I was recently reflecting on the work I’ve been involved with in my career that I am most proud to be associated with. The scars on my back and lines on my face attest to my involvement with 100s of projects, of varying scope and scale, across financial services, utilities, telecoms, broadcasting, tourism, e–commerce, start–ups, scale–ups and digital product design. I concluded that my most rewarding projects were those where our work had real and discernible positive impact on something which really mattered to the client.
This observation in turn prompted a further question. Do the clients for whom we moved the dial most have characteristics in common which allowed us to do our best work? I think the answer to that question is yes, and what’s more, those characteristics aren’t defined by project scale, industry sector, or company size. On each occasion where strategy–led and research–informed design had a major impact, positive culture was the single major contributing factor to the success.
A culture within which UX thrives is one where an overarching UX vision aligns with organisational strategy, and its implementation provides value across the business, helping non–UX colleagues do their jobs better, more quickly and more effectively. It’s not that the culture has to be perfect, but rather that is deliberately pursuing better all the time.
Strategy – an aligned UX vision
An aligned UX vision joins the dots between an organisation’s strategy and its design and UX processes. It gives the C–suite confidence in its strategic alignment, thus giving them the conviction to assign budget to activities which contribute to competitive advantage in the marketplace. The vision typically includes some or all of the following characteristics:
Close integration with strategic objectives – consistent connection between strategic objectives and design culture and processes
C–Suite buy–in and backing – the board recognises the increasing role of CX and UX as a competitive advantage, or at least as a basic customer expectation
Translate technical and design metrics to commercial value – the UX team measure their work by the tangible benefits of good experience, in the form of productivity gains, lower cost to serve customers, increased customer satisfaction, lower support costs, and ultimately competitive advantage in the marketplace
Connecting CX and UX – the customer experience vision spans online and offline, acknowledging that many customer journeys move seamlessly between the real and virtual worlds
Engage with stakeholders – active listening is a critical component in ensuring that a UX strategy breaks out of the design or development departments and into the wider business, supporting initiatives across the business and empowering leadership to include UX as a central tenet of all digital product development
Proactive communications – good experience design planning includes deliberate programmes of communications to internal and external customers, bringing key stakeholders on the journey, ensuring they feel informed and valued within any process of change
The best strategy in the world is of no value if it isn’t carefully implemented, and sound execution typically involves a UX champion in the business (doesn’t really matter what their job title is) who evangelises the importance of business goals and empirical user needs as the central pillars of the design process.
Implementation – a beating heart of maturing UX practises
At an operational level, UX is championed and supported by a UX leader and a UX team, which can be distributed or centralised, or both. Their job is to bring the user into the heart of the design process without slowing down colleagues in tech, business analysis, project management or sales. There are four elements to it.
Standards – by developing patterns (design pattern libraries, and design systems), processes (standardised means by which people can get stuff done) and principles (design values), UX leaders can empower teams across the business to work more efficiently and integrally
Support – internal knowledge portals, complemented with email, chat and phone support means that teammates across the business can be supported as they seek to embrace the benefits of UX
Future–focus – it is essential that design strategy and research teams invest time balancing tomorrow’s opportunities with today’s needs, by keeping informed on emerging technology, global trends and industry developments
Advocacy – helping raise the UX bar across the organisation by investing time in knowledge sharing techniques and processes, as well as providing training opportunities for teammates throughout the business, and keeping everyone informed about developments
Organisations are rarely perfect at all aspects of effective UX strategy, culture, process and implementation, however even a cursory glance at the world’s leading digital product companies will demonstrate that effective front–end interfaces only emerge from highly effective and deliberately planned back–end processes.
Want to deliver wonderful digital experiences for your customers? Get to work on process and culture, using business strategy and user knowledge as your guiding lights.