UX Essentials Lesson 3: Strategy and User Experience


In the previous post, we covered what UX Designers actually do on the job. (For a refresher, please re-read What UX Designers Do.)

In this lesson, let’s dig into Strategy, an underrated component of design. Readers with a business background will especially appreciate the relevance of this lesson.

This is a bigger post, so let’s break it down into 3 sections…

  • Surveying the Landscape with the 5Ws Framework
  • Constraints
  • Goals

But first, a story…


I was a college senior interviewing for full time jobs after graduation. One company, a digital consultancy, invited me for an onsite interview in Irvine. At one point in the interview, they pulled me into an ominous-looking room with an equally ominous-looking man. There was also a whiteboard.

He gave me an assignment: a client wants to bring their brick and mortar store online, and I’m in charge of making their website. They wanted to see how I would approach this imaginary project.

Nervous and unprepared, I started drawing a wireframe on the whiteboard and went into detail explaining the branding, the logo, why the website should look a certain way…

Oh my gawwwd wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

If I could build a time machine, I’d transport back in time and slap my dumbass upside the head. I started by focusing on the wrong thing – the visuals. Before I did any of that, I should have remembered this image (though it was unbeknownst to me at the time):


Remember this image from Lesson 1? Yeah, it’s come back to haunt us. But let it be your guide. We start at the strategy plane. That means that there are worthwhile considerations to make before jumping onto a project, which can translate to saving lots of time, money and energy down the road.

Part 1: Surveying the Landscape with the
5 Ws Framework

Before I started drawing on the whiteboard, I should’ve considered the 5 Ws. Who, what, where, when, and why. Easy to remember, right?

Who is this client?
Who is involved? Who are the stakeholders?

What are the requirements and constraints of this project?
What is their budget?

Where do they want their site to show up?
Website? Mobile? Android or iPhone?

When do they need to have this done?
What is the schedule?

Why do they want this project done in the first place?
What is their vision of what the results will do for them?

Example Time: Public Transit

Imagine how things would turn out if the government intended to create a new public rail system solely based on creating the prettiest trains.

Aside from causing train wrecks, building pretty trains misses the point. A quick run through the 5 Ws can elicit questions like…

Who are the stakeholders in this new public rail construction project? Does it need to be signed off by the governor? Which companies are going to be commissioned for the work? Who’s going to benefit, and who’s going to suffer as a result of this project?

What is the budget? Is it realistic and would it be accepted by taxpayers?

When is the rail going to be built? Is that a realistic timeline?

Where will the rail go? How many stops should there be? Again, would it displace any families that live along the rail line?

Why is this project important? Are there long term and short term effects? What kind of legacy do the originators of this rail project hope to achieve?

(To see how famous consultancy Adaptive Path approached a public transit project, see here.)

This is only one out of many strategy frameworks available. There’s no right or wrong method or approach, but one thing is clear: always survey the landscape first. See who’s on your team. Do a competitive analysis of what’s out there already. Ask when the deadline is. Ask what the goal of the project is.

Part 2: Constraints

A powerful outcome (and/or result) of surveying the landscape is to help define your constraints. Constraints, at first blush, might sound as appealing as your Grandma’s favorite oatmeal brand, but they are more useful than you’d think. Compare the two assignments:

  1. Create a digital service that sells food.
  2. Create an iPhone app, with a $1000 budget and 2 weeks, that enables users to order from fast food restaurants near them.

Assignment 1 starts with a frustratingly wide, blank canvas.

Assignment 2 provides a specific set of constraints to design against, with a much clearer goal.

The act of surveying the landscape – asking many questions and using a framework like the 5 Ws – can bring a designer from Option 1 -> Option 2. It makes what is broad, specific. Constraints give direction.

Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others. – Albert Camus

Part 3: Goals

So we talked about surveying the landscape and defining constraints…which all leads to setting good goals.

UX, the intersection of User Needs, Business Goals, and Constraints

There’s a huge difference between User Goals and Business Goals. Balancing the two is a common job for the User Experience Designer, and speaking on this immediately makes you stand out from other designers.

User Goals put the goals of the user first, and is ideally borne out of good user research.

What struggles and pains do users have with a certain process? What would make your app easier to use, understand, and navigate for them? How do you survey, research and gather tests on your users to improve the product for them?

Business goals are the objectives of the business, which often deal with resources, expected results, and stakeholders.

Resources: how much time and money do we have to expend on Project X? What technology and processes can we use/reuse? What is the opportunity cost of investing in this project vs. the other projects that are available? How do you prioritize what is more important?

Expected Results: How much money, press, or attention is this going to get us? Does this “move the needle” of our business forward?

Stakeholders: Are there people whose support and approval are necessary for the completion of the project? How do you involve those people as early as possible to get their buy-in?

Here’s a fantastic Medium article in which Facebook Product Design Director Julie Zhuo defends FB’s Newsfeed Design as better for users. The arguments between her article and Dustin Curtis’ is a real-world, practical discussion on User Goals vs Business Goals.

At first blush, all the above topics are not the immediate things one thinks of when it comes to “UX.”

But as a UX designer, you are not just pushing pixels or code. You are architecting solutions, and considering the strategy is an integral part of good design.

Parts 1 – 3 in this article covered what we can do by ourselves at the start of a project. But it’s not enough without actually interfacing with the users of your product.

Watch for the next lesson on UX ResearchStay tuned!


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