Thursday, January 8, 2015

User Experience as Key Element of Digital Strategy

Digital is the age of customer empathy. 
User experience becomes key element of digital strategy. "Strategy," whether for UX or business in general, is about doing things in informed, disciplined, collaborative, and systematic ways (vs. ad hoc, on-off, narrow and tactical) to continuously measure, improve, and optimize the relevance, utility, and competitiveness of offerings (products, services, technology solutions, etc.) for better performance and results. More specifically, what’s UX strategy and deliverable all about?

UX strategy is about "the big picture." You want your user experiences to support organizational strategy. How will you react if organizational strategy shifts? After all, strategy is about predicting the future. You're not thinking of the "UX" that's only about wireframes and visual designs. You're thinking about brand, positioning, and environment, but from the standpoint of rigorous user understanding. The strategic objective is to understand what your customers need and to help the business orient itself towards those needs in pursuit of its objectives. To do this you also have to understand the company's long term goals and Identity (brand) and the Industry realities (competition), as well as the market (the reason for being). Develop a high-level design strategy that satisfies the requirements of different groups. Often, this meant not just identifying a direction that met in the middle of all those constraints, but rather figuring out which constraint / need / context actually mattered most in terms of potential impact to business, defection from customers, fast moving market change, etc, and then making that case back into the organization to get everyone aligned on a sometimes uncomfortably narrow focus.

UX strategist is a specialized business strategist who has multi-disciplinery knowledge. The work of UX strategists requires general knowledge and research around business best practice, industry behaviour, marketing, communications, technology, psychology, sociology, economics, and an interest in cool hunting and trend watching. The ability to model and empathize and the natural creativity and a technical aptitude. As the future unfolds, you may realize that the assumptions were wrong and you need to shift strategies. Are you locked into ways of delivering technology that are no longer appropriate or can you be flexible and quickly adapt to the revised direction? The purpose of undertaking a project is almost always to effect change. After all, you’re building something new. This raises many UX questions. Will people adopt a new tool? Do they have the knowledge they need? How will new tools affect existing processes? How will you manage unanticipated consequences that might arise? UX strategists ask questions and do things as described above so that they can then:
a) facilitate "understanding" and help frame the "full" picture (big, little and everything in between)
b) establish the foundations upon which a strategic program and approach to UX can be built and sustained over time, across channels, and in different contexts.

The hard part of UX Strategy is generating organizational consensus on the actual implementation. This is where serious people skills are required to navigate towards a solution that balances competitive stakeholder objectives, while still providing a first class experience to the best big picture interests of the business. The questions to ask are "Are you committed to distinguishing yourselves in the marketplace primarily by offering a superior user experience? How, specifically, is that a good idea? What does "superior user experience" mean to you and to your customers, and how, specifically, do you know that? What do you need to do to make it happen?" The job is answering these questions and helping to put the answers into practice.

Strategic UX also is intertwined with corporate culture. What is the relationship between IT and the business? Are they true partners? Are they aligned around outcomes? Are they dedicated to providing your staff with powerful, flexible and easy to use tools? How do your customers and prospects use social media and the web? How transparent are you willing to be in interacting with them? These are cultural questions with a strategic UX component as well.  By adapting or influencing the corporate culture, it is easier to “socialize” the heck out of the strategy, getting a complex set of stakeholders to agree to move forward, commit resources, put projects on specific roadmaps, etc. Partner with and transition design strategy to more execution-focused design teams to make the strategy real.

Three level Experience Design: 1) Strategic experience design: looks 5+ years ahead, aims at omni channel experience orchestration and making the future service experience concrete, incorporating technological and socio-economic trends etc. Typical deliverables are high level visualizations of the future experience, vision films, service ecosystem models, CX principles, CX targets. 2) Tactical experience design: looks 1-3 years ahead, ‘designs in advance' and aims at design direction in specific channels (digital channels). Typical deliverables are visual product/service roadmaps, online design principles, platform generic reference designs and prototypes, ux targets, generic design components, and design guides/libraries. This stream aims to prepare for the operational work to be done as well as possible. 3) Operational experience design: looks at what needs to be done here and now (0-1 year ahead), both in terms of development, maintenance and optimization. Where relevant, uses the reference designs created in the tactical stream as a foundation. Typical deliverables here are platform specific and detailed concepts, ux-wireframes, visual designs, ui documentation, front-end code.

There are multi-stage UX deliverables. The deliverables initially include research, in terms of focus groups with stakeholders and users and quant/qual marketing research. Based upon the research, you deliver 'Recommendation.”Then come functional specifications that detail the granular functionality, wireframes, process diagrams, DB schema, governance guidelines, development stages - all the nuts and bolts. Then comes Visual Art, the dressing of the Wireframes. UX generally partners with UI Design to complete this task. UX guides with Usability Heuristics and other collaborative activity, depending on talent.

Regardless of where your UX team being resided, UX is not just a single business or technical project, it is an important element of your digital strategy, from research to planning; from multi-lenses inquiries to multiple-stage reviews; from visual arts to wire frames, it is not just about a user interface, but an end-to-end” customer experience and about your brand and competency.


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