seen + learned

Product strategy vs. UX strategy – thoughts from UXPA Boston 2014

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 | Posted by Tania Schlatter | Labels: , , , , 0 comments

Note: this post was updated June 10, 2014. I read Jeff Gothelf's post "There is no such thing as UX strategy" after seeing tweets about it a while ago, and didn't think too much about it. Recently, however, I've been thinking about how (and if) UX strategy manifests in UI design decisions, so I decided to attend the UXPA Boston 2014 conference session "UX Strategy exists, but what is it?" with this in mind.

Gothelf's post, which claims "[T]here is no such thing as UX strategy. There is only product strategy," inspired the session, moderated by Diana DeMarco Brown. It was great to hear stories from panelists Sarah Bloomer, Eva Kaniasty, and Lori Landesman. During Q&A, one attendee said he agreed with Gothelf, but unfortunately, there was not much time left to explore the statement. With a night to sleep on it, I realized that statement was crucial to helping me define my own thoughts on the topic.

To me, UX strategy is the goals and plan established for helping and delighting end-users, as well as meeting the needs of stakeholders, and in the case of enterprise applications, purchasers. Stakeholders and purchasers are types of users. My bias as a designer is to go the extra mile for end users – the people who use what I design. In the case of a consumer app, the user and the purchaser are the same, so in these situations I agree that product and UX strategy are the same. In the case of enterprise applications, user and purchaser goals and needs are often vastly different. Like so many answers to UX design questions, the answer to the question of whether UX strategy is different from product strategy is, "it depends." It depends on who your users are, who the organization is, and what the goals for the product are.

Focusing on the purchaser has led to dreadful and compromised enterprise application experiences. I've worked on enterprise applications for ATG (now Oracle), Endeca, (also now Oracle), and Curaspan, to name a few. In those cases, UX was part of product strategy, both functionally and conceptually. That in itself was not a problem. However, while stakeholders and product managers believed in UX, when it came down to coding and shipping, their focus was on meeting the needs of buyers. This makes sense given how enterprise product management success is measured – in sales, obviously. Like an oldest child in a family, enterprise product strategy takes up a disproportionate amount of stakeholders' time and attention. UX is the younger sibling, wanted and adored, but left to its own devices due to the focus on the oldest child. With intermittent support, UX for enterprise applications often lacks the resources it needs to sustain it and help it thrive.

Follow up note - June 10, 2014: With more thought and reading, I want to add that I think enterprise product strategy can be the same as UX strategy, it is just that it often isn't. If/when enterprise product strategy focuses on providing value to purchasers by developing software that is designed to succeed by helping the people who use the applications do so effectively, efficiently, and with appropriate delight, product strategy is aligned with and subsumes UX strategy.

This brings up more questions: are stakeholder and purchaser needs for enterprise applications really so different from end users, and if so, why? Also, if business stakeholders and product purchasers are types of users (as I consider them to be), then is the discussion of UX vs. product strategy really about end user-focused strategy vs. stakeholder and purchaser-focused strategy specifically in the realm of enterprise applications?

Speaking the Language of Meta-Principles: Consistency, Hierarchy, and Personality

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 | Posted by Debby Levinson | Labels: , , , 0 comments

I recently returned from beautiful Portland, Oregon, where I spoke as part of the Computer-Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) annual lecture series. The 2014 series focuses on storytelling, which can take many forms in user experience, user interface, and visual design.

My talk, "Speaking the Language of Meta-Principles: Consistency, Hierarchy, and Personality," covered how to use the meta-principles described in Visual Usability to effectively "tell a story" by using good design to guide users through their desired pathways and tasks in an application. We think of these meta-principles as if they’re part of a language. Consistency and hierarchy are the grammar people learn while using an application: the basic elements that define how a language is spoken. The “words” we speak – that is, the visual design characteristics we choose to convey a message – create an application’s personality. These principles are so fundamental to creating successful interfaces that we call them “meta-principles.” While technology that affects interfaces changes, the underlying meta-principles hold true.

I'd like to thank Emily Mahood Bowman, Clodine Mallinckrodt, Fellene Gaylord, and everyone else at CHIFOO for bringing me to Portland and giving me such a warm welcome. I'll be happy to return anytime!

Redesigning Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies B.S. in Graphic Design Degree

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | Posted by Tania Schlatter | Labels: , , , 0 comments

Founded to advance the careers of working students, Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies (CPS) grants doctoral, master's and undergraduate degrees. I've enjoyed teaching Interactive Information Design 2 and advising CPS graduate digital media students for the past few years.

I love systems and design, and am anxious to help higher ed better prepare students for the complex design work that we do today. I was excited to be asked to participate in a review of CPS' BS in Graphic Design degree last summer, followed by a redesign effort in the fall. The review was required for accreditation purposes, and the redesign was long overdue.

While the accreditation process was written in academic language, much of the work involved what I think of as design thinking. I (re)defined a clear mission for the program based on graphic design skills that are needed today, outlined desired outcomes for students and a system for measuring results, reviewed current courses in a structured way for strengths and weaknesses against goals, and analyzed student performance data over time to understand trends and gaps. Once the required accreditation materials were complete, it was great to take all I had learned and defined and work on redesigning the degree program overall.

The result of the effort is a roadmap for a revised BS in Graphic Design degree program. There are six new courses and six revised courses, which will begin to be phased in this fall. The new program maintains its practical focus and provides a stronger foundation in the traditional "roots" of graphic design, such as typography. When in place, courses and course projects will help prepare students by beginning in black and white and two-dimensional design principles, and carry through to using visual design principles to help people understand, enjoy and use visual information in static and interactive applications.