Part One — What is UX Strategy? This series breaks down “UX” into terms and tools you can take to your stakeholders, use to educate your team, and ultimately, get buy-in

Amelia Sander (Wong)
Aug 30 · 6 min read

Part One: What is UX Strategy?

In Part One of a 10- post series, I define UX in terms of strategy. The traditional view of business strategy that has now expanded to include product and technical strategy. What does strategy mean now? What’s the reason behind using strategy? How does this help us build better products?

I’m Amelia Sander, a Mobile UX Technical Specialist at Google, supporting ads. My team and I work with some of Google’s biggest brands to dig deep in data to create personalized UX recommendations to achieve goals.

Previously, I was a UX Designer at Goldman Sachs, a non-profit, and freelancer. Prior to my UX life, I was a researcher, IP lawyer, and product strategist.

In this article, I examine strategy from the traditional management view with a User Experience lens. There are several approaches in the world of strategy that work differently for each person or company. Let’s dive into each of these approaches.

The Traditional View of Strategy: 5 Schools

“Strategy” is often associated with traditional business plans. To address this, I dig into my Parsons Strategic Design and Management program learnings. From Parsons, learned that there are 5 traditional Schools of strategy: Classic, Adaptive, Renewal, Visionary and Shaping. BCG first analyzed the evolution of strategy by breaking down the different schools in their strategy lab. Each school of strategy achieves a different goal and has a different answer to “why” we use strategy.

1. Classic Strategy

Classic Strategy is associated with Corporate Strategy, translating to business goals and plans. Corporate strategies involve how the business can best deliver value. How can we create and convince others about a long-term vision about the value add of UX in an organization?

In my previous role as a UX Designer, my stakeholders were internal departments and newly created consumer-facing product teams. Many of these cross-functional teams included members from business backgrounds who didn’t understand what user experience was, and was suddenly tossed into a product role. To support these new product teams, my UX team brainstormed to show our value by educating the different departments about what is UX. Activities the UX team ran were Crazy 8’s sketching sessions, affinity mapping with post-it notes, and creating user journey map. I was put onto different teams to facilitate conversations and present the value of and prototyping, creating journey maps, jobs-to-be-done, service design blueprints, and A/B testing plans — pairing with business analysts and new product managers to implement and bridge the gap between technology and business. Eventually, I helped a top-down mandate to grow our UX team from 5 to 50 designers in 2018.

2. Adaptive Strategy

Adaptive strategies are important when there is a lot of change in the business ecosystem. Drivers for change may involve technology, industry, society, or customer needs, for example. Adaptive strategies involve watching and responding to your users — the iterative cycle.

Here’s where UX comes in — companies can find important product insights through user testing. Successful companies may create a wide variety of experiments, testing often, and changing their business models before growth and scale. It’s important to be mindful of stakeholders — to include all stakeholders early on, so everyone is aware and aligned about these changes.

At Google, I work with clients interested in making data-driven decisions to improve their Ads experience. I analyze my clients’ data and help them design an A/B testing process to create experiments to test their hypotheses. Sometimes, these tests validate, other times A/B tests are learning opportunities that help companies pivot.

3. Renewal Strategy

Renewal Methods look at change management and organization transformation. These methods are often utilized during harsh conditions that a company is going through. These harder times may not be noticed by the company, but are evidenced with competitive underperformance, low sales, drops in cash flow, and less available capital.

During my career as an attorney, my client was a pharmaceutical company involved in a 15-year long patent litigation with multiple defendants. I worked on a 4-week long trial with this company and noticed that resources began to be redirected as cash flow and capital decreased. Two months later, I learned that the client had been bought out by another pharmaceutical company and our key contacts changed. They were undergoing a renewal strategy and organizational transformation to focus on different types of drugs.

4. Visionary Strategy

Visionary strategies look past what currently exists, to the next frontier and cutting-edge technologies. Examples of visionary technologies are Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Blockchain, or Cryptocurrency. A visionary strategy creates a first-mover advantage to the company who implements the strategy first. However, visionary firms face uphill battles in implementation and technology gaps.

During a freelance UX Design project, I worked with a client to design a chatbot for Indonesian users. My prototype was well-received and the feature was highly prioritized by the product manager, but the client’s development resources were lacking. No one on the team knew how to create a chatbot. Although stakeholders loved the visionary idea, implementation was impossible.

5. Shaping Strategy

Shaping methods look to shape the future state of the organization –through open innovation and what is possible. However, shaping strategies are the most unpredictable because it requires a company to mold a market by influencing other players. To shape an industry, companies engage other stakeholders and partners in co-creating a new vision. Because there are multiple players, companies must align in terms of goals and collaborate with multiple stakeholders. Shaping is effective when it is repeated (process), implemented, and evolves with the changes in the industry.

In my past experiences as a UX-er, I have been one of the first designers on my teams. Often, UX processes have not been established and it’s up to me and the team to create these processes. When I was working with a publication client, it was important to establish a daily cadence and scrum to talk about what I had done, what were blockers, and what I was to do before the next check-in. We also had to document our processes — so others could repeat the successes and understand our learnings.

Which strategy should I pick?

As a designer and strategist, I’ve learned that sometimes the problem we are given is not what we are actually trying to solve. What’s important to me is to first identify the problem before trying to create solutions or strategies.

What do you find useful in picking your strategies? What are activities you engage in or facilitate to start your UX conversations? Would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Hexagon UX is a global community built to empower women and non-binary folks to bring their whole selves to work — building confidence, balancing the ratio in the UX industry, and effecting change on a greater scale while fostering personal and professional growth.

💬 Join us on Slack, where we will be continuing the conversation.

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Hexagon UX

A global 501(c)(3) non-profit community built to empower women and non-binary folks to bring their whole selves to work — building confidence, balancing the ratio in the UX industry, and effecting change on a greater scale while fostering personal and professional growth.

Amelia Sander (Wong)

Written by

UX + Product Designer, @ameli_sans,

Hexagon UX

A global 501(c)(3) non-profit community built to empower women and non-binary folks to bring their whole selves to work — building confidence, balancing the ratio in the UX industry, and effecting change on a greater scale while fostering personal and professional growth.

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