Rob Barton | January 26, 2015

Why user-experience (UX) should be shaping your business strategy

Business strategy and design thinking haven’t always been on the same page.

In fact, until fairly recently, they weren’t even in the same room. People in power-suits gathered around boardroom tables to talk strategy. And once they’d decided on a plan, they called the designers in and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do …”

But through the passion and inventiveness of UX designers (think architects of the web) — and those passionate about design — things are changing. Strategy as a design discipline has taken its rightful place alongside senior execs, making good UX a strategic business advantage.

Think about it: today, when we think of a company, we’re really thinking of a product.

When you buy insurance online; top-up credit via a mobile app; check your bank balance online; book to borrow someone’s apartments via AirBnB; pull out your smartphone to research a company; or use your laptop, you’re interacting with a companies product.

In today’s on-demand world, companies flourish when their products answer human needs. And if execs want their business strategy to be inherent in the product, it has to be inherent in the UX. To validate this, simply ask yourself how many times you’ve had a terrible experience on a companies website or app and what was your lasting impression of that company?

So how can UX shape your business strategy?

UX designers understand the business landscape differently than the business guys. Where an exec sees sales growth, a UX designer sees a more delightful user experience. Where an exec sees increased time on site, a designer might wonder if some interactions could produce less friction. Where the business guy sees customers, the UX designer sees people.

To take part in developing business strategy, UX designers need to be advocates for the user. They need to push back on ideas that might undermine a product’s design.

They also need to be asking questions like: Is this strategy so vague that it’ll be impossible to execute? Is it so complicated that users will drop out of the flow without completing it? They also have to ask themselves if their decisions align with the greater company strategy.

Focused questions like these lead to the development of a rock-solid vision. And with a rock-solid vision in mind, it’s easier to develop a winning product that will grow your revenues.

What can strategy makers do for the UX designers?

Strategy makers do themselves a favor when they involve UX designers in conversations about the business direction from day one. (There’s an argument here that the CEO should be a designer—but we’ll save that for another day.)

It should be easy to see a company’s strategy from a quick look at their design choices. But it isn’t always obvious what design choices need to be made, even if you know a company’s strategy. A UX designer will have a substantially better idea of this. As strategy changes, so should design, and if design changes, there should be a strong strategic reason for the change.

Not convinced? Look no further than the abortive launch to understand the chaos a disconnect between design and strategy can cause. Hopefully, the rising public demand for quality user-experiences will mean fewer and fewer of such messes in the future.

How can companies ensure a strong connection between UX and strategy?

First, consult with user-experience professionals. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because a good UX practitioner is hard to find, and most companies need way more than one to handle all their needs. Second, integrate UX into all relevant teams. The input will be essential for strategic success.

As UX becomes more involved in strategic decision-making, it will become imbued in your companies culture, due to it’s unique understanding of both the strategic and design sides of business. Companies should encourage this growth, empowering their employees to think people first to influence strategy. Ultimately this will increase awareness of good user-expeience company-wide, better integrate strategy and design, and help your company thrive in the new business ecosystem.

Rob Barton

Head of Interactive + Principal