UX STRAT 2013 Workshop Reviews
Published: September 23, 2013
The inaugural UX STRAT conference began on September 9, 2013, with a full day of pre-conference workshops. Four leading thinkers in UX strategy presented half-day workshops—which at $350 for two half-day workshops were very reasonably priced in comparison to similar workshops at other conferences. Each attendee who signed up for the day of workshops had two choices for the morning and two for the afternoon. The workshops included the following:
- Morning Workshops
- “Beyond Business Basics,” by Nathan Shedroff, Chair, MBA in Design Strategy, at California College of the Arts
- “Customer Journey Mapping: Illustrating the Big Picture,” by Megan Grocki, Experience Strategy Director, and Jonathan Podolsky, Senior Strategist, both at Mad*Pow
- Afternoon Workshops
- “Redesigning Business Culture and Thinking Around the Customer,” by Tim Loo, Strategy Director at Foolproof
- “Lean UX + UX Strat,” by Josh Seiden, Managing Director at Neo
Overall, the quality of the workshops that UX STRAT 2013 offered was excellent.
Presenter: Nathan Shedroff
The philosophy behind Nathan Shedroff’s “Beyond Business Basics”: “Forget about what strategy is. It almost doesn’t matter. Instead, focus on what strategy does.”
Nathan Shedroff, shown in Figure 1, is program chair for the California College of the Arts MBA Design Strategy program and author of multiple books on the topics of UX strategy and design. He delivered a fascinating workshop at UX STRAT 13, “Beyond Business Basics,” which covered a relatively unexplored aspect of the user experience domain, that nebulous area where UX strategy and planning meet business strategy. This excellent workshop was an effective introduction to an MBA-oriented user experience model.
Figure 1—Nathan Shedroff
Photo by Pat Lang
The workshop provided insights about how to pursue UX strategy within the context of a business organization and its marketplace. User experience doesn’t occur in isolation, and while purists might argue that it’s all about the customers, the reality is that business goals matter just as much. You can use a relatively simple process model of needs > intent > offer > experience, Nathan argues, to structure a UX strategy within the context of customer needs and business drivers, both of which are always evolving.
A sound UX strategy focuses on relationships and the value that relationships bring to customers, the UX team, and the business as a whole. As shown in Figure 2, Nathan identified five types of value that exist in a quantitative/qualitative hierarchy: functional, financial, emotional, identity, and meaningful value. Taken together, these add up to total value. While business has traditionally focused on the first two quantitative types of value, user experience is better equipped to focus on the higher-order, qualitative types of value along this continuum. As UX professionals, we are in a good position to promote the perspective that everything businesses offer to customers constitutes an experience that we can design, keeping these different types of value in mind. “Experience creates value. Experience is strategic.”
Figure 2—Five types of value that add up to total value
The trick, Nathan maintains, is to find the intersection of customer meaning, UX practice meaning, and business meaning that brings these types of value into focus and priority. That intersection affords the clearest vision of how to formulate a UX strategy that not only crystallizes UX planning and execution, but has the greatest chance of success because it ensures alignment with both customers and stakeholders—the business organization.
Nathan identified 15 core meanings, shown in Figure 3. Providing two or three of these could offer high value to customers, User Experience, or the business. Find the common meaning across these groups and you have the basis for a UX strategy that lets you create experiences that everyone views as having high value.
Figure 3—Core meanings
“Meaning is the deepest connection you can make with a customer / user / audience,” Nathan told us. Once you’ve identified this common ground of meaning, your UX team can pursue its strategy with a higher degree of confidence that you’ll achieve buy-in from both customers and the business.
Strategy allows a UX team to create compelling experiences within a thoughtful context, as well as with an eye for their future direction. Given that much of what an experience comprises is invisible—significance, intensity, breadth—providing context through a UX strategy can help a UX team to maintain a strategic focus that’s not always apparent in its traditional tactical deliverables. This strategic focus lies at the center of corporate, customer, team, and competitors’ meaning priorities, as shown in Figure 4. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the UX team to take the lead in defining and communicating the vision for the higher-order meanings that customers seek out.
Figure 4—Strategic focus
Unfortunately, a four-hour workshop could not contain Nathan’s enthusiasm for his subject matter, and his last segment on leadership was limited to a couple of sentences that he delivered in closing the session. This was a shame because he clearly intended the leadership segment to be the culmination of the other material that he covered.
