Evolving UX Strategy

I've been involved with UX strategy for a few years now. As I progressed from a developer to a UI developer to a UX designer to a UX strategist, my thinking on what UX and UI are has changed dramatically.

My original, self-made definition of UX strategy was something like this:

UX strategy is the creation, management, and governance of an overall plan for the experience of a product portfolio, ensuring it meets the needs of users and the business through research, design, and measurement.

When I attended the UX STRAT conference last September, many presentations validated my own stance on this. My thinking on this has changed a bit, though:

You make wireframes, you don't make companies

In my experience, having "just" a UX designer, UX architect, or even a UX manager doesn't necessarily bring about the necessary change to ensure an organization is ready to be user-centric. Part of the reason I consciously entered UX strategy was to not only ensure my work wasn't just floating out in "creative UX land" but truly reinforce that UX actually matters when it comes to products and businesses. This was demonstrated primarily through metrics and creating an overall plan to integrate UX activities within Agile frameworks. Fun process stuff!

Since I started real content strategy work within the past 6 months on a project, I've come to deeply respect and appreciate the work that content strategists do. But there's something big and meaty and distinct about content strategy that UX by itself hasn't had, in my experience. Take a look at Brain Traffic's foundational quad chart and let me know if you see it.


Got it?

There are people components and, in particular, there's workflow. Brain Traffic defines workflow in this context as this - emphasis mine:

What processes, tools, and human resources are required for content initiatives to launch successfully and maintain ongoing quality?

This is something that has been woefully missing from UX positions I've both been in and experienced: a lack of expectation that UX people need (or should or can) instill bigger change than "just" research and "just" flows: we, too, need to aid in defining the overall way a company approaches UX in order to ensure its quality.

The tension we feel

This is where I and, I trust, others have felt pain when it comes to growing out of a straight-on UX role into something bigger: because UX is oft aligned with marketing, creative, design, or all three, it may not be taken seriously as an integral part of the business. We hear this when people say, "We'll add the UX later" (I HAVE HEARD THIS AND IT HURTS ME SO) or, "We don't need a UI for this; we'll just have our coders make one" (YOU ARE STILL MAKING A UI).

UX strategy is one way that we can bring our skills out and apply them to things bigger than a product, bigger than a portfolio, bigger than an interface. Instead we can do our research and work, focused internally, and say, "This is how we could design our organization in order to achieve this goal." We state the goal and how to do it. Then we make PowerPoints and use the language of our business partners.

Here is the catch: other people do this work too. They may be called strategists. They may be risk managers. They may be change management. They may be organizational designers. They may not be any of these things. But all of these people, particularly if they are already in your organization, may feel like they've got this. They understand the problem, just from a different perspective than us, and may already working on how to solve it.

So once again, it's on us to figure out how to best work within our organizations - hierarchies, politics, titles, and all - and design plans to achieve our goals. That sounds like a workflow to me, or maybe, a workaround-flow. But none of it will happen if UX is not empowered to bring change in your organization. And to me, UX strategy is analogous to content strategy in that organizational change is not only possible, it is expected.

Taking over the world

In an interview with the UX STRAT folks, I opined that UX and UX strategy will continue to grow and then go away altogether. I do believe that someday, UX will not be a discipline in and of itself within organizations because, by then, these principles and practices will be more standardized. It won't be weird to conduct usability testing for design optimization, or do hardcore deep research on users in order to figure out what to build.

Until then, we are still out there working hard to convince people that UX isn't just a magical thing that one person makes randomly based on gut and nothing else. We are still out there working hard to demonstrate that a designed experience can make people happier and genuinely empowered. But it's not going to happen - or, happen well - without UX strategy.


Thus, I'd like to cast out a new definition of UX strategy for myself. (Who in UX doesn't love DTDT, right?)

UX strategy is the creation, management, and governance of a plan for the experience of a product portfolio to support user needs and business goals. This plan encompasses both external and internal touchpoints through research, design, human resources, and workflows.

Consider it a work in progress.