The popular conception about what makes up User Experience (UX) is related to the tactical aspect of UX. Meaning designing/researching components from a user-centric perspective at the interface level. Think of a product- like a mobile app. Now think of all the components and screens it has, the buttons, the interactions. If you select a button or type in information, what will happen on the screen? This screen is commonly referred to as a UI or User Interface. The UI is what the customer or user will interact with throughout the digital aspect of their experience. Tactical research in UX associates closely to the tangible aspects of the user interface and the UI. This is what I usually refer to whenever I describe my job to someone who doesn’t know what UX is; tactical research is definitely the easiest to explain.
Right now in the User Experience realm, there are three popular role designations. There’s the UX designer, the UX researcher, and now the T shaped UX/UI designer. There are other subsets too, like UX engineer or UX architect (and others), but these aren’t as ubiquitous as the aforementioned positions (but still important!) These three positions are all pretty similar to each other; a UX Designer could be doing research with users (and at smaller companies they are expected to), and a UX Researcher could be heavy on the research side of things, but still knows how to prototype etc. The UX/UI designer role encompasses more of an T shaped designer workload, meaning they might be more inclined to be a “jack of all trades” on the design side. Not only are UX/UI designers responsible for designing, and diagramming the user journeys, but they are also responsible for developing high-fidelity picture-perfect mockups and prototypes while having some knowledge of UX research (arguably the hardest job to be really good at because it encompasses so much).
What does the researcher, designer and T shaped designer share in common? They all have a stake in the interface one way or another. So what’s my rant been about for this article? “the interface the interface the interface, Tactical research.” Yes the interface. A UX researcher could easily encompass similar goals compared to a designer in terms of the impact they want to deliver (also called a deliverable). A UX designer and researcher might both be making presentations to product managers, engineers and leadership about something tactically related. Maybe there’s a feature that the users can never find and therefore has low usage. Maybe there’s a usability problem with the checkout feature on an app. Maybe some graspable process needs to be refined within the product.
But that’s only half of UX, and only incorporates the digital aspect of UX.
While tactical work makes the product better, often times there are a lot of steps before you even get to the more tangible aspects of your creation. User experience can help with the facets of the product that happen before the User Interface(buttons, menu’s etc)aspects get sketched out.
There’s the foundation that makes up the product/service. Meaning that before anything is created, a lot of important questions are asked and researched. Money shouldn’t be dumped into the business until these questions are answered. What do users care about? How are you going to develop a product that makes money? What user problem is your product solving? What’s a long term strategy going to look like that encompasses both user and business goals?
Working with business and user needs to drive an innovative product with a seamless experience is a process that starts with ‘why?’
Why are you building this? Do you have any data to back up your claim that your product would be viable? How did you come up with your features? Did it involve going out in the field and surveying your target demographic? Did you get users to prioritize the features you formed? Do you have a target demographic? Could the information you have about your users be formed into a persona? We are getting to the foundation of a product, the rock solid bottom of a product that will support the rest of the more tangible aspects. This can and should drive the strategy of the business, which is another more high level, and less tangible aspect of the idea. Strategy can sometimes be hard to visualize correctly, although a good UX’er will do the job well with a story. A business strategy that is driven by the user is a recipe for success.
UX researchers and UX designers (as well as T shaped designers if they are talented enough) can all interact with the more foundational aspects of a product. Sometimes a UX researcher will do a lot of basic surveying, interviewing and user research to get at the features. They will define what the user wants and communicate this to a UX designer. From there a UX designer might take that knowledge and transform it into a more tangible representation of the product. Doing that, though, requires the UX designer and researcher to be on the same page in terms of making a unified deliverable. When they deliver the story to stakeholders, they have to recommend changes that are going to be impactful, but also attainable. Ux’ers need to keep in mind business limitations, as well as technical limitations. It takes a holistic approach to empower an idea enough for it to be a thriving consumer good.
The UX process should be applied to the business and product strategy from the beginning. However, this is not always the case. Business leaders aren’t as familiar with user experience as the digital realm is, because people think of UX in terms of usability, or the more tactical aspects of an interface. But if a business wants to drive a product that really gets at peoples motivations and goals, a more user centric attitude could make the endeavor more successful. Jeff Bezos stresses the customer for a reason, because the customer should be the center of your product. Everything that is built should revolve around the user (although I’m not that familiar with Amazon’s UX process). Putting the customer at center stage for everyone to see is a strategy for innovation and profit.
It should be more common place for a UX professional to meet with other departments of the company that they aren’t traditionally known for interacting with. Let’s take the sales team at a company. The sales team directly talks to the customers on a regular basis. They hear what customers want and expect from your business. It should be common for UX professionals to connect with people from sales and interview them, querying about their experience selling the product. From there they could connect you with clients, and research can be done on the people spending the money (it also is good to get clients involved so they feel like it’s their idea also). You could ask “We’re thinking about coming up with ‘X’ feature. Is this easy for you to sell? Would the customers you interact with want a feature like this? What is something we should look into?”
Joe Natoli refers to both business and user goals to drive a meaningful product; carefully balancing the two is a real necessity in the business sphere. UX professionals should speak and articulate for the user, but it is also a reality that you have to weigh user’s needs against what is actually feasible. Joe understands that because he’s been a consultant for awhile, and understands that to make money and be successful, you need to consider limitations from a variety of different lenses. Providing value for the business is the goal for a UX’er in the real world.
A business strategy that is driven by UX should be common place. But how often do you hear of CEO’s talking about interviews, diary studies or any research before building takes place?It’s not uncommon, but not as common as it should be. Steve Jobs comes to mind first “Simple, sophisticated and neat”- but that’s not what business schools regularly teach. There is no UX in business, if there is, it’s not regularly taught as a focal point.
By integrating strategic and more foundational user experience research methods with business leaders, more seamless products can be built. Right from the beginning, strategy can be laid out for the business by incorporating user centered design principles into their normal processes. Other departments in the business should be asking UX’ers what the user would want, or they should be helping to inform UX’ers what the customers/users want. Maybe they could set up a regular program where the sales team meets with UX to discuss the user. Maybe it’s worth meeting with marketing and comparing user/customer engagement metrics.
User experience needs to be seen as more holistic. It’s common for people to know of the tactical aspects of UX. But another half of a UX’ers value comes from doing foundational and strategic research, so that a consumer good that gets at what customers actually want can be built. And hopefully, sometime in the future, the trend will be for UX to mean business-especially to anyone in the professional landscape.