Before we get started, I want to give you a solid, actionable takeaway, that I know will level up your understanding of strategy and set you in the right direction.
So before you go any further, have a read of the first section and take a few minutes to answer the questions.
What’s the One Thing You Can Do to Improve Your Strategy Skills Today?
The first step in applying strategy, is understanding strategy.
Once you understand how strategy works, you can start to take existing projects and reverse engineer them to evaluate whether or not they’re good strategies and then design better strategies as a result.
It’s about improving your understanding, honing your awareness, and gaining experience to improve your performance.
Take a product you’re already working on and answer these questions:
- How is this project creating value for the business?
- How is this project creating value for the customer?
- What is the opportunity that this project capitalizes on?
- What strategic decisions have we made about this project?
- How will we know if we’ve been successful?
- What principles have directed our decision-making?
By answering these questions, you’re analyzing your current approach and touching on the key elements that need to be considered for a strategy to be effective.
Work through these questions on a few different types of projects.
Try it at the feature, product, and business levels to see what you find.
Usually, by analyzing a product in this way you’ll spot opportunities to improve.
So from here, you can map your existing strategy and design ways to fill the gaps and make it more effective.
By doing this a few times, you’ll encounter all the nuances of how strategy can be applied and executed.
This type of deliberate thinking is your first step towards improving your skills as a UX Strategist.
Here Are 14 Tips to Become a Better UX Strategist
- Explore Some Strategy Frameworks: There are a few strategy frameworks out there that are designed for other industries but can easily be applied to UX work. Take a look at a book called ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.’ The basic premise is that all strategy follows the formula of ‘diagnosis > policy > action.’ Another framework that’s good for UX Designers to understand is the Value Proposition Canvas. This helps you to identify and meet target user needs. Also, Lean UX is a great framework for UX Design and the book UX Strategy by Jamie Levy.
- Get Better at Systems Thinking: For a strategy to be successful, the strategist needs to consider any variable that could affect the project’s success. Systems thinking is the process of understanding the components of a system and how they influence each other. It’s necessary for User Experience Design because we deal with the ever-changing needs of humans, who exist in changing environments and contexts, and more often than not, our feature or product exists as part of an ecosystem.
- Develop Your Business Acumen: Some UX Designers may cringe, but if your strategy doesn’t provide business value (Make money). It isn’t going anywhere. Usually, providing value to the user is a good strategy, but stakeholders won’t support you if it doesn’t align with the business strategy. Working in alignment with the business is all about timing. You need to understand what your business stakeholders are focused on each quarter and how your solution can help them meet their targets. After all, design is a function of the business so needs to support the business model.
- Learn to Set Proper UX Metrics: A good UX Metric will tell you if you’ve been successful. It’ll also become a case study that you can share around the business to prove to stakeholders that your work is having an impact. A good way to start is by identifying the business KPI that relates to your project, then think about what would have to change from a user experience design perspective to support that goal. Take a look at the theory of leading and lagging indicators. This will help you fully understand how to measure success and the progress towards it.
- Learn to Accurately Define Problems: You need to be absolutely clear on what problem you’re solving. The clear you can articulate this, and the more accurately you can be, the more it will resonate with people around the business. You’ll find that when you’ve found a good problem, there will likely be many people around the business that are aware of the problem but haven’t been able to communicate what it is and why it’s the case. Get better at defining problems accurately so you can express ideas that resonate with your stakeholders.
- Learn to Analyze and Spot Opportunities: Spotting opportunities is a way of seeing the world that needs to be developed over time. Most of us are blinkered and focused too narrowly. Sometimes we’re so close to the work that our assumptions mislead us and create blind spots. Practice noticing when conditions change. Trends, needs, competitors, regulations. When these things move, new opportunities present themselves.
- Learn to Analyze and Interpret Data: We all know how powerful data can be. But how many times have you been in awe of an amazing analytics dashboard and left the room having learned nothing useful or actionable? Data is always impressive, but it needs to be the right data relevant to the goal of your UX Design work. It needs to help you take action or clarify an area you know little about. This is where the power of interpreting data comes into play. When you look at a data point, think, “How does this help me? Is there a more useful data point? What’s the insight here?”.
