Digital transformation leads many companies into a tension between the investments in new technologies considered necessary and a change of perspective in product development to a contemporary human-centered design.

It’s not only the implementation of the right technologies and methods that are done. The questions that a company must answer for itself and its customers are often related to the strategic orientation of the company and affect its self-image.

Joseph Schumpeter (*1) showed over 100 years ago these answers are essential for a company to survive. He predicted that companies that do not answer these questions plausibly will disappear from the market and postulates that the purpose of every company must be to satisfy customer needs.

Customer Needs and product innovations

Customer needs and product innovations have always been related. When developing or optimizing products, the focus was more on new or better functions, today the customer or user experience is in the foreground in the development process.

Today, it’s less interesting to see what a product or service can do, but what a customer experiences when using it.

In this way, more companies are recognizing a potential source of competitive advantage in the user experience. The differentiated focus on a positive user experience seems to be a successful path, especially in markets where there are barely any significant differences in product composition. Companies such as Apple or Samsung have been demonstrating this for a long time.

Customers want enriching experiences that will make their lives come true and reward companies whose products do – especially if they exceed their expectations. It’s more than fulfilling so-called “Do-Goals” (user action goals). The aim is to support customers in achieving so-called “Be-Goals”. These are goals whose focus is on the user himself, who usually wants to be happy or satisfied or would like to experience an identification or stimulation through use. See also my article: What makes a good user experience?.

What on earth is a good user experience?

Usually, the UX literature only talks about a good or bad user experience. Is it only possible to classify or rewrite a user experience on a scale from good to bad?

With heretical demand from my side, I usually get the answer that a user experience is good if it satisfies the user’s needs to a large extent or if it exceeds them positively in an unexpected way. And that’s why I often find in most point-of-views or user stories only a list of user needs, but in the rarest cases a description of what a user should experience or feel.

I think it’s not enough just to focus on fulfilling the user’s needs in the product development process as a goal since theoretically there could also be different product versions, which could meet the needs to the same or at least very similar extent. Therefore, the decision for one or the other variant can be economically justified or be driven by implementation.

A good “product experience” means more than just fulfilling the user’s needs and that it’s possible to describe the intended user experience in a concrete way – i. e. also experiences that have not yet taken place, but which are planned or wanted for the users. It is impossible to predict or determine all factors, but a good product vision also includes a “user experience description”. Such a concrete description of the experience offers a good mind map in the product development process, which helps all participants to evaluate their work.

Influences on a user experience

Influences on a user experience

From user experience description to UX strategy

There is a lot of confusion around the word “strategy” in user experience. I would, therefore, like to define the term UX strategy very briefly:

A UX strategy is a long-term plan to provide each touchpoint of a company or project with the appropriate user experience.

And so, a UX strategy should not only describe the user experience, but also a clear qualitative and quantitative understanding of all correlations and consequences.

In developing a holistic UX strategy, it’s necessary to consider not only the user’s needs but also the economic and technical framework conditions and the needs of the company. And these don’t always have to mean maximizing profits. When I think of more far-reaching corporate goals, they could also mean developing a product that solves a very specific problem or behaves ecologically sustainable.

These factors are important for developing a UX strategy:

  • User Factors
    User needs and expectations (How is the target group characterized? What are their needs (the “Do” and “Be-Goals”), problems, fears, pains? How are the needs satisfied so far?
  • Business Factors
    Strategic considerations (What is the project goal? Are there business, corporate or marketing strategies that should be considered?) and economic and technical framework conditions (is there a business case or at least well-founded considerations on the costs and duration of realization, on competitor products and on the characteristics of the market and its potential?)
  • Product Factors
    The product itself or, if the product does not yet exist, the product idea (What problems does it solve? What needs does it fulfill? Which functions or properties are necessary for this?

UX designers alone cannot develop UX strategies

Unfortunately, the term user experience is often followed by “design” or “designer”. Companies wishing to jump onto the UX popularity track will update their job postings for interface or UI designers to postings looking for UX designers. But UX is not UI!

UX is quickly associated with design is certainly also due to the Design-Thinking methodology having greatly enhanced the concept of “design” in product development. And to avoid any misunderstandings, Design-Thinking does not mean design in the sense of surface or product design, but design in the sense of a general process of finding ideas or solutions.

