"Strategic UX" by Leisa Reichelt at London IA

 by Martin Belam, 18 March 2011

I was going to start this blog post off with a quote from Leisa Reichelt’s recent London IA talk, but she came out with so many pithy one liners that it was impossible to pick one.

Leisa’s basic premise was that if you read some of the very best books about management strategy and techniques, they sound awfully familiar to anyone who has ever read a UX book. For example, they have a focus on businesses being successful by serving customer needs - a criteria for design success that we are all familiar with.

The problem, Leisa suggests, is that actually a lot of the managers you’ll come across during your career haven’t been to business school or read the very best text books about management strategy.

Therefore, Leisa argued, we should be playing up our role as facilitators in a business, to help the rest of the company to come to the conclusion that a good business strategy usually requires there to be a good UX strategy.

She cited Peter Drucker, paraphrasing his point that fixing a business was not about playing around with spreadsheets - it was about looking at your customers. If there is a problem with profit, it is probably because you’ve lost sight of your customers and the utility or services they need.

So, as Leisa put it:

“Business needs to get more from their UX team. UX has more to give.”

She talked about a common problem that UX people encounter on projects - that companies have a “fear of positioning” and cling to the idea that successful products or designs are about doing as much as you possibly can, for as many people as you possibly can. That loses sight of an important thing about customers, especially digital ones, that none of us consider ourselves to be the mass market or the general public. As far as we are concerned, “we are all special little precious flowers”.

“If you design for everyone”, she said, “you are designing for no one”.

Leisa felt that most UXers could do a better job of being aware of the impact our designs have on the ongoing feasibility of the business. We should be able to engage in basic conversations about things like how much will it cost to acquire and support customers through the product lifecycle. That doesn’t, she said, mean having to crunch numbers from scratch:

“We don’t need to collect this information for ourselves, maybe we could make better friends in marketing and accounting?”

Another great quote from Leisa during her talk was that “usability testing is a gateway drug to UX”. I couldn’t agree more, and increasingly feel that you get as much value from exposing members of the project team to real users as you do from any actual testing results.

Leisa’s talk covered a lot of ground. It was, she said, her thinking out loud about how to write her book on the topic. She also talked about incorporating some tools and techniques from service design into the mainstream UX toolkit, and about the use and common misuse of personas.

By the end of it I have to say I felt that it personally challenged me to go out and do my job just that bit better the next day, and to stop some of the bad habits I’ve got into. I’m sure my colleagues will be simply thrilled to hear that she has encouraged me to be more evangelical and ranty.


The other speaker at London IA on Wednesday was Andrew Travers, presenting a redux of his recent trip to Berlin for the Cognitive Cities conference. He has posted his notes from his talk online, and next week I’ll be blogging my notes and thoughts on what he said.

London IA: Notes from the talks
Martin Belam, foreword by Ann McMeekin Carrier
London IA is a network of designers, information architects and thinkers. Since 2009 the group has been holding regular meetings featuring talks about UX, or of interest to UXers. This ebook is a compilation of my notes from those evenings, featuring talks by Andy Budd, Giles Colborne, Cennydd Bowles, Claire Rowland, Jason Mesut, Ben Bashford, Chris Heathcote, Dan Lockton, Relly Annett-Baker, Michael Blastland, Margaret Hanley and Richard Rutter amongst others. Topics covered range from ubicomp to psychology, from learning how to sketchnote to how to write a UX book, and how to improve digital design through diverse routes like copy-writing, designing for doubt, learning from music technology or taking care of typography.
London IA: Notes from the talks is available for Kindle for £2.47.

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