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5 Things to do when dealing with UX – Decisions that enable a meaningful UX strategy

Clemens Lutsch
Clemens Lutsch
October 30th, 2020

Part 1 of this article highlighted a few points that can be used to prevent a good UX strategy in a company. Part 2 is now dedicated to topics that support a good UX strategy.  The top 5 things that should be done to enable a sustainable UX strategy are not dependent on the size of the company or project. Neither can they be limited to a specific industry or sector.

Each of these 5 things is based on real situations in real teams and real companies.Possible similarities with known situations or recognition cannot be excluded.

#1 – Know your own strengths and weaknesses

The basic idea of human-centred design is less that of an independent process, but more that of a basic attitude and work paradigm. Part of this basic attitude is that the ideal world cannot exist without challenges in working with people and systems. The complexity of companies on the one hand, and the different characteristics of the job profiles in the field of “Usability/UX” on the other hand, confront an organization with many different strengths and weaknesses. To become actively aware of these, however, is an essential step towards strategic modeling of the complex of issues of human-centered design. One example is the determination of a “maturity” of an organization with regard to performance in the area of UX. There are some models for self-assessment, but the most honest view is obtained when a company conducts a compliance audit according to ISO 9241-210 “Human-centred Design”. In this process, the human-centred design-relevant requirements and recommendations for an organisation and a project are examined and answered. As a rule, this model also reveals gaps that cannot be filled by the existing knowledge in an organization. But this is not a bad thing: If you know what you don’t know, you may know more than before.

On top of that, there is the urge for innovation, which is a good opportunity for the UX topic area. With human-centered design, we have tools at hand that allow us to design systems in a demand-oriented and context-sensitive manner. This means that we do not create a solution that seeks the right problem.  Instead, we can transfer the needs and hardships of the target groups into target areas that may not be conceivable today – whether because of technological conditions or out of entrepreneurial habit.

Only when companies know where they stand in terms of UX, human-centred design and usability can they decide where they want to go. It is perfectly normal to see the path as the goal. You don’t have to be afraid of the changes in the organization that the human-centred approach brings with it.

 

#2- Take user typologies & personas seriously

In the first part of this article I quoted the extremely pleasant contemporary Arnie Lund: “Know your user, you are not your user! This simple truth, which is so difficult for many project participants to digest, is based on the fact that distance from the implementation team is important:

All those involved “simply know too much” and are not suitable representatives of the target group due to their role as stakeholders in creating the solution. Describing this target group and the corresponding users is the task of the usage context, the documentation of which is at the beginning of a project. Often a so-called persona is created here. This persona is an exemplary representation of a user type. It contains a more or less short summary of the user’s characteristics, which is most informative for the design or clarification of specific user requirements. Thus, these personas become the anchor point of a human-centered design, which becomes more and more important the more a data-based, verified user typology emerges from the initially hypothetical construct through empirical data.

Systems are designed and developed for real people with real problems. This acceptance opens companies to topics such as usage data and user data, to the curiosity to give the user a face and to promote his satisfaction. The danger that the planner simply takes the shortcut to the question “For whom is the product?” and answers “For all!” should be countered by saying “For all is for none! Because there are users and these users have characteristics, skills, abilities, needs and requirements, motivations and frustrations as well as opinions and preferences. Not to include this invaluable knowledge would be strategic nonsense of frightening proportions.

Understand the user as a source of insights, a valuable source of ideas and “accomplices” for the actual need. Look for meaningful ways to describe the right user and make it available to the project team. Don’t be afraid to see more in a user than just the guy who pays or who clicks a left mouse button somewhere.

 

#3 – Establish a holistic approach

What does user experience have to do with “design”? Naaaa? Exactly – nothing! How? What? Horror at the reader. But UX means User Experience. What the user experiences, including his or her feelings before the actual use of the software. Topics such as brand, brand perception and previous experiences of the user play an important role. As a consequence, the manufacturer of a system cannot “design” a user experience, but rather it is designed for a holistic user experience. When “UX Design” is said, the German-speaking listener very quickly gets the connotation “visual” or “graphic”. But design is much more. A large proportion of the experts in the field of UX have no training in visual design or media, but come, for example, from industrial science, industrial psychology, computer science, social sciences, occupational medicine or have a background in human factors.

