An important aspect of user-centered design is identifying a strategy for how you will support an experience that addresses user needs and business goals. It is critical to remember that you need to focus your website’s strategy based on experiences that are relevant and valuable in context of the services your organization provides.
A fictional case study illustrating the need for a focused strategy
For example, let’s say you are a startup company that aims to help make food shopping easier.
Through user research, you may identify many user needs that may feed into your website’s experience. Your research may reveal the complexity things that people need to think about in context of food shopping including cost, nutritional value, meal planning, likes and dislikes, organic vs not organic, and sales happening that week. You may also discover things relating to the actual experience of food shopping such as trying to get things done fast when you’re in a hurry, how difficult it can be to get shopping done when you have kids running around, the lure of impulse purchasing, and trying to find everything within the store. People may also tell you about the reasons why they go food shopping such as to prepare family meals, make something for a bake sale, or party planning.
All of these findings may generate a wide variety of ideas about what type of experience your site could support. The question becomes, how are you going to best take your research findings and turn them into an effective strategy?
Signs your strategy may lack focus
There are many ways to take your user research findings and turn them into an experience strategy. Many approaches, however, may leave you with an unfocused strategy. Taking the example mentioned above, below are some common mistakes the startup may make when crafting their strategy:
- Addressing too many needs for too many people: “To address everyone’s needs, we should include methods of finding foods, planning events, managing schedules, balancing food budgets, finding recipes, and …” What defines success for your product if you try and address every possible need?
- Crafting an experience not suitable for your product’s context: “Let’s help people manage their errands schedules better.” While this may be a valid need, why would someone come to a food shopping website to fulfill this need?
- Copying others without providing unique value: “We should do what [competitor's name] did for shopping lists. Their implementation works really well.” What would give your users a reason to use your site if it’s not differentiated?
- Trying to do more than you’re capable of: “We can address everything they need. We’ll do it by getting store maps of every grocery store in the world and marking where every item is, how much it costs, its nutritional ranking, and allow you to mark what you like and don’t like.” How can you be successful if you try to force a strategy that is not feasible?
What a focused experience strategy provides
Instead of the statements above, a focused strategy principle for the food shopping startup might be something along the lines of:
“Our site will provide busy moms who want to have an efficient and effective food shopping experience custom meal planning tools that, unlike traditional shopping list services that make you do all of the planning work, provide guidance to make cheap, nutritious, and desirable food shopping decisions.”
A strategy that addresses specific, relevant user needs with a direction that is both feasible and valuable provides:
- Core value definition: A focused strategy will allow you to connect the user experience to a clearly defined business and user value.
- A focused target audience: While user research can reveal unmet needs that could be addressed, it’s important to not try to address everything at once in an attempt at being all things to all people.
- Differentiation from the competition: Part of defining a focused experience strategy is the ability to say why you’re different from the competition. This applies not only to your direct competition, but also to complimentary products and services that may relate to your product.
- Reduced scope creep: A focused strategy allows you to evaluate ideas against whether or not they contribute to the primary purpose of your product or service.
- Cleaner and simplified experience: If your experience strategy is not focused, you will end up with competing elements of the user experience. This makes it more difficult for people to identify the purpose of your product or service or to identify which area of your site/application will best help them complete a task.
- An achievable design direction: With a focused strategy, the design and development teams can agree on a direction that can lead to an effective design and that is technically feasible to implement.
Methods to help focus your experience strategy
There are several techniques you can use to help craft a focused strategy:
- Identify themes from user research and narrow them down based on overall value you can provide: Conduct affinitization exercises with your user research to identify potential high level directions, then discuss within your team which themes have the highest user and business value.
- Create a product elevator pitch: Elevator pitches help you concisely position your product by listing out its unique benefit to your customer.
- Competitive analysis: If you can name a competing product that can do the same thing that your experience strategy states, you need to focus it more to define your unique value proposition.
- Rank ideas on a scale of importance vs. feasibility: This technique weeds out ideas that are either unimportant or infeasible and allows you to start prioritizing strategic ideas based on what will drive the most success.
A little extra investment in making sure you have a focused strategy before design and development work begins will pay off in the form of significant long term benefits for your product or service.
Technological advances have always been driven more by a mind-set of ‘I can’ than ‘I should’… Technologists love to cram maximum functionality into their products. That’s ‘I can’ thinking, which is driven by peer competition and market forces… But this approach ignores the far more important question of how the consumer will actually use the device… focus on what we should be doing, not just what we can. – John Maeda