10 Min. reading
Since I faced the business world and today, even more, I always trusted the design process as fundamental in creating the conditions for a business to thrive, grow and evolve, and believed in the power of user experience design to transform visions and challenges into tangible solutions, high-class user experiences, and revenue. But I tell you, the design thinking and UX approaches are not flawless if we mistake them for something else or we forget some essential elements to transform them into powerful instruments. Let’s take a look at some of the critical aspects of leveraging the User Experience Design process correctly.
Design as a process
Even if experts and practitioners have made the word “design” more and more part of the corporate world, I notice how sometimes is still wrongly interpreted as the styling of a product or service, reduced to the product’s usability. Too often, design and user research are positioned too late in the product development process with a purely supporting and delivery role. If you are a UX designer I assume you probably already found yourself in one of these situations.
I remember once joining a team of developers and product managers and the only thing expected from me was delivering some designs to improve the conversion rate of an existing service. There was no vision defined of what the product user experience should have been like at the end of the quarter and no integration between product development and UX. I felt like in the Ford assembly line; I was always late trying to keep up with the sprint pace and all the rituals, continuously asking myself and the team “why and for whom are we doing this? What do we want to achieve? How should this idea be integrated into the entire user experience? Are users even willing to pay for this service?”. A change in mindset was necessary. I started organizing co-creative meetings about vision, user flows, defining goals and impact expected, and ideation was done together with developers from the beginning. While the team still seemed sometimes worried about not producing new features or lines of code for a few days, I continued to trust the process and asked my teammates to do the same.
At the end of the product cycle, the communication and alignment about the goals and outcomes between team members had improved, as well as their level of confidence, and in the next sprints, the pace of delivery increased and a more user-centered sensibility arose. Suddenly for that team, the design meaning was far beyond the outcomes, it was a process.
UX practices for best-in-class user experience
In modern companies, UX practices are embedded in the culture of the organization. They are not discussed separately but they support the definition and delivery of the strategy. As a Forrester study about UX capabilities affirms, companies that want to offer best-in-class customer experiences, have to establish leading user experience practices. Several factors, including the scope of UX, strategy, design, research, staffing, and measurement, determine the sophistication and maturity of a firm’s UX practice. In those modern or progressive companies, good usability and design quality are the outcomes of a managed process, and UX teams are focused on more strategic purposes to bring value to the business.
Where does TX Markets stand with its UX capabilities?
I will give you some examples based on my direct experience and evaluation of the current state. When the product & UX team (PUX) started two years ago, most of our companies were in an early stage in understanding the power of UX design and still struggling in making it an essential part of the product process. Today, most of the companies have reached a higher stage in the UX maturity scale and we can say that UX is becoming a critical and important part of our companies operations and executives are more involved in UX projects and practices . We can probably position the TX Markets companies in the fourth stage of the UX maturity scale.
This progress doesn’t come without effort. In these two years, PUX (the Product & UX team at TX Markets) supported the TX Markets companies with more than 40 projects focusing on usability and research, and the companies’ UX leaders increased their presence and strength within the organization. Overall, the number of UX designers almost doubled. In most cases, UX resources are included in the definition of product roadmaps and user journeys early on.
Being ready to switch between design thinking, agile, SCRUM in product & UX teams
In evolving organizations like ours, increasing the presence of UX people and a dedicated budget is not the only way to generate high-quality user experiences. A switch in mindset and paradigm on all levels has to happen. If we stop for a moment thinking about the different approaches used in product development, we can surely recall the Agile and Lean approach, the SCRUM practices, as well as methods for product and business model innovation, design thinking, and design sprints. While SCRUM and Agile became an organically integrated part of the product delivery earlier in the history, in some organizations UX design approaches are sometimes still considered as once-in-a-while occasion (a workshop, a usability testing, the definition of a concept for a specific project, the improvement of some usability issues, something to outsource to an external agency). Even if these approaches seem totally different, I’m an absolute fan of the combination and integration of them depending on the stage of the product or business definition. Think for example about adding a sprint 0 before the beginning of the agile product cycle in order to align teams on the product vision, explore users’ needs, and work on verifying your assumptions to be ready with a solid product roadmap and clear goals and solutions before starting implementing in agile.
“Think for example about adding a sprint 0 before the beginning of the agile product cycle in order to align teams on the product vision, explore users’ needs, and work on verifying your assumptions”
Some of our companies like Ricardo, Homegate, Car For You and Tutti are starting to involve UX teams and decision-makers in their agile and SCRUM rituals like Big Room Planning, refinement, review and retrospective. At the same time, they are implementing a shared design system between design and development and having executives, developers, and designers participating in research sessions. This way, there is no risk of having a battle between top management, product strategy, development, research and design, they all concur together to the definition of the user experience.
Taking conscious design decisions
If all those methodologies are available and we invest in UX and development resources and processes, how come that sometimes we still design complex, broken, and hard to use services? As Sarah Drummond, Co-Founder of Snook and CDO of Northgate Public Services told in the Design Ops Global Conference I’ve recently attended (remotely). “No one woke up in the morning and thought - I’m going to design a terrible service or product”. I really like the concept of conscious design that she brought as a solution to make logic and aware user-centered decisions in product and service design.
“We need all to do better and conscious user-centered design decisions”
Sarah Drummond explains that every organization is a collection of micro-design decisions, made on a daily basis, that forms our user experience. We are all contributing, with our different disciplines, to the same common purpose: delivering a desirable, pleasurable and usable experience for those users that are willing to spend time and money with our product and service because it helps them achieve their goals better than others!
If we have a common goal we need a common language and a shared path to reach it. User Experience Design is not only the ground of designers, but meant as the shaping of the holistic experience for our users, combining all the methods from product strategy and ideation to product delivery. It guides those micro-design decisions by being user-centered (constant empathy with users’ needs and goals), co-creative (all the stakeholders are included), sequencing and iterative (we iterate on the customer user journey), evidencing (based on tangible outcomes to make a service visible to the user) and holistic (the entire spectrum of service is considered: marketing, communication, technology, cost-revenue, UI…).
If we follow the path of better user experience delivery, the goal of an even more successful and profitable business is not far away. We only need to believe in the process and stay conscious!
If you’re passionate about the UX processes and practices, you’ve just got an amazing idea about how to improve your team workflow or need help to do it, I’m happy to have a chat!
In the monthly Product and UX letter the PUX team shares insights about projects, interviews with product gurus and personal anecdotes inside and outside the TX group: