16 February 2010

UX Strategy II: About the iterative diagram: What is it?

In the second part of this Strategy discussion, I will concentrate on the Strategy diagram from the previous post. This post will cover what the diagram is and who is it for. There are more issues than that to be complete, but I can always add an additional post if there is a desire to read more detailed information about it. [Note this post, like all my posts are revised based on user comments or feedback.]

Just to review from my previous presentation (see post below): this diagram is a way of anchoring the design process to key strategic activities thereby assuring both a true design process as well as a strategic execution of this User Experience design process. The alternatives that are in vogue now are either
  • seeing the User Experience as a bolt-on to engineering processes
    • 'Bolt-on' being American for: just embedding a UX process in to a software engineering process
    • A software engineering process which is already cumbersome and unpredictable
    • In general adding design process to software engineering process is like forcing the square peg into a round hole.
  • or at best its own independent process that mimics a software engineering process

Where the UX process eventually turns into something that looks like some variation of
  • a waterfall
  • incremental design
  • Some other variation of the straightest line between two points approach

The above points coupled with my belief that software engineering process is a contradiction in terms pleads for the necessity of this new diagram.

Figure 1: the UX STrategy Iteration Diagram

In general terms you can think of the diagram as a planning tool one can talk over with a program manager or client or even all key stakeholders during a workshop. You can also think of it like a hula hoop, somewhere, anywhere in the hoop you can cut it flatten out and make a project manager or software engineer happy to see a simplified overview of what activities you are going to do for the current cycle.
These diagrams can be stacked on top of each other and connected at key points to plan multiple user experiences among different channels, products or services. This would allow planning and illustrating hos a mobile product project can inform a web application project. Likewise a strategy iteration can inform a tactical one, etc.
The strategy diagram and the planned activities should be revisited after each activity and see if it assumptions are still valid or if it is time to iterate the activities. In this way the very strategy is iterative just as the User Experience. But before going into too much details, I want to discuss two points here:
  • What is the diagram
  • Who is the diagram for

What is this diagram

This diagram is an attempt to create a model for User Experience Strategy and in so doing create also an instrument for both:
  • understanding User Experience Strategy
  • planning an User Experience project for your
  • company organization
  • or heaven forbid for a client if you are one of those charlatan UX consultants like me.

The diagram consists of the following (names are provisional):
  • Circles
  • Elements
  • Activity
  • Properties


The circles represent iteration cycles. But iterations are centered on an element or two or more, but they have iterative effects also on its neighboring elements and then even ripple effects through the entire UX element landscape (see below). Even when an iteration confirms an already existing UX element it still strengthens that element and thereby changing it. The circles show the interdependent nature of the User Experience as an expression of a series of elements.


The elements are a major area of the User Experience, usually with one or more associated deliverables. In order to qualify as a major element in the User experience it must meet the following criteria”
  1. Plays an essential role in UX products, services, and other expressions (brochures, ads, etc.).
  2. Major risk to the resulting product and/or organization if this element is not ready.

With this definition it speaks for itself that each project/company/organization may have a slightly different diagram, but complete coverage is essential.

We (my colleagues at Stroomt and the helpful people who kindly mailed in their suggestions) identified a generic set of UX elements, namely:
  • Mission Statement
  • Vision
  • Goals and principles
  • Channels
  • Brand design
  • Business Case
  • Business Plan
  • Requirements
  • Define product/service(s)
  • Conceptual Design
  • Detailed Iterative Design
  • Evaluate and refine design
  • Release product and plan for next iteration

Each of these elements must have a sufficient level of maturity and stability in order to release a product or service to the world. The User Experience Strategist is obliged to review the state of each of these elements. It is not the job of the User Experience Strategist to be the person who delivers or executes on these elements, UX is by nature multi, or I would say macro-discplinary. The UX Strategist is a facilitator first and foremost.
Figure 2 UX Strategy Diagram with activities


If these elements are not in an acceptable state then activities should be planned to bring them up to the appropriate level. It is not the User Experience Strategists job to perform all of these activities, or even any of these activities. Like the elements, the activities also require many different disciplines. The UX Strategist may be able to assist and find and support the right people to perform the activities. However the strategist is primarily concerned that all the information is available, up to date, stable and mature.


Both activities and elements have properties, these depend on the need of the organization, but can include things such as:
  • Staffing
  • Resources
  • Start and end dates
  • Deliverable requirements
  • Budgets
  • Etc.

Who is this for: Multi-disciplinary vs Macro-disciplinary

Last topic for this week: Who is this diagram for?
Well definitely not for the faint of heart.
The User Experience Strategist, Designer, Project Sponsors, Program Manager, Project Manager are those most to gain from getting this overview as well as wanting to be able to plan on a macro level. But the fact is, this is one way of getting all of the multi, or rather Macro-disciplinary team literally on the same page about who is doing what and how it all fits together.
I use the term Macro-disciplinary because unfortunately too often the word multi-disciplinary is bandied about to mean multiple disciplines without recognizing that these are mostly separate people. Most UI multi-disciplinary projects means the designer--or whoever the UI one man band is called-- is up late at night and weekends. They are also often caught talking to themselves in a desperate attempt to bring in another disciplines or perspective into their work. By Macro-disciplinary I want to show that it is impossible not to include many talented people with many complementary, but more often contradictory perspectives.
This last concept: contradictory perspectives is essential to every successful design project I have ever worked on. This diagram allows these contradictory perspectives to elegantly be laid plain in a map. It also allows you to plan activities for incorporating those perspectives back into the larger UX iteration so contradiction are resolved rather than brushed under the carpet.

Next week the UX Declaration of Engineering Independence.


Martijn said...

Hi Jonathan! Since you are obviously trying to provoke a reaction, allow me to give you one. Here it goes...hold on now: what you are describing is not about strategy! It is a design process description!

'Strategy' is a word that can be confusing. Basically strategy is the way you go from where you are now to the situation where you vision is achieved. The strategy is not to be confused with the 'process of developing a strategy', as that is simply what it is: a process. A strategy describes the evolution of the business or just the user experience itself.

So ones you have a 'strategy' you can set out to determine the requirements for your product/service and the releases that will be needed until the vision situation is achieved.....and that is the process you are describing...

Jonathan said...

Martijn thanks for your keen observations, let me revise the post accordingly, I am leaving out some background info from my previous presentation on this subject.
In short you are right. This diagram is indeed a design process, but one that can execute a UX strategy instead of as a bolt on to an engineering process, or worse as a stand alone waterfall process with no relationship to other elements in the diagram.
By anchoring the design process to key strategic activities one assures a strategic execution of the User Experience design process. This should be in the intro (and I will revise the post to put it there.

Shalin Siriwaradhana said...

Great tutorial on iterative diagramming. Good job