Strategic UX vs Tactical UX

Giff Constable design, lean, startups, UI/UX

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.