User Experience Strategy

by July 27, 2005

Much of today’s business strategy remains highly analytical. When considering product investments, most companies attempt to derive the attainable market size, the revenue curve, the factors for success, and so on. Every so often a lone voice in the room will ask “but what does the consumer want?” The standard answer given is “the best experience possible, of course” and the conversation again turns to analysis.

An analytical process is defined as “a problem solving approach that relies on equations rather than trial and error”. A design-focused approach to product strategy, on the other hand, employs direct customer observation, cross-disciplinary perspectives, and a willingness to rapidly build, iterate on and tear-down prototypes. One could argue it is the essence of trial and error problem solving.

“[It] gives you a big jump start over abstract, word-based forms of strategy, in which the first time you get to test the strategy's outcome is when you actually roll it out.” –Tim Brown, IDEO

The output of an analytical strategic process is often validated through a combination of qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (surveys) research. The output of strategic design processes, however, is based on what customers do rather than what they say. This principle is articulated in Don Norman’s explanation of the benefits of Activity-centered Design (ACD).

“The activities, after all, are human activities, so they reflect the possible range of actions, of conditions under which people are able to function, and the constraints of real people. ACD also requires a deep understanding of the technology, of the tools, and of the reasons for the activities.”

Evan Williams recently touched on the third portion of strategic design process in his BAYCHI talk (thanks Ron) on Modularization, Web Applications, and Why (User Experience) Designers will Rule the World. In it, Evan made the point that “The relative importance of user experience in making a product successful increases over time.” In other words, design strategy is never really done.

“The market is always changing; your strategy needs to change with it. Since design thinking is inherently rooted in the world, it is ideally suited to helping your strategy evolve.” –Tim Brown, IDEO

Don Norman illustrated this transition point in The Invisible Computer in 1998 by stating “when technology delivers basic needs, user experience dominates”. I’d say it’s pretty important before as well.