Strategic UX vs Tactical UX

by Giff on December 2, 2011

There are strategic UX leaders, and then there are tactical UX implementers.

To be a strategic leader, one needs to broaden thinking beyond design and usability, and start thinking holistically about critical business goals and risks.

As the broader UX profession moves from being artifact-based to results-based, this is going to be critical. However, I see the online UX community spending most of its time talking about usability, psychology, content and visual design, with surprisingly rare mentions of business.

UX doesn’t need to justify its existence to the business team. UX *is* a critical part of the business team, and somehow everyone needs to get on board with this, including UXers.

In a product business, everything revolves around and is built upon the core product. The product team is responsible for answering core questions: are we making the right solution? for the right customer? for the right problem? and will this fuel a successful business?

If you help your organization solve for *all* of these, you transcend being a tactical UI designer and become a strategic UX leader.

Jeff Gothelf and his team at The Ladders try to resolve this issue by thinking about new designs as hypotheses to test, and by focusing their product teams on KPIs. If you don’t have that structure, and want a framework to help you think through how business and UX come together, I recommend Dave McClure’s startup metrics for pirates (if you haven’t seen Dave’s decks, you’ll recognize a lot of UX thinking… just expect the slide styling to make your eyes bleed):

  • Activation
  • Acquisition
  • Retention
  • Revenue
  • Referral

These are all UX challenges!

I also recommend looking at Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, with particular attention paid to the section on “innovation accounting”.

Many senior UX folks already embed this in their work. But it still amazes me how rarely I see these topics come up in the community. It amazes me how often I talk to UX practitioners who are obsessing about how and why something gets accomplished by the user, but fail to loop back to the strategic and financial implications for the business.

UX practitioners should not become “short order cooks” to business folks (a phrase I’ve lifted from Jeff), any more than agile development teams should abdicate responsibility for deciding what to build and why.

Think as much about empowering (and de-risking) the business as empowering users, and find the magical balance between the two that leads to awesomeness. As a UX person wielding invaluable skills and processes, you have a lot to bring to the table if you properly take a seat.

  • http://www.oxfordtechnologyventures.com Beverly May

    Hi Giff,nExcellent post, and I agree with you. Problem is, we UX veterans DO need to still justify our value to the business folks (and tech, and…). While our work is fundamentally strategic, most business and product leads think that they can “do UX” just was well as senior UX veterans- esp. with the emergence of (poorly executed) lean/agile.The issue is on both sides- business leads don’t see UX as strategic b/c the UX leads don’t think and act strategically; UX leads don’t think and act strategically because the business drivers that are intimately intertwined with successful UX are typically decided for them, without their input.u00a0The UX industry also suffers from “two kinds of people” -strategic thinkers (who tend to be senior, with 7+ years experience) and the tactical thinkers (who tend to be more junior and more on the UI/design side). I think it’s partly just personality and skill-set.u00a0I’ve been lucky enough with my consulting company, Oxford Technology Ventures LLC to have clients who engage us for both product strategy and UX so that we can help define the business drivers and conceive effective UX, feature sets etc. based on those business (and user) needs and goals. It’s actually 70% Product, 30% execution-oriented UX. I agree that the more our business evolves to enable this kind of thinking, the better.u00a0We’ve founded the User Experience Awards to help raise awareness of the strategic value of UX and to provide a platform for the UX practitioners to gain recognition and praise for their work. I’d love to get your help in raising awareness of this on a larger stage.u00a0nnThanks,n– Beverly MaynNYCCHI President; UX Awards FoundernOxford Technology Ventures, LLC