- Experiment and Notice the Results: Experimenting with your process, mindset, and solutions is how you gain experience. Even if I gave you the exact formula to become a successful UX Strategist, you’d be lacking experience because you haven’t explored all the ways that don’t work. You need to go through a process of trial and error to really grasp the meaning of things. Find ways to experiment with techniques and methods. Find new people to collaborate with and learn from their different perspectives.
- Improve Your Storytelling Skills: Stories make ideas memorable. They help us to understand concepts in terms that are emotional and meaningful to us. This doesn’t mean spinning a yarn and creating fiction around your work. It means understanding your audience and what will resonate with them, setting the right amount of context, laying out ideas meaningfully, and helping people connect the dots with metaphors, examples, and anecdotes.
- Improve Your Facilitation Skills: Facilitation is a great hack for getting what you need from stakeholders. It allows you to get feedback and ideas quickly. And it allows you to have the team come up with ideas that create better buy-in and follow-through. In effective UX Strategy, facilitation is useful because you often have to become an expert quickly on new topics. What better way to get this expertise than to invite the experts to discuss the ideas in a workshop?
- Build Better Relationships: Good relationships will help you to get the information and support you need from stakeholders to do good work. By getting to know the right people around the business, you can unlock new sources of information, get expert guidance on complex topics, and get inside the minds of your most influential stakeholders. Relationships are everything in business, and a good UX Strategist should be a good networker.
- Don’t Be Scared, Be Curious: You must constantly ask questions. Even if they sound silly. Actually, especially if they sound silly. These are the questions you think are stupid, but when you ask them, you find out that everyone else in the room was wondering the same thing. If you’re overwhelmed, lost, or confused. Find your way out by asking questions. Be curious, and find the answers you need to unlock the insight needed to push the project forward. Don’t be afraid to rely on others to support you in the areas where you’re lacking. Just ask.
- Let Go of Your Assumptions: Even if you think you know something. Unless you have evidence, you’re likely filling in gaps that should be filled with research or SME experience. Challenge your assumptions and find new ways of seeing the world. Watch for the internal talk that sounds like guessing or trusting sources when you haven’t seen the evidence.
- Keep a Strategy Diary: I kept a diary for a few months where I would record anything I did that related to strategy. I wrote notes about frameworks I’d researched. I challenged myself to find one problem a day and write a 5-minute strategy for it. Over time my experience grew, and I started applying it to my own projects. Soon after, I was running strategy training for our entire company. And now, I’m a contract UX Lead that focuses on strategy.
So… What Is UX Strategy Anyway?
UX Strategy =
Making choices about how to create intuitive, efficient, and fulfilling experiences for users.
It involves understanding the following:
- Business objectives and goals
- User needs, goals, and pain points
- Market trends and competitor landscape
- How to align these to identify opportunities
- How to validate your decisions and ideas
- How to build capability within your team
- How to measure success and follow through
A UX Strategy can be high-level and set the direction for a whole ecosystem of products.
Or, it can be low-level and set the direction for a single feature or backlog of enhancements.
Strategy as a concept can feel fuzzy. That’s because it is.
Strategy is inherent in everything we do, whether we acknowledge it or not. Because we each have goals, and we all make decisions about how to achieve them. The issue is when everyone on the team has a different strategy.
By being aware of strategy, its components, and how to do it better. We can take our fuzzy ideas about how to get things done and give them proper structure and purpose.
You could get by as an average UX Designer without acknowledging UX strategy’s existence. But you’ll get by a whole lot better when you make a conscious effort to think and act strategically.
By making strategy visible and raising awareness of our decisions about how to accomplish our goals. We 10x collaboration. And productivity. And we increase our chances of success.
That’s because strategy is often about giving teams a sense of direction. Something to aspire to. And a framework to base their own decisions and goals on.
Perhaps it’s better to understand UX Strategy by talking about what it isn’t.
Imagine a software development team that doesn’t know who its users are.
They’ve guessed what users need based on their own experience with the product.
On top of that, there are 6 delivery squads, all guessing about different parts of the experience.