Overall, this was an effective and interesting workshop. It made me wish that I lived in the vicinity of CCA so I could explore their MBA Design Strategy program. (There doesn’t appear to be an online program.) However, this workshop would have benefited from being a longer session—a full day rather than just half a day. Given the wealth of material that Nathan had to cover, it would be very unlikely that he would be able to compress all of it into just four hours and still be able to share all of his deeper insights. I highly recommend your taking a full-day version of this workshop if you have the opportunity.
Even the summary level of Nathan’s material that he was able to cover in a half-day workshop convinced me that understanding the need to align User Experience to business, as well as to customer needs, is a concept that we should all be aware of as UX professionals. Creating elegant user experiences isn’t enough—your company and customer must want them.
Presenters: Megan Grocki & Jonathan Podolsky
This workshop hit the mark for a conference focusing on UX strategy. According to Megan Grocki, Experience Strategy Director at Mad*Pow and shown in Figure 5, journey mapping is a key component of developing an elegant experience strategy—and I heartily agree. In my experience, it is impossible to create a realistic roadmap for making improvements to a customer experience without having a clear understanding of the current realities. Further, we seldom work in single-channel environments today. Ensuring a cohesive, consistent customer experience across an omnichannel ecosystem is now not just necessary; it is fast becoming more challenging.
Figure 5—Megan Grocki
Photo by Pabini Gabriel-Petit
So what is a journey mapping? According to Megan, it is “the process of illustrating a complete story of the relationship between an individual and a system / service / product / brand / organization over time.” Journey maps, explained Megan, illuminate the ways in which organizational silos can often adversely impact user experience. They highlight rough points, or inconsistencies, in customers’ current experiences, thereby fostering increased customer empathy. Most important, they serve to facilitate stakeholder consensus and buy-in to a strategic vision prior to design—and they highlight priorities for what to prototype and test.
Each journey map starts with a deep dive into customer engagement with the business or organization. This means looking at:
- goals—both those of the customer and the business
- touchpoints—points of interaction involving a specific human need, in a specific time and place
- channels—each medium of interaction with customers where touchpoints occur
Megan advises involving C-level leaders in your journey mapping workshops whenever possible. Since these may be half-day workshops, they can be hard to schedule, but they are definitely worth the effort. The higher the stakeholders’ level of collaboration, the easier it is to socialize the journey maps. Invite between ten and fifteen people to participate in journey modeling, including stakeholders, designers, product managers, and developers.
The larger part of Megan’s workshop involved five hands-on activities within small working teams of participants. She presented us with a common design challenge for a mythical client, Main Street Dental. While all teams focused on the same client, Megan assigned different personas to various teams, and each team focused on their assigned persona. She encouraged us to regard the personas as dynamic, not frozen in time.
In our first exercise, Megan asked us to identify current goals, touchpoints, and channels for our target mythical business client, paying attention to both apparent challenges and opportunities—as well as gaps in knowledge. The second exercise included an empathy-mapping activity for our assigned persona, as Figure 6 illustrates.
Figure 6—Individual and team exercise to produce one giant empathy map
In the third activity, we individually brainstormed ideas through facilitator-supplied lenses, words representing concepts or ideas to help us look at a problem or scenario in a different way. Then, in the fourth activity, each team worked as a unit to create an affinity diagram of all of the ideas the team members had generated, as shown in Figure 7. At this point, large areas on the walls of the conference room became sticky-note landscapes, where team participants winnowed out duplicates and corralled their ideas into useful categories.
Figure 7—Working collaboratively to create an idea affinity diagram
The fifth and final activity for each team was to create a future vision of the customer experience. Each team created what Megan called a narrative prototype, the purpose of which was to share our vision with our fictional stakeholders. Our goal was to represent our proposed customer journey visually—as a story that we could communicate to stakeholders. Megan advised us that “there is no right or wrong way to visually represent a customer journey.” (Indeed, we ended up with as many styles representing our journeys as there were teams present in the workshop.)
Megan then briefly shared and discussed a great many examples of journey maps, two of which are shown in Figures 8 and 9. These two figures depict a single persona’s journey through a pregnancy. Figure 4 shows the persona’s varying levels of confidence and anxiety during the charted timeline. Figure 5 provides a simplified view of the journey, highlighting opportunities, strategies, and concepts. The many examples varied widely in terms of their style, polish, and emphasis.