Design-Thinking has transformed the approaches of how designers solve problems into a universal methodology, with which product development teams can develop complex products or systems. The design or planning of the optimal user experience plays an important role. However, it’s also subject to many corporate and market factors. With the investigation and evaluation of these facts, even a very good UX designer would normally be overtaxed.

As a UX leader, you not only need to know how people behave but also markets.

In order to develop a successful UX strategy, it is, therefore, necessary to have stakeholders from management, production, research and marketing/sales.

Developing a UX strategy is also not a matter of marketing

Developing a UX strategy is also not the responsibility of marketing, it should take place at a higher level. And it’s desirable that the development of suitable marketing activities should always be based on a UX strategy because an optimal user experience forms the basis of a fulfilled brand and product promise at every touchpoint.

In this way, product composition and marketing should follow the same direction defined in a UX strategy to guarantee an optimal holistic user experience.

It’s difficult to imagine the management of future successful companies without UX-strategic competence; and this applies not only to companies in the field of new technologies but also to the old economy.

UX-Strategy in a Company

What belongs in a UX strategy?

What has so far been largely defined or answered by the “Corporate Identity” should give way to a more contemporary, needs-oriented approach. The core questions “How am I seen? How do I want to see myself and what do I do to be seen as I want to see myself?” are increasingly transforming into customer-oriented questions. No longer do we ask which corporate image is valuable for the company’s goals, but instead what customers and employees want from the company.

A UX strategy can be greatly reduced to answering a few questions:

  • What do people experience in the “touchpoints” of our company?
  • What do our (potential) customers want to experience?
  • What does this mean for our company
  • How can we develop innovative business models to improve our customers’ service experience?

However, what many people still have to adapt to is that the communicative questions must not only be answered in marketing, but also at a higher level or upstream of it.

In other words, if until now the definition and implementation of the CI have been regarded as the core task of a holistically understood marketing, the definition and implementation of a UX strategy stands above marketing. This does not in any way reduce the role of a CI, but rather provides it with the necessary fuel for an effective and, above all, the user-centered definition of its individual elements.

Therefore, a UX strategy comprises not only a detailed description of the user experience to be aspired to, but above all problems which can be viewed in a goal-oriented manner. These problems should go beyond a simple definition of challenges. They should combine existing knowledge of the market with data from user research and contain solutions or strategic recommendations for action. This also includes a roadmap showing what has to happen to achieve the desired goal and a plan for monitoring success.

Exemplary structure of a UX strategy

Exemplary structure of a UX strategy

Challenge UX Strategy

The challenge in developing a good UX strategy is to integrate all business units and organizational resources and adopt a user-centered approach across the organization.

It’s not enough to contact UX agencies for product development. This fragmented, tactical view of the user experience ignores its real potential for long-term value creation in the company.

The way in which “User Experience” is handled in companies strongly depends on the maturity of the company in Design-Thinking and Human-Centered-Design.

Companies with just discovered UX usually try to name individuals or build up a central UX strategy team in the first step. They manage UX in the company from a central location, i. e.

  • they promote the topic
  • offer advanced courses and advice
  • define UX strategies for the company or individual projects with the stakeholders
  • carry out UX services for development teams
  • work temporarily in development projects with

With the increasing establishment of UX as an independent discipline within the company, a UX strategy team can develop into a UX department.

Unfortunately, it’s still frequently observed these teams are hindered in their work by organizational boundaries and conflicts of interest of other strategy-relevant departments and disciplines. They also must constantly compete for attention and importance so they can justify their existence before management.

But it cannot be emphasized enough how important an effective UX strategy team is for a successful company these days – especially to identify all possible potentials for value creation in the company.

Today’s UX strategies will undoubtedly determine tomorrow’s competitive advantages and market share.

Characteristics of a good UX strategy

  • Stakeholder integration: including all resources
  • Business relevance: Linking corporate goals with the needs of customers
  • Consistency: Consideration of all business-relevant factors (CI, employees, history…)
  • Consideration of the nature and potential of the market
  • Scalability: A good UX strategy can be adjusted if the framework conditions change.
  • Measurability: Only if it’s possible to measure the actions applied can they be optimized in the long term.

 

References:

*1: Theory of economic development, Berlin 1912; New-Edition by Jochen Röpke and Olaf Stiller, Berlin 2006.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schumpeter