The UX strategy
Before you start building any kind of digital or physical product, you will need to have a strategy first, a plan for your product to succeed.
In the UX process for building a digital product, the strategy begins at the discovery phase. This is where our teams perform deep research related to the idea that was provided by a client to create the idea that we want to build for ourselves.
The UX strategy is the process that we start immediately after we are done with the discovery and planning stages for a project. So, by this, it is clear that we start the UX strategy process before the design or development of the digital product.
We know that UX design covers different disciplines. The UX strategy also stands inside the UX design process, but usually a part of it is also aligned with business strategy. In other words, it can be said that UX strategy is a plan of action for how to find out whether the user experience of a product is aligned with business goals or objectives, as can be seen in the following diagram:
In the UX strategy process, we will need to include all the pieces of data that we have collected from the first phase of the UX process by also adding the business and product goals on it. So, we create the UX strategy as documentation for guidelines and rules that will outline how the design team will try to achieve the business and product goals.
However, we have to understand that the UX strategy itself depends on a number of different factors, such as:
- Understanding our client’s business
- Understanding our competitors
- Understanding our users
Understanding the client’s business
We touched upon understanding the client’s business in the first phase of the UX process. This is essential for the UX strategy; we have to understand how our design can impact our client’s business results.
To do that, we should obtain answers to questions such as:
- Where is the client positioned on the marketplace?
- Where will their product be positioned on the marketplace?
- What is the cost of operating? What can impact their product?
- What is the competitor doing, more or less, that is different than us? What does the customer value in our competitors’ products?
- What changes are we going to make with this product, and how will this help our customers?
- How can we achieve a steady rise in customers?
Also, we should obtain answers to the technical side of the questions, as follows:
- How do the technologies that we will use to create this digital product drive our customers’ attention?
- How will our design of this digital product grab the attention of customers?
- What can we design better, or which feature can we add to make life easier for our customers in comparison with our competitors’ products?
- What kind of promotional approach can our marketing team use for our product?
In many cases, if the UX leaders do not have answers to these kinds of questions, or, even worse, they don’t ask these kinds of questions at the beginning of project, then we have a problem–not just us as a UX team but also the product itself can get stuck in an endless cycle of creating one user interface design after another, for which they will provide the design by guesswork without having done the proper research.
When this happens, you can refer to the story that I mentioned in the preceding section–in the end, he failed because he didn’t have a product strategy and didn’t do research to check whether his idea was worth his time.
So, the question now is, how do we align the UX design with our company’s or client’s company’s business strategy?
Well first we will need to have some kind of information, or, better, documents that will help us to have a clear understanding of the company business strategy:
- Annual operating plan
- Marketing plan
- New product plans
- Strategic-gap analysis
- Sales projections
- Supply-management plan and value-management plan
- Competitive analysis and strategies
- Industry analysis
The hardest part is getting access to all these documents. The owners of these documents will complain or may resist giving you or any UX team access to them, and they will have more questions regarding the use of these documents for the UX of the product. However, these are good resources for a problem that is worth solving. We, as UX professionals, have to explain to them that having access to these kinds of document will help us to improve our UX process and in producing the final product.
Usually, this part is hard at the beginning, but once the owner gets involved with us by meeting several times, they start to understand the value that they are providing and later may start inviting you to participate with them as a collaborator rather than just a consumer of the information. When you arrive at this stage, you can be sure that you have arrived really close to the goal of aligning the UX design with the business strategy.
After achieving the alignment of the UX design with the business strategy, for us as a UX team, the company vision will be really clear. The next step for us is to convert the resources that we collected and that company vision that we understood into a reality.
Now that we have made the connection between the business strategy and our UX road map, it will be easy for us to get people’s attention and our UX strategy plan will be clearer.
Understanding our competitors
Analyzing our competitors gives us a better perspective on the UX strategy and what kinds of resources we will need to compete with that specific category of the market.
Creating a competition analysis is not easy because it is really hard to know their financial budget, financial results, features and, in some cases, it is even hard to know who our competitors are.