Figure 8—Charting a persona’s journey through a pregnancy
Figure 9—A simplified view of the same journey, which highlights opportunities, strategies, and concepts
The wide variation in the journey models that Megan’s slide deck included—as well as in those that our participant teams created—truly brought home the creative nature of journey mapping and the importance of considering audience needs when visually representing customer journeys. Figures 10 and 11 show a couple of the journey maps that the workshop participants created. Both break down the dental-patient experience into phases.
Figure 10—A low-fidelity, sticky-note-laden journey map
Photo by Margie Coles
Figure 11—A sketched journey map
Photo by Pabini Gabriel-Petit
While the journey mapping process is undeniably valuable, in and of itself, for all who participate, the final narrative prototype is only as effective as it is successful in speaking to its intended audience. And, in this case, one size definitely does not fit all. The intent of journey maps is not to be static things that are frozen in time. Journey mapping is an ongoing, iterative process. Periodically schedule journey-mapping workshops to allow your team to reflect on and synthesize your research—and continually involve stakeholders.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the workshop was thinking about ways not only to analyze customer touchpoints, but also to organize research findings into meaningful visuals for a wide variety of stakeholders. While I very much enjoyed the workshop and am eager to explore customer journey mapping further, I was looking for a bit more guidance on determining how the components of the customer journey might influence the resulting narrative prototype. For a good chunk of time during our fifth and final activity, mapping the future journey, my team seemed a bit lost. While, overall, Megan and Jonathan did a good job of facilitating the activities despite the large number of participants in the workshop, for this last, more complex activity, a smaller number of workshop participants would perhaps have allowed more direct facilitation to alleviate our floundering and focus our efforts.
Megan suggested some excellent online resources to enable us to examine others’ efforts in creating journey maps and provide more food for thought, including a rich collection of journey maps on Pinterest. To close her workshop, Megan suggested four traits of solid journey models—that they be valuable, believable, useful, and elegant. To be believable, journey maps must be based on user research. Amen to that.
Presenter: Tim Loo
When I read on the UX STRAT site that Tim Loo, who is shown in Figure 12, was going to discuss “the role of the UX strategist, creating organizational change in customer experience, and the challenges and opportunities for the UX strategist in redesigning organizational attitudes and thinking around the customer,” it immediately became clear to me that this was a workshop I should attend—both because I find such discussions fascinating and because these are exactly the sorts of challenges I’m currently facing at work. At the beginning of the workshop, Tim invoked the Chatham House rule, which states that “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” He wanted people to be able to speak freely about their real issues relating to corporate culture without any fear of negative repercussions. The workshop opened with several table-team discussions.
Figure 12—Tim Loo, Strategy Director at Foolproof
Photo by Pat Lang
At intervals throughout the workshop, Tim played videos that his team at Foolproof have produced to communicate their UX strategies to their clients. These videos had high production values, depicted well-crafted scenarios, were well acted, and clearly communicated the messages that Foolproof wanted to convey to their clients. The workshop audience’s reception to these videos was enthusiastic. Videos showing customer scenarios are a particularly effective means of communicating customers’ painpoints to clients. “These are key journeys, or sets of interactions, that you have with your customers, that are probably totally invisible to you as an organization,” said Tim.
For one of the table-team discussions, Tim asked participants the question: “What are the behaviors and painpoints of an organization without a UX strategy?” While the discussions at my table were interesting, I became much more engaged when Tim delivered the first chapter of his presentation, “Defining UX Strategy.”
Tim’s passion for his subject is evident, his Aussie accent is charming, and he quickly drew his audience into a dialogue on matters that are of strategic importance to all UX professionals and the businesses who employ them. In fact, we became so engaged in these dialogues that Tim skipped over many of the table-team exercises that he had planned. The spontaneous discussions that transpired evolved much more organically, and many in the audience shared their personal challenges and triumphs.
Among the many emerging flavors of UX strategy, this is Foolproof’s definition:
user experience strategy—“A long-term vision, roadmap, and KPIs to align every customer touchpoint with your brand position and business strategy.”
Tim presented several slides that elaborated on Foolproof’s Experience Strategy Framework, concluding with that shown in Figure 13. A UX roadmap is a path to achieving the business vision, while KPIs provide a means of measuring the success of that vision.
Figure 13—Foolproof’s experience strategy framework
In Figure 14, Tim summarized his thoughts on design planning versus UX strategy.
Figure 14—Summary of design planning versus UX strategy
Tim asked, “What does your organization measure?” Revenues or the value that the business creates?
