Insight | UX

An art and a science: creating a seamless UX strategy

We look at defining a robust UX strategy early in the process to reduce friction for customers.

User Experience is how a user feels and reacts when using a product to try and achieve a goal. It is in the best interest of businesses to create products that will give the user a good experience, as this will lead them to form a lasting positive relationship with the business.

A ‘User Experience’ in itself cannot be designed, as it’s about how a customer feels using your product or being in contact with your brand. This stems from the ease or difficulty they have in using it. An ‘Interface’ is designed, which the user then interacts with and has a positive, negative or neutral experience.

You can therefore design a product with the user in mind creating a well-planned strategy in the hope you will meet the needs of the user, help them to achieve their goals and have a frictionless experience.

Aiming for good UX is something that should be considered as part of the overall business strategy, and at the earliest possible stage in the process of creating a new product. In this blog, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at UX, and why  early consideration can be really beneficial. It means your users should be able to complete whatever task they need to do using your product with the least amount of frustration possible, allowing you to build trust with your users.

User Experience isn’t just limited to screens, either: “To design truly memorable experiences, we need to widen our frame of reference to include all of the brand touch-points that our users come into contact with along their customer journey.

Doing so has the potential to materially impact upon business outcomes, recognising the role that design — and user experience — can play at the heart of a wider business strategy.

Smashing Magazine

When we start to consider the fact that UX doesn’t just focus on digital interaction with a product, but the experience a customer has with a brand as a whole, we can see there are a lot of aspects  to consider. From a user gaining awareness of a brand at their initial point of contact, how they are treated as a customer, through to visiting a website or app and purchasing a product; their experience will be affected by each touchpoint.

This is why having a UX strategy is vital. It ensures there’s something that can be referred to consistently throughout the process. This leads to a recognisable product successfully representing the brand, reduction in friction for users and improved experiences. It can even be used to aid decision-making and ensure that everyone involved in creating the product is working towards the same objective, helping to keep things running smoothly!

What is a UX strategy

A UX strategy is a living document - much like the web, it can change as the project proceeds and new findings come to light.

It is best considered right at the start and helps ensure that users’ needs are advocated for whilst still being able to meet business objectives. It means you have knowledge of the user, their goals, pain points and what they are trying to do before trying to create something for them to use. You’re more likely to create something they can use with ease, and prevent further issues later down the line that are harder to fix.

Strategic UX -what-is-UX

We need to build a clear picture of all aspects of the business, from a UX perspective and define how your brand should translate to customers across various platforms. According to Robert Hoekman Jr. in The Field Guide to UX Strategy: “The point of strategy isn’t to prescribe anything. It’s not a document of decisions. It’s a document that drives decisions.

“The strategy document focuses on goals over actions, ideas over to-do lists. Its purpose is to show the idea, the concept, of the thing you’re designing.

“It’s to give everyone involved a unified sense of what the thing is and why it will exist. It’s to enable people to make decisions that help it achieve that.”

When there are so many stakeholders involved, it’s easy to push user needs to the bottom of the pile and instead create products and features that are more beneficial to stakeholders. People involved want to know they’ve been able to have an input, and there will always be differences in opinion. But having a UX strategy in place from the start helps to consistently ensure you are considering user needs throughout the process.

You can use various methods such as user research & testing, stakeholder interviews and analysing data to determine the exact process that will be undertaken during a project to align user needs and business goals.

If all of this is inconsistent then a customer is most likely going to get confused and frustrated with the brand early on due to bad design.

Friction

Friction is something that prevents a user from accomplishing a task. It can be really frustrating for users if a product works the opposite to how they’re expecting, slowing them down. Most of the time a user won’t be using your product just because they want to, it’s to help them complete something they need to do and will want to get this done in as little time and with as little effort possible.

When a user meets friction/resistance, they are likely to get frustrated, occasionally feeling as though they’re at fault — rather than it being how the product was designed and built.

For example, a user downloads a new app but when they open it they don’t know how to use it or find the information they need. The user could easily feel as though it’s their lack of knowledge. In reality, the product hasn’t been designed in a way that is clear to the user. The best thing would have been to consider and speak to users about what they would expect from this process.

That is what we want to aim towards — reducing friction. At minimum, a user should be able to use your product with ease. The best way to do this is by trying to understand your users and ensuring the product is designed in the best way possible for them.

According to The Interaction Design Foundation, if a user can reach a state of flow when using your product they will feel engaged and therefore more likely to enjoy using it. Reduce the amount they have to think about what they are doing by minimising distractions and unnecessary actions. This will heavily influence their relationship with your entire brand.

This is important because a user will usually come into contact with your brand several times before they even reach your website or app. The ‘user journey’ is how users get to the site and the steps they need to take once they get there to be able to complete their goal.

“To envision the entire journey of your product, try to understand what goals users want to achieve while interacting with your product. This knowledge will help you figure out what steps a user might take while interacting with a system or service. Based on that knowledge you’ll understand what problems they might face during each of the steps.” Nick Babich, Web Designer Depot

Knowing the user journey before designing a website helps to ensure it is frictionless. This makes considering all touch-points an integral part of your UX strategy.

Brand touch-points are elements of a brand that users interact with at various stages, combined to make it a whole. It is important for it to all fit together by creating a brand system — to enable good experiences at all stages of contact. How a customer interacts with one touch-point will affect how they interact with the rest of the brand.

A good way to plan for these is to create a Touchpoint Matrix, which allows you to work out the various points customers will come into contact with your brand. You can then compare these with who they are aimed at and how much involvement is required from the customer. You can get an overview of how customers will see your brand, allowing you to plan for an overall UX strategy.

Gathering Knowledge

The best way to reduce friction is through knowledge. Knowledge of users alone is not enough to create a strong UX strategy, but it is fundamental to gather information about them to create a working strategy.

