Is UX strategy a thing?
Over the past few years, I’ve seen an increasing number of people using the term “UX strategy”. There are books on UX strategy, articles on UX strategy, conferences on UX strategy and people with UX strategy in their job description. We even had a UX strategy track at our most recent conference.
Is UX strategy real or imaginary? Is it something you can define and differentiate from other forms of strategy, or is it just a fancy job title to aggrandise yourself, up your day rate, and sell more consultancy hours to unsuspecting patsies?
I see strategy as a general class of business activity; coming up with plans of action to meet some desirable business outcome. To that end, all businesses engage in some form of strategic thinking and planning. The more of it you do, the more likely you’ll hire somebody who’s primary role it is to deliver strategic recommendations.
Not all strategists are made the same. Each person has a set of beliefs—and life experiences—which colours their outlook, and subtly changes their strategic approach.
If you come from a marketing background, you may look at a new product or service through the lens of marketing; how you can craft a compelling message, target a specific demographic, and put together a marketing campaign to instigate action. If you come from a traditional business background, you may put more focus on your cost base, margins and delivery channels.
Both lenses are actually remarkably similar. So much so that it would be easy to claim that their is no such thing as marketing strategy as distinct from business strategy. On a meta level that’s true, but in practice I’ve found that MBAs look at the world slightly differently from marketing execs. There is value in having input from both.
I think a lot of it comes down to the matter, material and medium in which they work. Business strategists have a fairly wide remit, while marketing strategists focus on a particular segment. In most companies the lines blur, but they are made visible if you step back far enough.
In the digital world, we often talk about product strategy. I’m not sure if anybody has taken the time to really define what product strategy is, but I see it as “using the processes and practices of the internet age to help deliver successful digital products”. As such it draws upon lean and agile thinking, an understanding of both technological and user requirements, business forecasting, and digital marketing.
You could argue that product strategy is very similar to business strategy, but with a digital lens. This explains why many of the early product managers had an MBA or similar.
So where does this leave UX strategy? Isn’t that just the same as product strategy?
I think UX strategy is similar to product strategy, in the same way that business strategy is similar to marketing strategy. While product strategy focusses on a slightly wider but shallower brief, a UX strategy has a narrower but deeper focus.
UX strategy tends to look at a digital product or service through a user-centred lens; how will a user experience the product, and how can we make that experience as positive as possible? While UX strategists will undoubtedly also care about whether the product is technically feasible, delivers business value, and can be discovered by users, they won’t plan these areas out in great detail. Instead they will be left for the product manager, business owner, technical architects and marketing teams to define.
User Experience strategy draws on the practices of user experience design to help describe what the experience of the product or service should feel like. UX strategists will explore possible new product or service scenarios, advising senior management which direction they should take. Once a decision has been made, they will help communicate the target experience to the wider organisation through concept models, diagrams and other abstractions. They will then oversee the delivery of that vision, to ensure the final output meets the stated goals.
All good Designers do this to some degree. UX strategists focus solely on this aspect, at the expense of other areas such as information architecture or interaction design. Most good product managers do this as well, but again, UX strategists focus on experience above others.
In short, UX strategy is a useful lens through which to look at your product, especially if the experience is important to you. But there are plenty of other lenses to look through as well, so the final choice is yours.