To kick off Chapter 2 of his presentation, “Engaging with Sponsors & Stakeholders,” Tim asked the table teams to discuss these questions:
- Who are potential owners for UX strategy in an organization?
- What other important stakeholders might need to be engaged?
- What are challenges of engaging with this audience?
Some of the challenges included a lack of time for UX design, a lack of knowledge about UX, an overemphasis on data, design discussions being driven by opinion, and a lack of empathy with customers. Tim spoke about how “effective stakeholder engagement and communication focus on stakeholder needs,” and advocated the use of storytelling to communicate personas’ painpoints in a way that is emotionally engaging and linked to business outcomes.
Chapter 3 of Tim’s presentation covered “Understanding & Communicating the Current State.” In providing an example of a story about painpoints, Tim related an amusing personal story in photos about arriving at the airport in Hong Kong, discovering that he was completely out of cash, and the difficulties that he experienced in using an automated teller machine when he hadn’t notified his bank in advance that he would be traveling.
A story is an effective way of communicating the painpoints that you derive from customer interviews or complaint logs, as is data visualization by mapping customer and business painpoints and holistic customer experiences. As Tim noted, “Long, detailed reports on UX do not get read by senior stakeholders. Tools [that] quickly and memorably boil down experience both functionally and emotionally can help.”
Customer journey maps show points of value creation and value leakage. As Tim said, “The key thing is putting people in the stories.” Tim suggested that we create experience videos to tell customer stories and communicate their painpoints effectively, after developing storyboards and planning our narrative. “Choose stories that seem important to a company—for example, that have high relevance or high impact,” advised Tim. “A meaningful painpoint describes the emotion someone would feel and what causes that emotion.”
Tim spoke about the importance of aligning UX strategy with business strategy. There may be a lack of alignment around customer painpoints, so collaboration through workshops is key. Ask:
- “Do we understand what the customer painpoints are?
- “Do we have a common view of what’s wrong?
- “What are the things that we agree are the priorities?
“Alignment is a key outcome of UX strategy,” said Tim. “Creating alignment and agreement is as important as presenting the evidence.”
In Chapter 4 of his presentation, Tim spoke about “Creating Experience Design Principles.” He said, “Experience design principles describe the core values of the user experience of a product or a service. They provide direction and intent for how we want customers to feel about the experience. Experience design principles should be aspirational and inspiring. They are stretch targets and measures for transforming your business and the customer experience.” Figure 15 summarizes the qualities of good experience design principles.
Figure 15—Good experience design principles
Once you’ve created good design principles, you can “always access the right information when [you] need it.” Use qualitative measures to determine whether your design principles are good. Design principles let us “make our expertise available to customers.” Therefore, the most effective means of communicating design principles is digital.
The key takeaway from Chapter 5, “Ideation & Envisioning the Future Experience,” was Tim’s advice to “create new future stories for customers showing outcomes—not outputs or specific features—based on the design principles.” One way of communicating desired outcomes visually is to overlay statements that a company would like customers to make—because they’ve achieved their business goals—on a photo of a customer.
In Chapter 6, “Creating a Delivery Roadmap,” Tim’s message was to use “future customer stories to identify enablers and drive the delivery and technology roadmap.” “List out and prioritize your objectives.” “You need data around business value and cost feasibility.” “UX strategies are delivered by teams, not by individuals.”
In Chapter 7, “Creating UX Key Performance Indicators,” Tim exhorted us to “make the organization measure and report on things [that] are meaningful for business and the customer.” “All these plans get thrown out once the numbers come back.” “How are we going to measure success? Do customer surveys. We have to measure the results of ideation and envisioning. Constantly measure.”
You can create a virtuous cycle by changing thinking—which creates empathy with colleagues and customers—and changing behavior—which makes stakeholders collaborate and share the customer perspective.
This was a great workshop that was thoroughly enjoyable, engaging, and edifying. Plus, as you can see from the example slides from Tim’s deck, his presentation was beautifully put together and provided a stellar example of effective visual communication.
Presenter: Josh Seiden
The UX STRAT site described this workshop presented by Josh Seiden, shown in Figure 16, as a way to delve hands on into the Lean UX approach. Having just finished two books on Lean Startup and Lean UX—and plowing through a third as I arrived at the conference—I was really ready to dive into a workshop that would offer an opportunity for nuanced discussions of lessons learned and best practices. What I found, instead, was a workshop whose number of participants was of such a magnitude that it really made such discussions or the promise of guidance from Josh during the hands-on exercises a stretch of the imagination. I guess everyone else attending the Monday workshops was as interested in participating in a dialogue about Lean UX as I was.
