then I was like, attention! Cool.


First I was like, fix-my-life. Then short list happened. And then I was like decision! Cool.

Now, they’re not an answer, but they are a step in the right direction. You can use these nuggets to construct user flows for the page, then draw/sketch/design the pages themselves and add copy. You’re on your way!

When you switch gears you are modeling an advanced level of critical thinking: toggling and combining analytical and intuitive approaches. Just be sure to explain the shift so people don’t get lost.

Critical thinking pushes solutions forward by focusing and refocusing the activity.


The goal of collaboration is not consensus. In fact, being overly consensus-oriented often leads to groupthink, which is irrational and has the illusion of being right only because everyone agrees.

Collaboration is about applying the strengths of diverse roles to bring perspectives from outside each other’s area of expertise. It’s about trust. Collaboration builds a solution bigger than one person’s ability.

Take the above brainstorming and mad-lib scenario. Now that a few directions are clear, the team can collaborate on designing page options. The collaborators come from different disciplines: design, technology & copywriting, all working together in varying combinations.

One copywriter focuses on this story:

First I was like, humor. Then free happened. And then I was like, attention! Cool.

…and so she begins writing delightful blocks of copy that use humor to engage, simply communicate the free message and result in getting the customer’s attention. She brings her drafts to a designer and developer who are focused on UI areas for that same attention result. Together, the 3 of them sketch or prototype a couple of options.

Once a few more options emerge, the collaboration continues. Now you must challenge the individual solutions and continue to make them better, while avoiding the temptation to combine the best of all solutions. A restaurant can’t combine 1/3 cup of 3 different soups and get something new and delicious. It will suck. That’s the dark side of consensus. Avoid it.

Instead, hear each other out. Look for the strengths in the individual ideas, and respect their purity and point of view. Disagree a little. Look back to the project goals. Lean on the brief. Listen to each other. Trust each other.

When it’s time for a decision, present the best and purist ideas with supporting details. Then agree together to support the chosen direction. That’s consensus.

Define the Process

Finally, as much as you define solutions, also let the solutions define how you work. Be open to that voice in your head that says could we be doing this better?

Play to the strengths of the team. Use delegation and individual strengths when group time stalls and be open to the outcomes. Sometimes a stack of wireframes will be replaced by a prototype. Or a screen-recorded video. Who knows?

Give the client what they ask for, but also keep in mind what they need. The two might not require the same methods to accomplish them.

As you define solutions, continue to go back to the desired outcome that is driving the solution.


To effectively solve problems, you have to think critically, work together and keep sight of the big picture. You will not always agree, or get an outcome you alone could foresee, but you will focus your team activity, empower teams with trust, and preserve project goals.

Part III: Creativity to follow in a separate post.

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