Strategic User experience and why good design = good business

Throughout history we can find moments where strategic design decisions have fundamentally changed consumer habits, beliefs and their emotional connection to the environment around them. Think about Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Guggenheim Museum or Jonathan Ives design of Apple products, both involved a good understanding of the marketplace and public consumer behaviours. But many companies, in their haste to be first to market, forget the value of good early, strategic design thinking. It has become easy to reduce the costs or launch ‘on time’ by cutting back on the strategic design thinking time early on when creating a product or service. This results in mediocrity and ultimately to an unloved brand experience where consumers become fickle and  disloyal.

Now whether leading a design team, sitting on the board of directors or starting up company, UX practitioners have made their way back up the value chain; earning more respect along the way. We have been re-empowered to make decisions that really can change the world. This is a great responsibility. At times we may feel we have been thrown into the deep end and left to swim up the steep value curve stream. Would it have been useful to have had some core principles, processes and insights to help you on your way? I think so and I hope you all do too.

My talk at UX India pulls together insights and leanings I hope will help set those brave enough to take on this responsibility in the right direction. Having worked the last 16 years as a creative both internally for large corporates and externally consulting in to some large corporate brands, I am now straddling the cross roads and actively connecting that emotional relationship between the business and design. Strategic design is critical to the success of the business.

Talk outline:

How design has changed the world

  • History of great strategic design (and how it changed history)
  • Contemporary design heroes as role models (pay homage!)
  • What is an experience strategy? (do I have to wear a tie?)

The business strategy is the design strategy

  • Understand the business purpose – Golden circles, what is the problem you are solving?
  • Create a simple, clear and effective value proposition (elevator pitch)
  • Align your design principles to the business vision
  • Evaluate your business model (Business Model Canvas)
  • Appreciate how much great design costs. Efficient design resourcing, spend vs ROI

User centered design 101

  • Know your target audience – Empathy mapping, personas + customer needs
  • Define holistic customer journeys (case study)
  • Emphasise the value of great design (Value mapping, customer needs matched to business KPIs and metrics)
  • Prioritise ideas effectively (agile story mapping)
  • Validate assumptions early

Team, process and getting the job done

  • Build the ‘perfect’ design team and collaborate with the rest of the business
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities. Clarify the RACI (working with technology, marketing, editorial etc. through the design process)
  • Recognise the importance of a design authority (design advocacy, guidelines and rules)
  • Apply design methods and working practices (process fit with lean UX and Agile, co-location vs design studio)
  • Constantly evaluate your designs and align them to the business purpose (validate before, during and after)
  • Be accountable (team efficiency, delivery and impact on the business goals)
  • Thank you and Q and A

Interested in hearing what you guys think!

I will also be running one of my surprise challenge workshops where we  create a minimum viable product in 3 hours to address a real world issue!

Play, strategy and improv. UX Cambridge 2011

Teams in my workshop present back to each other (UX Cambridge 2011)


UX has never been more relevant. As UX practitioners, we are being respected by absolutely EVERYONE. Here are a few reasons why…

We play well with everyone

Only a fifth of participants at my UX Cambridge workshop “Idea to prototype in just 180 minutes“, were UX designers, front end dev or usability researchers. The rest were made up of developers, graphic designers, business analysts, scientists, marketeers and business owners. People showed up to better understand how to embrace and work better with UX in order to create better experiences for their customers.

My design workshops are about having fun whilst tackling a very real problem a specific industry sector is facing. Not only do participants have to solve a surprise design challenge each time but they have to do it in newly formed teams with complete strangers. Team members have to quickly form rapport and trust quickly. There is no time for silly power plays. #JFID. Effective facilitation and pulling together cross functional, poly-skilled people to leverage strengths and surface ideas are the key to success. The person doing this (me in this case) needs to be well versed in all things awesome about UX.

Ryan Haney, Redgate Software also ran an amazing workshop, “Game on. Getting your organisation from game-zero to gaming in no time. “again around ways to think about solving problems using innovation game and play techniques. He had a Nerf gun that he used liberally if you were the last one to post up an idea. Dare I say we could run a whole day workshop together where creativity is a must and speed is of essence. Wouldn’t that be awesome!


UX strategy = Business strategy = success for everyone

We have the power and talent, so it is our responsibility now to better champion the customer. This means being sought after naturally to define what it is that businesses need to create at a strategic level. Over the last 2 years, my role as a Idea facilitator means getting together with business owners both external and internal to define the next generation of ideas to help them remain more than relevant and competitive in today’s fast-paced customer centric world.We are working collaboratively to suggest strategies that directly map to business KPIs, Value and their business model.

Business strategy is UX Strategy. Peter Drucker summed it up quite nicely when he wrote:

“What the customer thinks he or she is buying, what he or she considers value is decisive – it determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper and what the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always a utility– that is , what a product or service does for him or her and what is value for the customer is anything but obvious.”

In the UX Cambridge Panel discussion I, Eewei Chen, also mention the role of the UX advocate:

“There are loads of advocates doing the work for us. We can see the resurgence of the power of design at a higher level. I mean, look at Apple’s Jonathan Ives- he’s a God! It’s about being strong and passionate, otherwise what’s the point?”

We need to start planting seeds everywhere and get other people to do the PR work for us. That way everything we design and build has a reason we had a hand in deciding makes sense from a business perspective which makes it sooooooooooooooo much easier to then deliver with a smile on our faces whilst making the smile on our customers and business owners faces even bigger.

Thank you Leisa Reichelt and her presentation on Strategic UX that really highlighted how relevant and well placed people like myself are now. Spiderman said it best:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Everyone likes a good story – but make sure they get it!

As a leader and workshop facilitator, I have to be able to make sense of the world and it’s problems. I also need to be able to engage our audience and participants. Improv as an art form, when done well, allows the story teller or stand up comic to frame events and issues that surround us in a way that it connects to their very soul. As a designer I curate experiences that allow customers to achieve their goals effectively, having learned or experienced something they enjoyed.

When brainstorming in a collaborative environment I make sure partipants understand why they are doing things each step of the way. Often the goal is good enough but to keep them truly engaged I outline the entire set of exercises at the start and clearly state why how each step allows us to progress closer to the end goal.

We take participants on a journey of discovery and help them see value by joining the dots. These step by step creative techniques help form the basis of good user centered idea generation that map to real business benefit.

Thank you Ian Fenn for his presentation “Love all the People: What UX practioners can learn from Bill Hicks” where he talks about Dieter Rams, Jonathan Ives and re-introduced me to the amazing Bill Hicks!