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The Fountain Institute

"Let's do all the UX stuff."

published5 months ago
2 min read

Dear Reader,

Today, I want to tell you a story.

It's a story about working at a startup where you never have enough time to do the kind of UX work that you want to be doing.

I was a senior UX designer at a tech startup, and I was on a mission to do UX the right way.

I was hyper-motivated to do UX right, and so was the company. It was a perfect match.

We had a ton of challenges.

A few of our juicy UX problems:

  • Had almost no data about the customer or why they purchased
  • Had 2 user types but could only keep up with 1 user type
  • Only really supported 1 of the 2 product types we sold
  • Too much UX debt/bugs and weren't sure which ones to fix
  • Lots of plans for the UX but not enough dev resources
  • Product direction was constantly changing based on anecdotal evidence from marketing & sales

I had no idea what the problem was at the time, but boy, did I have solutions!

I had this new hammer called "UX Design," and everything looked like a nail. I wish that I'd had a hammer called "UX Strategy."

There were five or so UX/service/product design types at the company (not bad, considering there were only 35 people total). We were all pretty excited to make something special on the UX team.

What did we do? We tried to do it all.

We each tackled a UX initiative that made sense for our skill sets:

  • Some did journey maps
  • Some did personas
  • Some plugged away on a product update to support the growing complexity of the user base

What we didn't do:

  • We didn't diagnose the problem
  • We didn't make any tradeoffs
  • We didn't concentrate our efforts

We went to work on the solutions we know from our UX skill sets.

What happened?

We didn't fail. We made some progress. But we didn't succeed at solving any of those problems. We only managed to alleviate a few symptoms.

Eventually, other problems superseded our UX team efforts, and we got pulled in a million different directions.

We were making tiny progress towards nothing. I think a lot of UX teams fall into this trap.

I know now that our problem was a lack of strategy.

Sure, we did some big-picture user mapping and service design stuff, but I wouldn't call that UX strategy.

It's funny that it felt like strategy then.

UX Design & Designing Strategy

Today, I believe that UX strategy is the gateway drug to designing company-wide strategy.

A few things I would do today

  • Understand who makes decisions in the org
  • Stop doing anything that doesn't align with the decision-makers
  • Identify the advantages we have in the market
  • Stop doing things that don't strengthen that advantage
  • Interview internal stakeholders and create strategic insights
  • Run lots of internal workshops to facilitate decisions
  • Design artifacts and policies that leverage our position
  • Edit the strategy ruthlessly and make tradeoffs
  • Test and look for early signals of systemic change

As you can see, sometimes it's more about stopping or removing something than starting something new.

A UX strategy can be a gateway to a whole realm of work where you get to design strategies that can create system-wide change.

That's what strategy is: a concerted effort to change a system for the better. That's a challenging task, even if it's just focused on the user experience.

It isn't a strategy if you focus on everything, and focusing on one thing means neglecting another. That's the difficulty of strategy.

That can be a tricky thing to manage.

The Good News: The process for designing a UX strategy isn't wildly different from the UX design process you already know.

The Better News: The process of designing a UX strategy isn't too different from designing a strategy, in general.

Learn more about UX strategy in this 5-day micro email course→

Next week, I'll talk more about designing a good strategy. Talk soon!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S....

🎆🎇 Today, we're opening up enrollment for Defining UX Strategy! 🎇🎆

Grab one of the 10 discounted spots here before they sell out.