Using research to create upstream customer insights, UX Strategy bridges research and design with business and development - bringing a human-centered design philosophy and approach to product development.
Practically speaking, it means starting with research and analysis to define customer needs and identify opportunities, looking at how that ties in with the business strategy and development priorities, and translating that into product design concepts. It also includes defining a vision of the end goal experience, and then crafting a UX roadmap for getting from point A to point B, C, D and beyond. Along the way we determine milestones, design objectives and measurements for success. This approach can be very effective in delivering results, but the success is dependent on a lot of collaboration within the entire team and stakeholders.
At a project level, it starts with identifying the experience problem and determining how to fix it. Developing a UX strategy or plan can be as simple or as complex as any other part of the design process, it depends on the time, budget, and complexity of the product. But at the core, you need 4 phases: discovery, ideation, iteration, and implementation, with a lot of testing throughout each phase.
The ‘discovery’ phase of a UX design project includes some kind of user research, but the range and scope of approaches and deliverables vary widely. Here are some of the most common types of research I use for informing UX design:
- Stakeholder and internal expert interviews
- Competitive reviews, competitive analysis
- Heuristic reviews & recommendations
- User Surveys
- Contextual User Observation & Interviews
- Usability Testing
- Quantitative Data & Analysis
The research is only part of the discovery phase. Once the data is gathered, it has to be analyzed and presented so the team can understand the opportunties and impact of the customer insights to the business. There are a number of deliverables that can be produced to communicate user research findings. A few that have a great deal of value for the effort:
- Affinity Maps
- Mental Models
- User Journey Maps
- Personas or User Profiles
- Opportunity Mapping
Sketches, Storyboards, User Flows
Sketches and storyboards are a great way to work through initial concepts. When the concepts are shaping up, the storyboards are a great way to work through user flows and screen flows before you start wire framing. It really helps to focus first on the ‘story’ of the experience, rather than the features and individual interactions, and .
makes sure the team is on the same page before diving into more detailed wireframes.
Large, complex sites or apps often need to start with a sitemap, sometimes smaller UX projects often need them as well.
Wireframes & Prototypes
Wireframes can be interactive or static depending on the client and the project. Interactive wireframes are invaluable for full-featured web or mobile apps, and can be critical to testing concepts and flows, showing issues in flow that should be addressed before getting into more detailed visual design.
The visual design is often referred to as the 'look and feel' of a product, but it can also have a significant impact on usability issues like discoverability and setting expectations. Because the design process needs to be agile, not waterfall, the visual design also needs to be verified and iterated, after concepts and flow has been verified in the wireframe state.
Testing with users doesn't happen after all the design is finished. Testing early and often is the best way to launch with an experience you feel confident will meet or exceed user expectations:
- Paper Prototypes
- Remote Click-through prototypes
- Interactive prototypes
- Live sites or published software
A prototype user test can be done in a couple of days (informal testing primarily to inform design) or could take a week (formal testing with complete results written up and presented to stakeholders).
This is actually happening constantly between ideation, verification, and implementation. It can include updates to use cases, flow, designs, and even code. Of course, the sooner and more often you verify your concepts and ideas, the less re-work of mocks or code you'll end up doing later. That's the promise of a user-centered design process.
I don't believe design can just "hand off" deliverables to dev, although ironically design schedules always have "hand-off" milestones. Especially in an agile world, there has to be fluidity between design and dev, and the best teams know this and build this into schedules and roadmaps.