However, in any case, it is important for the UX team to understand the competition and get as much information as we can that is related to this:
Understanding our customers
From the previous image the Understanding our competitors section, we have already got the basic information about who our users are from the discovery and planning stage. Don’t get confused, it may seem like we are repeating the steps, but each UX process step is connected with another one, and, in some cases, you cannot prevent jumping back and forth through UX process stages, until you gather all the needed information to finalize a specific phase of the process.
All the UX process phases are connected with each other, almost for every step you will need to do some kind of analysis and research; it just depends on the level that you will need it for and the extent of your focus on it. To connect all the dots and have a clear understanding, analysis and research are required.
It is true that, nowadays, one of the biggest problems is that customers are losing interest in products quickly; this is because the business or corporation itself is losing sight of their customers. This usually happens because of the way they are organized, and that is the part that makes it hard for them to understand the customers’ needs and expectations.
It is obvious that a lot of companies today try to do in-depth research about their users as much as they can. However, one thing that we cannot predict or know is how our customers’ behavior with our digital product will change in the future. That is why we not only have to do research and take a look at the usability side, we also we need to try to understand how our digital world can change in the future.
In the UX strategy stage, you will need to keep in mind the following key components, because these are general things that you need to provide during this phase:
- Collect as much customer data as you can so that you will be able to guide the design team with those pieces of information
- Ensure that your UX team is aligned with the company’s business strategy
- Understand your competitors, the market need, and the size of the target market
- Establish a road map that includes a prioritization schema and proposed schedule to introduce new features and capabilities
- Develop relationships with business leads across the company and explain to senior executives why user experience capabilities are a strategic asset to the organization
- Try to discover your UX strategy framework
Discovering your own UX strategy framework
Each UX team or UX professional has their own way of doing a UX strategy. As long as you can understand the needs of your client, organization and user by keeping in mind related parts that can be connected with them, you will be able to create your own UX strategy framework.
The best example of this topic is The four tenets of UX strategy, which was created by Jaime Levy in 2015:
Her formula for the UX strategy is based on the following four tenets:
- Business strategy
- Validated user research
- Killer UX design
Business strategy is the top-line vision of the company; this is why the company exists in the first place. It’s a way of defining the strategy for creating company profit or generating profit by a specific product that they have. We discussed this topic in more detail in the previous pages, where we explained different ways of understanding the business and its importance to the UX strategy.
Value-innovation is the part where the difference for a digital product is happening. After a lot of research and data collection, you will bring to the market an amazing product that people will enjoy using since it provides something that your competitors don’t, or some features that were missing in products already available in the market. Value-innovation can usually happen on existing products.
Validated user research confirms the assumptions that you have made about the design. You try to track whether your product is on the right path and validate every time that you are providing value to the users. 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 making decisions. 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.
In the Killer UX design tenet, the designers try to provide value by taking the following actions:
- Working collaboratively with stakeholders and teammates during the idea’s inception
- Determining the key features that are critical to your product
- Learning everything about the existing market space to identify UX opportunities that can be exploited
- Speaking directly with potential and existing power users to discover and validate the product’s primary utility
- Weaving the UX through all touch points–online and offline–to enable an experience that is frictionless
As I was saying at the beginning of this section, everyone has their own way or process for doing the UX strategy right. In this section, I tried to help you understand it better through the example of the four tenets of UX strategy by Jaime Levy, which shows us how to create our own UX strategy framework.
I usually go with the first approach, by trying to understand the three components mentioned at the beginning of UX strategy: understanding the business, the competitors, and the users. Through this strategy, I am able to define my own framework for doing a proper UX strategy.
Before moving to the next phase of the UX process, keep in mind that the UX strategy is a way of thinking. It doesn’t mean creating a perfect plan, it is more about researching what is out there in our market category, analyzing opportunities, running different test cases or case studies, failing, and then learning. The best way to learn something is by failing smartly, learning from the mistakes, and moving your team in the right direction.
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