Designers—especially new ones—often overlook corporate strategy. I think it might be because so few designers are involved in defining that strategy. It may also be because some companies expect their designers to just walk in and magically solve big problems.
When designers don’t understand their company’s goals and expectations for the launch of a new product or the implementation of a new feature, it’s the same as not knowing the end user. That lack of knowledge makes it really, really tough to solve problems.
“Designers shouldn’t overlook corporate strategy.”
While some models, like the excellent Lean UX Canvas by Jeff Gothelf and the brilliant UX Strategy Blueprint by Jim Kalbach, are available, my experience as a designer and instructor has shown that young designers have difficulty putting them into practice. And figuring out whether the project is worth being implemented is just as hard for them.
Related: Lessons from 5 years of Lean UX
The UX Strategy Blueprint is awesome for understanding high-level strategy, but it doesn’t delve into day-to-day work. Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX Canvas is a powerful tool to help raise hypotheses and set next steps, but so little helps inexperienced designers to know whether to continue with an idea.
To help with this, I created the The UX Strategy Guide (opens PDF).
The UX Strategy Guide
The UX Strategy Guide (opens PDF) is meant to help designers understand and use both the Lean UX Canvas and the UX Strategy Blueprint, with added information to assist in making final decisions.
The guide helps in the research of problems, audiences, ideas, hypotheses, risk analysis, and decision-making about a considered product.
Twelve steps, divided into five categories, are required to complete it. But several iterations are expected in order for the last quadrant to be finalized along with a response to whether to go on with the desired product.
Understanding the problem and expectations
The first category (light blue, steps 1-5) refers to the understanding of the problem, what’s expected to be solved, what challenges are to be overcome, differences in existing solutions, and how to measure project success.
The more information collected, the easier it’ll be to think up ideas for the solution, set potential users and benefits, and minimize risk.
Most information can be obtained with the product manager—or even the owner of the company, if it’s small.
As with all other phases of the guide, move on to the next category when you have all the answers above and do your due diligence. You may not believe it, but many projects could be saved from failing by following steps 2 and 3.
“First identify the problem, then work on the solution.”
Remember that in this category, we’re writing about the problem that we believe exists. A common mistake when a product already exists is to describe the challenges the solution is suffering. The purpose here is to first identify the problem, then work on the solution.
Who is the user? What are the expected benefits?
The second category (light green, steps 6-7) is about understanding the real users of the product and what benefits they expect to get while using it.
If you’re familiar with the concept of personas, think of this category as a “mini-persona” study.
Name the ideas
Step 8 (in light yellow) is a space for recording all ideas about features that are related to the information collected in the previous steps. It’s always interesting to find out that “the perfect idea” doesn’t make sense to the user or the business.
For example, if the above answers show that the primary user lives in third world countries, and the intended product is a phone application, it would be best to focus the initial development in the Android platform, since iPhones are very expensive in these countries.
Finding out what’s important first
Steps 9-11 (in light orange) focus on Jeff Gothelf’s fine work, being the essence of Lean UX.
Here, we raise assumptions about features that are beneficial to both users and the corporation. We also think about the most serious risks and how to identify their probability.
In short, each hypothesis observed with minimized risk enters the backlog of tasks to be carried out by the design and development teams. High-risk hypotheses are discarded or are still listed in the guide for future iterations.
The main step
As designers, we love moving pixels and thinking about relationships between screens. When all questions in step 12 are YES, we can start prototyping.
One (or more) NO answers state the lack of relevant information for decision making. Moving on carries a very high risk of rework. After all, it’s better to perform another iteration by raising what’s missing than starting a design that will be revised or abandoned later.
UX strategy is a theme that requires study, patience, and dedication. It involves several areas of design and a close relationship with other areas of the company—especially product management and marketing. Thus, understanding and benefiting from this knowledge brings tremendous value to our designs.
The UX Strategy Guide is a tool that can help you better understand your company, audience, and market. Feel free to adapt it to your needs.
by Alex Souza
Alex Souza has been a user experience specialist for over 20 years. He started his career at Banco do Brasil in 1986 and since then has led and built award-winning projects in designer, marketing and technology positions in companies such as Lotus / IBM, Microsoft, Kwiksher, Rackspace and, currently, GreenMile. Alex graduated in Digital Design from Anhembi-Morumbi University and holds a Masters Degree in Education, Arts and History of Culture from Mackenzie University (both institutions are based in São Paulo, Brazil). Since 2005 he has been a speaker at international events such as SXSW, Microsoft MIX and Publishing App Conferences.