Figure 16—Josh Seiden
No matter. I’m a fan of Lean Startup and Lean UX—and for that reason, I was happy to be in the workshop despite the confusion that arose during some of the hands-on activities.
Josh presented a quick overview of development methodologies. As UX professionals, we have needed to adjust to the realities of continuous change—starting with waterfall, then replacing that with agile; the birth of agile UX, which led to the obvious need to bring business into the cross-disciplinary team mix; then the birth of Lean Startup, and from that, Lean UX. Figure 17 provides an overview of the evolution of Lean UX.
Figure 17—The evolution of Lean UX
Since Product Management, or Marketing, plays a critical role on our cross-functional teams, “the question becomes one of how to bring Marketing into the Lean fold,” Josh told us. “They seem to think they have it all figured out—just do another user survey, right?” This echoed a common sentiment that we encountered throughout the conference: our need—and perhaps frustrated attempts—to successfully connect with the Marketing mindset and move toward unified, outcome-focused strategies.
Josh presented an interesting video from Nordstrom Innovation Lab, where the team’s problem-to-solution delivery cycle is time-boxed in 1-week iterations. The team worked in public—in Nordstrom’s flagship downtown-Seattle store—to create a new iPad app whose goal was to increase sales in the sunglasses department. In the end, the team realized, in a big way, the importance of staying connected with its users over time. While it wasn’t entirely clear which outcome they were measuring, the “small batch size of work effort” ensured that the consequences of failure were very small. Josh’s point? Increase the size of the batch, and the risk of failure escalates.
Next, Josh covered the basic Lean UX cycle, which is a never-ending process of learning, as illustrated in Figure 18. Hypothesis creation and testing are at the heart of the Lean methodology, and this cycle of continuous hypothesis and validation exists within a culture that supports continuous learning.
Figure 18—The Lean UX cycle
Looking at the Lean UX cycle in more detail, here are the activities that Lean UX comprises:
- “State your desired outcomes.” Instead of creating a list of features and requirements, state the desired outcomes in terms of a repeatable business model.
- “Declare your assumptions.” To move from guessing to learning, do a 360-degree sweep, be specific, and test your riskiest assumptions first. View risk in terms of high project impact, plus the assumptions that are least understood by the team.
- “Hypothesize: write the test first.” Determine the riskiest assumption that you are going to test—an assumption that will influence outcomes both in terms of the business and the customer.
- “Design an experiment.” Write down your assumptions like this: “We believe [assumption]. We’ll know this is true when we see [qualitative and/or quantitative outcome].” Alternatively, your assumptions can follow this model: “We believe that by doing [this] for [these people], we will achieve [this outcome]. We will know this is true when we see [this market feedback].”
- “Make an MVP,” or Minimum Viable Product. This is the smallest thing you can create to test your hypothesis. It need not be real software.
- “Get out of the building,” or GOOB. This simply means spending time with real people who are engaging with your MVP or simply observing what they do or how they work.
- “Team synthesis.” As a team, review findings that either prove or disprove your hypothesis.
- Then, repeat.
Josh reviewed the key principles of Lean teams. Here are a few important principles that I noted:
- small, cross-functional teams—These teams should typically be co-located to better build relationships.
- small-batch flows—Building and testing in small batches reduces risks.
- bias toward making—Build something small that you can use to test a hypothesis.
- continuous learning—By learning, you’ll have ample opportunities for course-corrections and, thereby, reduce your overall risk.
- focus on outcomes rather than outputs—Outputs are easier to measure, but ultimately less meaningful for the business and its customers.
Once Josh had provided this overview of Lean Startup and Lean UX, the hands-on portion of the workshop ensued. As I previously mentioned, the workshop’s large audience perhaps exceeded a size that would have been conducive to creating a fruitful context for team-based, interactive learning. My workgroup comprised six individuals. Before the day was over, I feared that we might drown in our sea of sticky notes. Sadly, the progression of charts that we created with our colorful swatches of paper caused me more confusion rather than leading to any new insights.
But Josh’s presentation “UX Strategy and Processes,” during the main conference, on Tuesday, totally regained my interest, venturing beyond what Lean UX is to insightful considerations for UX strategy. Stay tuned…
Thanks to Margie Coles and Pat Lang for contributing their photos.