Q: To begin, let’s quote from your book:”What the hell is UX strategy?”
A: UX strategy is the process that should be started before the design or development of a digital product begins. It’s the vision of a solution that needs to be validated with real potential customers to prove that it’s desired in the marketplace. Although UX design encompasses numerous details such as visual design, content messaging, and how easy it is for a user to accomplish a task, UX strategy is the “Big Picture.” It’s the high-level plan to achieve one or more business goals under conditions of uncertainty.
Q: Many UX/UI designers are brought onto projects after the product strategy has been determined. Do you believe they have options, or is it too late?
A: I believe they have options, and that’s the primary reason I wrote this book. I too have been a wireframe monkey, cranking out design deliverables. I felt like I had hit a wall. I didn’t have a business degree or marketing expertise, but I had the trench experience. My book advocates that product makers of all shades have options for being intrapreneurial with or without buy-in from stakeholders or clients. The way to push back is with evidence, not more subjective opinions. So I teach techniques that are focused on collecting this evidence, whether it is gathered through competitive research or prototype experiments. If you want to get ahead in your career, you can’t be sitting around waiting for permission.
Q: Can designers really learn about business strategy and marketing without getting a business degree?
A: Absolutely. A business degree from a prestigious university is certainly useful for making connections. But it’s not any more “useful” for an aspiring strategist than someone taking a surfing class without getting out there into the actual waves and getting bashed around. Like design, strategy is something you can only learn by doing. It’s also a vernacular, and I highly recommend actually reading (or listening to) all the books that I discuss in Chapter 2, which includes The Lean Startup, The Startup Owner’s Manual, and Blue Ocean Strategy.
Q: You’ve been teaching about UX strategy for a while. You offer a UX Strategy Toolkit to help guide entrepreneurs and designers along the UX strategy path. How many years did it take to develop the toolkit both as a teacher and a design practitioner?
A: Oh man, quite a while. I developed the Competitive Research and Analysis tool from scratch and have fine-tuned it over the last five years with clients and students. I taught how to do analysis in my UX classes, but I didn’t really nail the subject matter till I finally sat down and methodically wrote out how to conduct competitive analysis in my book. Now the tool has all the possible business factors and UX attributes in there for understanding the digital product landscape. As for the Funnel Matrix, I developed it only in the last two years, as I became more obsessed with both growth hacking techniques and running structured experiments.
By the way, here is the UX Strategy Toolkit that you can download for free:
Q: You write about killer UX design and guerilla user research, and you quote Art of War by Sun Tzu. Battle metaphors have been a part of business how-to books for years. Do the metaphors hold up for the field of UX strategy? How dangerous is UX strategy?
A: Great question. Conducting solid UX Strategy is very dangerous for all involved parties. In a startup, your fortune is on the line, and in an enterprise, careers are at stake. New products fail because they aren’t truly desired in the marketplace. So instead of blowing steam up our stakeholders’ collective butts, we are pushing back, questioning assumptions, and quite often invalidating business models. The trick is not to be just a naysayer, but to become a person who can present alternative solutions for offering unique value to the marketplace.
The market and workplaces are competitive. Studying great strategists like Sun Tzu facilitates moving to market faster where there is a true need.
UX strategy is also dangerous business because it’s hard sometimes as consultants to walk away from projects (and money) once we realize that making a bad product is just a waste of time and resources. But this is our life. Why should we waste it when we have the ability to invent utilities and experiences that can make a positive difference in the world?