What is a UX Strategy, and why do I need one?
- Simon Norris
I believe user experience (UX) strategy and architecture share many commonalities. They both deal with place and the structuring of experience associated with place. They also deal with the bigger picture - the gestalt. Understanding architecture provides a great basis for understanding experience and how it can be shaped.
The role of UX strategy is similar to architecture because both represent design activities involved in ‘joining the dots’. However, neither discipline is overly concerned with the dots themselves, rather how they connect and what such connections mean. This represents a view of experience that operates at a macro, rather than a micro level. This does not mean that Architects or UX Strategists don’t focus on the dots; it means they focus on the dots through the understanding of the relationships the dots generate. Essentially, architecture and UX strategy embrace the gestalt factor (the process of ‘joining the dots’) which allows connections, trends and patterns to emerge. Architecture, like UX strategy, works to craft experience.
“Everything is experience. Experience is everything”
Just as architecture endeavours to make physical places feel meaningful, UX strategy endeavours to make digital places feel meaningful. However, whilst architecture and UX strategy share many similarities, they also have their differences. One of the most obvious differences being the material employed in the design of the experience – think bricks vs. pixels. Therefore, understanding the similarities and differences encourages better consideration about how to best blend the physical and the digital worlds. Both worlds share commonalities yet they are both framed by the larger experience in which they both exist.
In a world striving for better digital integration, understanding the relationship between the digital and physical elements of the experience can often represent the difference between achieving ‘digital first’ or ‘digital failure’.
Digital is the new reality
There are over 3.3 billion global internet users which represent over 44% of the total global population. In Europe, the UK’s internet population has 91.6% penetration which only trails Norway, Netherlands and Denmark with 96%. Living with digital and being digital is now an established norm for many people. This is turning us into a society of infovores. Using digital technology is becoming commonplace and this in turn reflects how well we have integrated it.
Avoiding some form of digital experience is extremely difficult. In fact, people have become rather reliant on digital as a primary mode of engagement. This is one of the reasons why I think of UX and digital as synonymous. Yet, very few organisations understand the implication of the digital explosion that is occurring, paying only lip service to it and missing its impact on consumer behaviour and business process.
Not adequately and appropriately embracing digital is a clear sign of digital immaturity and as a consequence, organisations following this route do not benefit from the consumer and business value that a digital first perspective offers. In fact, many organisations are missing the value of focusing on experience as a means of achieving competitive advantage.
“Good UX is now the norm. Great UX is what is needed to truly differentiate”
Getting serious about digital
Whilst digital is making the world smaller and more connected, it is also making it much more complex. How does a business support and further encourage such digital diversity? How does a business ensure the way people experience and use their digital technologies and interfaces improve? How does a business defend against digital disruption? UX strategy can help uncover the answers to these questions and many others that arise when digital is taken seriously.
Executing large-scale UX programs requires a UX strategy because it results in better choreography of digital activities. This is one of the reasons why digitally ambitious organisations are turning to UX strategy to better coordinate digital activities. Through joining the dots, meaningful digital relationships can occur between the consumer and the business. This is digital transformation in action.
User Experience Strategy is here
In the 21st century, UX strategy should be considered a vital business activity that helps shape the digital experiences we are designing.
“UX strategy is the UX behind the UX”
Behaviour is currency
UX strategy frames value to both the consumer and the business by ensuring the digital experience is well researched, understood, and critically, validated. UX strategy provides evidence about customer behavior so a business can stop guessing about the quality of the experience people expect and need.
Many ecommerce sites have a timeout feature typically set around 30 minutes so the shopping basket gets refreshed after that period. However, many people place items into their shopping baskets that they are not intending to buy straight away (or within the 30 minute period). We now know that people use the shopping basket over a much longer time period than 30 minutes, sometimes it may not be revisited for days.
Ecommerce websites that support people shopping outside of the default 30 minute time period are designing the experience to reflect human behaviour. Specifically, they are not forcing the user to abandon but encouraging and supporting known digital behaviours. Obviously, items may change that are held within the basket but people understand that the level of stock and consequently price can fluctuate.