Strategic UX - gathering knowledge

According to Robert Hoekman in The 11 Minute Guide to Bulletproof UX Strategy:“The heart of great UX strategy lies in thorough research”. Define business goals and objectives, what the product is and list what you need to find out in order to establish a strategy. Essentially you are drilling down into “the reason for being” (Robert Hoekman Jr. - The Field Guide to UX Strategy).

Start by asking lots of questions. Questions about the business, goals, why it exists, where it is currently, where they want to be and what they want to achieve. Find existing research and data. Discovering what has been tried before is useful for giving an idea of what isn’t going to work and, due to looking in from an outside perspective, why. Talk to different people who have some involvement with the product —users, subject matter experts, users of competing products. Robert Hoekman Jr. says you should “keep your questions scoped to what a particular person cares about most and knows most about”. For example, stakeholders are more concerned with state of the business and financial concerns.

Stakeholders can also provide a lot of knowledge about a product and the users. They are usually the people who know the most about a business and can provide in-depth information that will support the strategy.

They need to put business goals first though, so it’s important to consider stakeholder knowledge alongside user research, testing and real data. When you focus on the user, you tend to create more successful products as you are providing them with something they actually want to use.

User research involves speaking to users (current or new) about who they are, their needs, desires, pain points and what they want to get out of your product. It helps you to gain an insight into the people who are using your products, and in turn a clearer picture of what your product and brand need to be in order to keep users happy.

You can then determine if you are going in the right direction with your product and if there is a need for it, giving you the ability to back up your decisions with real evidence. You will start with assumptions and work towards clarity.

User research should be done mainly at the start of a project but also at various points as you move through it, to check you are still creating to their needs. You can tie it in with testing and existing data.

Testing means you can collect information from real users so results are more accurate and any concerns they have are genuine. It’s virtually impossible to know how they think, what they want out of your product, their problems and their goals without speaking to them.

It’s easy for a designer to assume the user will know exactly how to use a certain feature, having previously seen numerous iterations of it in different formats. However, the user who has never seen it before may not have any idea how it works, get frustrated and leave - potentially even finding a competitor product that is easier to use.

This can be solved by doing iterative user testing throughout the process, working out pain points and improving the product in a way that best suits the user.

Usability testing tends to be qualitative, which means it helps you gain deep insights to help improve what you’re building. Users will use a product based on their individual end goals, so it’s also important to test for these different goals to make sure you’re covering all possibilities.

Along with user research and testing, it’s important to use data, if it exists. Users have their own thoughts, but data can sometimes provide a different story of how they actually use your product. Data can help you to see the bigger picture by showing you the actions and patterns of use of numerous users.

Creating your UX strategy

Discovery is about gaining clarity and collecting information to prove or disprove your assumptions about the project, user and what is needed. Use them to create a short, one or two-page document that clearly and concisely outlines your UX strategy. Robert Hoekman Jr’s  Field Guide to UX Strategy. states that it should include the following:

Strategic UX - work through refining your strategy

Vision. A high-level statement about what you want the product to be, what you want it to do & the goal of the product. This section will be heavily influenced by information gathered from stakeholders about the business, product and brand. It is for identifying the overall ideas around the purpose of the product and reasons for its existence.

Circumstances of use. The ’who, what, where, when, why of the product’. This is where you consider the various ways your product will be used — from the obvious to not so obvious. Talking to your users will most likely reveal some unexpected findings regarding the way your product is used, which is why it’s important to get to know them. It can directly affect the success of the product.

Design criteria. Make this “specific to your product” and as detailed as possible. Consider what it needs to be the best product it can be for users. You have gone through discovery by this point so should have some pretty solid grounds for design criteria to form an idea of what needs to go into the product. The more specific you are in this section, the better equipped you are for designing a higher quality product.

Success metrics. What will make this product successful? Be precise with your numbers and how you will measure if the product is a success — “focus on a small set of core metrics”. You can use the existing data gathered previously to set realistic metrics.

Work through refining your UX strategy then once it’s at a stage you’re happy with, talk it through with your stakeholders. Get feedback from them, work with them and collaborate to tweak it again until you are all happy with it. It can also be useful to share your strategy with any users you may have initially interviews.

You could even consider this as an extremely early stage prototype for testing, giving the users an overview of what the product will be. Remember, this is a living document that will evolve and grow so it may be tweaked again during the process as you gain more clarity on certain areas. But you now have a UX strategy you can display somewhere everyone can see.

Why UX strategy is important

A UX strategy is fundamental in keeping the project on the right tracks. Everyone involved is working towards the same goals but may have different ideas of how this is achieved, and a comprehensive UX strategy acts as a source of truth. They are clear on what they are doing, what they are working towards and what their role is.

It gets everyone thinking from the same perspective. Thinking about the same problems from all angles means there is more chance of good ideas coming up. You can then use the strategy to work out whether any ideas fit in with the strategy and fine tune them accordingly.

This UX strategy can be used for all stages of the process but it is probably most important in the design stage. You can use it to influence and make well-informed decisions, from wireframes through to high-fidelity prototypes. It also allows you to back up decisions if questioned.

Now you have your strategy, you can begin designing your product. The most beneficial thing throughout the process is communication. It is vital to keep stakeholders in the loop as you progress, working with them collaboratively. This means the designs will develop in the right direction with no nasty surprises. Everyone is involved at all stages meaning they’re happy with what is being produced at each stage.

This iterative way of working is good because you can revise designs as you go - ideally little and often and therefore don’t end up with tons of big changes to make later on.

If you’d like more guidance on how to form your UX strategy, get in touch with our team today.

Jessica Pollard

Written by:Jessica Pollard