At the beginning of September, I had the privilege of attending the first annual User Experience Strategy (UXStrat) conference in Atlanta. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds presented on topics ranging from what it means to “be strategic” to discussions on tools and techniques that encourage strategic thinking and collaboration. Here’s a roundup of presentations I found particularly inspiring.
Author and Design MBA professor Nathan Shedroff kicked off the conference by discussing the how the gap between business strategy and user experience strategy is quickly narrowing. As he put it: In order to effectively understand and practice strategic thinking, we need to learn how to “bridge the cultural divide between us, our clients, and even our own co-workers.
Shedroff gave examples of ways to leverage specific research strengths within individual organizations to create such a bridge. Whereas marketing and traditional business research groups often focus on quantitative, demographic data points, user experience research efforts tend to focus on qualitative, psychographic findings. Even though such qualitative insight is where we’ll find the “opportunity for real change,” Shedroff argues that both quantitative and qualitative insight must inform strategy in order to effectively bring that change to market.
Tim Loo, a UK-based strategy director, provided a second example of how UX groups can complement business strategy and build cultural bridges in the process. As large companies increasingly shift measures of success from raw conversions (which are relatively easy to measure) to customer experience (which is a bit trickier to gauge), user experience groups can help to define and foster the kinds of brand interactions that make customers happy.
Loo facilitates this conceptual shift in his own work by encouraging concrete changes in behavior. According to Loo, UX designers are in the perfect position to teach business strategists to:
- appreciate what it’s like to be a current customer
- know what a good experience looks like
- facilitate making hard decisions and trade-offs
- measure and report on things that are meaningful to customers
By creating concrete changes in behavior, changes in thinking—and culture—more easily follow. According to Loo, this is how empathy for the customer goes from being a goal on a presentation slide to an integral part of everyday business practice.
Finally, Josh Seiden, co-author of “Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience,” emphasized the power of “making” as a tool to fuel discovery, coalesce teams, and drive strategy.
“We are no longer bound to the manufacturing process,” said Seiden. This means that we can substitute the “figure out if it works then build it” formula of manufacturing with the “build it then figure out if it works” model of continuous production.
The continuous production model also means that we can lead with vision and learn continuously from the market. According to Seiden, this helps us focus on outcome (the change created) instead of output (the thing created)—and helps us create better experiences for our customers as a result.
Boiling any full conference experience down to a set of key points is always a challenge. You can take a look at all the presentations here. The one point that resonated for me most, however, is that—with the increasing pervasiveness of electronically mediated experiences and the growing importance of the connected environment—the goals of business strategy and user experience strategy are quickly converging. As a result, organizations that learn to bridge the communication gaps between strategic thinking in design and in business will find themselves in a better position to meet customers’ needs and expectations.
Are you seeing this shift happen? Let us know in the comments.
Andy Fitzgerald is Associate Creative Director and UX competency lead at Deloitte Digital’s Seattle studio.