The interaction of the different disciplines is one of the great advantages of this field… and at the same time, this very concert is a challenge that should not be underestimated. Because this cooperation must be learned and lived. The experts’ contribution to UX must be appreciated and recognized as valuable. UX does not mean that anyone in any team has a fancy UX title, produces wireframes and can answer questions about font sizes or colors on the screen. Human-centered design starts early, very early. It starts with the first ideas for new business models, with the first plans and discussions about framework conditions or analyses of existing systems. It often continues with adapted focal points and continues until the end of the life cycle of a system, where UX Professionals deal with how the “end-of-life” of a product should be processed by the user.

It is recommended that a company impose UX-relevant goals on top-level management and that the success of the company is actually measured based on these goals. Thus, the management has a very high motivation to “inherit” UX as a quality in the respective areas in the following hierarchies UX thus becomes an organization-wide movement whose dynamics make new aspects accessible in daily work.

 

#4 – Frontloading UX

Let’s be honest. There are smart ways to integrate activities from human-centric design into agile software development. The idea of including all UX activities in a software development process is completely bananas, if only because there is much more to UX than just the user interface of a software. Also, not all activities of human-centred design are equally important for all participants. Why should one discuss needs assessment and evaluation with colleagues who prefer to sit at the code and whose primary goal is to implement an algorithm performantly and error-free?

Since human-centred design is understood as the enrichment of all business processes, the strategically relevant planning and information should be available before the software team even plans the first sprint. This so-called “frontloading” allows the company to make early and iterative important decisions based on the right information. According to the Duden dictionary, frontloading is defined as follows: “Form of product development in which the essential basic structures are simulated, analyzed and defined at an early stage using digital models”. Giving UX a home in frontloading prevents the absurdity of having to carry out the essential and required activities of human-centred design within a sprint. Instead, the developed specifications and user interface elements facilitate sprint planning. UX helps the project participants to keep an eye on the holistic overall system. It also reminds stakeholders that development is for people, not for the sake of features. Finally, intelligent frontloading supports the dispute between user requirements and product owner, because where else can project planning be corrective if not from the outside perspective, when users give feedback that a highly praised feature might be rather useless?

Give User Experience the space it deserves and don’t force it into processes that are designed for other tasks. Intelligent enrichment of existing system design processes through constructive dialog is an undiscovered treasure in many companies.

 

#5 – UX strategic (read: long-term) thinking

When I visited an industrial fair a few years ago, I met the product manager of a medium-sized company, whom I had the pleasure of getting to know some time before. As usual, the hall in which the company had its very spacious stand also housed the competitors. In recent years, the industry had been suspicious, because technical conditions had led to the fact that some innovations were in the works. But nobody knew what the other was working on. But now it had happened. A competitor had presented a new and innovative feature, including a completely new operating philosophy, as a showcase project for the trade fair. As a consequence, the press and television reported only about this company, and the visit of the Minister of Economics was the crowning glory. As expected, the mood of the product board was in the basement. He explained to me neatly how it could come to this and that he now had to set everything in motion to offer this feature and the new operating philosophy as well – whereby the new generation would be on the market in 2-3 years at the earliest.
And now: Find the error.
Well?
Exactly: If his products are where the competitor is today in 2-3 years, he will have won nothing. Instead, he will need a strategy for overtaking his market competitors.

Since nobody has a functioning glass ball at home, we cannot know today what people will use in 5 years. Too many trends – however short-lived they may be -, too many disruptive products and services could appear in the many months to come. But instead of passive observation, the strategic claim should be to be creative. To influence transformation itself, to build models of its own in which innovation is no longer a coincidence, but a planned approach. An important foundation is need orientation and the acceptance of novel quality requirements, such as the interaction principle of “user engagement” – the quality of a system that invites the user to use it.
Running UX strategically in a company means breaking open old silos and recognizing new values, according to which teamwork is aligned. Even the work of the company itself undergoes changes both internally and externally.

If you would like more information about UX in the company, the strategic possibilities of UX and about UX & digitization, you can find more information here:

UX Strategy

 

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