“Strategic User Experience” - Leisa Reichelt at UX People

 by Martin Belam, 6 December 2011

At the end of November Kings Place hosted UX People, organised by Zebra People. Here are my notes from one of the sessions...

At UX People Leisa Reichelt issued a rallying cry to the UX troops. She said it is time for us to start being the awkward people in the room who say no - and if it ends up getting you fired, then that is just an opportunity to move to a company that will listen.

Leisa talked about how astonishing it was that so few companies can boil down what their key value is into a single sentence. All these people rush into work every day, she says, and nobody knows why they are there.

She thinks the role of the UX team in the business should be the facilitator, helping a business to really focus on defining and achieving goals. She isn’t one of those people who thinks “UX needs to get a seat on the board”. She thinks there is more than enough empire building already without us piling in too.

Leisa thinks it is a dreadful waste that most projects you work on in a career are generally doomed to failure before you even open your wireframing tools, because you never solve company politics or people who won’t take decisions with a diagram. This “kicks the life out” of our projects.

She’s now swapped her passion for UX into a passion for creating the opportunity for UX people to get on with their work. She argues that the designs we make express “the skin between the company and the world that interacts with that”, and that “if you eat a lot of junk, you get a lot of pimples.”

Leisa called bullshit on companies who say there is no time or budget for user research before investing in building a product or service. If there is budget to fix a bad product post-launch, then there has to be budget to avoid making the wrong decisions in the first place. And it is much cheaper to stop a bad product being built by cancelling a project than it is to build it, market it, and watch it fail.

But she also called bullshit on user experience designers who insist that huge research projects are the only way to gain customer insight. There has never been more easier or cheaper ways to get in touch with your users, she says. We have to creatively come up with ways of showing people what we can work with.

However, if you are going to be the person in the room saying no, you need some criteria on which to judge your decision. Leisa showed a couple of examples of formulas that allowed you to boil down a product’s unique proposition into a sentence. It forces you to articulate a target customer, a customer need and a unique differentiator amongst other things.

She drew our attention to the customer experience world, where maps of customer journeys look very much like our user flows, but expand across the whole of the relationship a user has with a brand, not just the digital ones. Leisa thought we could learn from them, and from the idea of capturing the “voice of the customer”.

She reminded us that in any big business, people in small groups will have been shouting about all the broken stuff, all the difficult user journeys, all the repeat user complaints and queries. She thought you should bring everyone into a single room and put it all together. This should create a community of purpose, an environment where everybody understands the big goals and the big problems, and is not focused on their silos, but, instead, are a group of people who care about their user needs.

And, she said, if saying no doesn’t get you fired but doesn’t get things improved, maybe you should fire yourself, and move somewhere where you can make a difference...

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