Designers working day to day aren’t confident in making decisions because they’ve got no point of reference. How do you make a decision if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve?
Over time the team will feel disempowered, and the product will become convoluted, fragmented and riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.
The customer will go to a competitor that has done their research. Full stop.
A good design leader can align stakeholders around a shared vision, work towards agreement on a shared set of goals, and facilitate the creation of plans, tasks, and milestones.
That’s what UX Strategy is all about.
And… What Skills Does a UX Strategist Need?
A UX Strategist needs to master many skills.
They need to be able to work alone to initiate a project, rally the stakeholders to get behind the cause, and collect and make sense of ambiguous and confusing sources of data.
On top of that, they need to do it all while keeping the team inspired and focused by telling great stories.
A good strategist is comfortable facing ambiguity and thrives on making the complex simple.
Here are a few areas that every UX Strategist needs to work on:
- Finding opportunities
- Choosing a course of action
- Building the capabilities
- Establishing the principles
- Telling a good story
If we were to break those down into skills, we’d get something like this:
- Stakeholder mapping
- Stakeholder interviews
- Analyzing business objectives
- Understanding KPIs and metrics
- Current state reviews
- Competitor analysis
- Market and trends analysis
- User research and need-finding
- Identifying and defining problems
- Writing mission and vision statements
- Articulating value propositions
- Validating value propositions
- Facilitating creative workshops
- Generating ideas and solutions
- Evaluating and selecting solutions
- Articulating meaningful concepts
- Screening and developing solutions
- Designing roadmaps and backlogs
- Identifying skills gaps and capability needs
- Overseeing delivery
- Coaching and mentoring
- Establishing processes
That’s a lot of skills…
It takes a lot of practice with a range of UX Methods and a good understanding of how to leverage UX Research.
It takes a long time to get that experience. But more often than not, a UX Strategist works with a team to get this done. So although the UX Strategist might not be doing all of these things, it’s in their interest to make sure they’re happening.
For example, it might not be the direct responsibility of a UX Strategist to hire talent and up-skill the team. But if they propose a strategy that the organization doesn’t have the skills to execute, the strategy will fail.
UX Design Strategy isn’t just about recommending ideas. It’s about making sure the ideas can become a reality. And that means knowing what the organization is capable of, what skills they need, and having an interest in mobilizing the team to make the strategy a reality.
UX design strategy is about aligning stakeholders around a shared vision and working towards agreement on a set of goals and plans.
It involves creating a framework for decision-making that takes into account user research, market trends, business objectives, competitor analysis, and KPI metrics.
A UX Strategist needs to be comfortable with ambiguity and able to recognize opportunities while also having the skills to tell a good story and rally the team to make it happen.
It is an iterative process that requires constant learning and adaptation, which means a lot of experience—but with enough dedication, anyone can become a great UX Strategist.
- A UX Strategist needs to understand how strategy works and be able to reverse engineer existing projects in order to evaluate their effectiveness.
- There are 14 tips for becoming a better UX Strategist, such as exploring strategy frameworks, developing business acumen, learning how to set proper metrics, analyzing data and opportunities accurately, experimenting with techniques and methods of work, improving storytelling skills, building relationships with stakeholders; being curious when faced with challenges or confusion; letting go of assumptions without evidence-based proof; keeping a diary on strategies learned/used over time.
- A good UX Strategy involves understanding user needs & goals alongside market trends & competitor landscape in order for the strategist to align them all together towards creating an intuitive experience for users.
- To create a solid ux strategy, you must be a ux expert and have experience of the ux process and usability testing. You should be able to create a user persona, customer journey map and gather insights that support the design process from inception to the design of the user interface.
- Successful UX Strategy finds ways to create value innovation and develops a comprehensive ux strategy that the product design team can align with when designing solutions for their target audience.
- The skills that every strategist should master include finding opportunities within ambiguity & complexity while choosing the right course of action toward success and building storytelling capabilities.
- UX Strategy has a lot of overlap with Product Strategy, a product strategy should focus on business goals and digital product opportunities. While a user experience strategy should direct the UX Team