Yet, people are much less tolerant of being forced, especially when it comes to digital behaviour. Any business that does not commit to understanding digital consumer behaviour is running the risk of a competitor business taking advantage. Essentially, understanding consumer behavior is a sure way to uncover consumer value.
The tighter coupling of consumer and business value ensures a win-win scenario is created. For too long this relationship has been imbalanced and too focused on customer value. This is another advantage of UX strategy; it brings a business-customer value balance.
In figure 3, effective UX strategies blend into the business strategy and provide a robust way of linking back to the overarching corporate strategy. A modern business’ user experience strategy needs to form part of the overall business strategy, just as other departments, such as marketing, IT, operations (Ops) and customer experience (CX) do. This represents a UX focused approach.
I envisage more organisations adopting a digital first way of thinking and applying user experience to connect their corporate and business strategies. Therefore, user experience will form the glue that binds corporate and business strategies together and ensure both business and consumer value is given equal importance. They will apply UX across the whole business with all the commercial benefits that ensue. This represents an integrated UX approach.
However, it will not be enough for any business to pursue achieving greater customer-centricity as a differentiator or competitive advantage. To ensure long-term success, a business will also need to use a combination of relevant and innovative business models that place equal value on both the business and customer.
Uber is often offered up as a great example of the value that a great user experience can deliver. However, the business model at the heart of Uber is equally impressive and represents a great example of innovation. Uber has turned the traditional supply-side model of ordering a taxi on its head by implementing a demand-side model through well designed user interfaces that form part of a system (e.g. they are joining the dots well). This fundamental shift in how a taxi firm operates is one of the reasons why Uber continues to disrupt the traditional taxi industry. The business model is also supported by a great user experience.
This matching of the business model and the user experience is critical for digital success and reflects a commitment to delivering both consumer and business value. Therefore, a business can be exposed to digital disruption when their business model and user experience do not match.
Successful execution of UX Strategy
Applying a UX strategy is the total opposite of the philosophy ‘build it and they will come’. UX strategy is a discipline; it’s a discipline that requires creativity, innovation and deep business acumen. Great UX strategies don’t happen by chance - they are based on research, analysis and validation.
The value to a business in terms of UX strategy is realised through the careful choreography of customer behaviour, technology and business models. This ensures the experience delivered is not only right for the marketplace and the customer, but for the business as well. A great UX strategy balances the resulting customer-business value in a tighter and more meaningful value chain. UX strategy is a demonstration of a business looking to improve UX maturity.
UX strategy solves business problems by helping a business deliver better digital experiences. This requires understanding current capabilities and the level of user experience maturity. The greater the level of UX maturity achieved, the greater a company’s capability to act strategically through the application of user experience thinking, tools and methods. Understanding your current level of UX maturity is essential if you are aiming to become digital first.
UX needs UX Strategy
When a business implements a UX strategy it signals a serious commitment to being digitally ambitious and places an even greater value on achieving and delivering customer-centricity. UX is often focused on the crafting, shaping, understanding and improving of a digital experience, whether that covers services, products, or a combination of the two.
A UX Strategist’s focus should be on the choreography of UX activities across the business and how such activities fit within the framework of a wider business strategy which supports the underlying business model.
UX strategy supports a business through the commercial framing of UX thinking, tools and activities. UX strategy makes the execution of UX projects more effective by ensuring value is returned to the business as well as the customer.
UX strategy focuses on setting a plan that will get the business from its current position to where it wants to be. UX solves business problems and manipulates the wider digital ecology - not just the digital products or services that the business offers, but the broader strategy.
UX strategy provides a framework for detailing how a business can deliver a great user experience.
“The purpose of any strategy is to create a game plan that looks at your current position and helps you get to where you actually want to be” - Jaime Levy
So, an ambitious business that believes that through better support for its customers can increase business and consumer value then UX strategy should become a fundamental activity. This is the road that leads to greater UX maturity, customer-centricity and ultimately becoming digital first.
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