We've been pretty steadfast over the years in our belief that the term "user experience design" doesn't really mean a whole lot. After all, the user experience is just one component of great product design and the responsibility of everyone on the team, not the sole purview of one specialist. We've been slammed for taking that stance by folks who say we don't know what we're talking about. But, let's face it, UX Design as a discipline is really a fad and we have to stay ahead of it.
Solid product design work is one way to do that. Another is by having a solid framework to help align vision, differentiation from the competition and features to produce the most benefits for customers. Throwing everything into the user interface isn't enough and can only take startups so far. It doesn't necessarily bridge that gap in a market/user fit problem.
Bring Your Core Value Into Sharp Focus
Scott Handsaker, co-founder and CEO of Attendly, recently highlighted the problem in thinking that a fantastic UI automatically breeds success. The problem starts with adding a UX specialist and a growth hacker to the mix then expecting magic. He calls for startups to get the UI as good as possible then move on to other aspects of the business. He says that the obsession with a perfect UI "obfuscates what really matters when building a winning business." Or as he puts it:
It's got very little to do with how smoothly your first-time experience is for your customers, and far more to do with how well you solve a massive pain problem in an enormous, growing market.
What Scott is really calling for isn't just to build a crappy UI and be done with it. Not at all. Scott is advocating for startups to bring into sharp focus the core value that their products are bringing to the table and aligning that with the market problem they're solving. Doing so, in the end, allows them to build better, stronger businesses.
A good example of this was recently brought up in our ZURBsoapbox chat with the Winklevoss twins. The twins pointed out that Facebook has been more focused on the user experience, the interface, but not so much on building a great business. As Cameron put it, Facebook hasn't really been describing themselves as a tremendous business. He made a good point in that there's no reason you can't have both. In the end, you need both to keep the product going and growing.
Design Strategy Framework
Which is why we use our design strategy framework. We use it to help the startups we work with build better products, but also to determine what value they are providing to their customers and the market they're trying to serve. Does the product fit the market? Does it differentiate itself from the competition? Does it meet a need or solve a user problem?
Andrew Chen touched upon this recently as well. He called for startups to think first about product/market fit before figuring out growth. In other words, will the market bear what you have to offer. That's design strategy.
We also eat our own dog food and use that same framework in our approach to our own products. The framework allows us also to bring together all those elements that are needed in the customer lifecycle, from lead generation to retention. It focuses the team around the value that benefits customers the most.
More than that, our design strategy framework also takes an outside in approach. In other words, fixing the UI might solve the surface issue, but it doesn't solve the internal organization problem that might exist, such as one department's voice having dominance over another group's.
If those internal pieces aren't aligned properly with the product's core value, then a fancy or wowing UI won't make a lick of difference and your product will suffer. So will your business. Throwing a UX Designer (or a growth hacker, for that matter) at the problem won't magically fix those issues either.
A solid design strategy framework will. It's how we stay way ahead of the UX Design fad, and it's how you can too.