5 Things You Need to Know to be a UX Strategist
If you’re any flavor of UX or UI designer in the tech world, then you’ve probably started to notice a new type of UX profession showing its face: the role of a UX Strategist. If you’re like me, you probably heard the term from a few different people and started to wonder a bit more about it. You may have even asked yourself if you could be a UX Strategist.
Before we dive into what it takes to become a UX Strategist, let’s talk a little more about what UX Strategy itself is. Although UX Design and UX Strategy overlap and are very closely related, they are not one and the same. Simply put, UX Strategy is the application of UX Design to a broader business strategy. This means that a UX Strategist gives valuable input to key business decisions with a user-centered mindset.
As a UX Strategist, some of your main tasks are to:
- Develop and maintain product-market fit for the business
- Ensure that the product development is aligned with the business strategy
- Continue to keep the design team creating products with a user-focused approach
For the UX Designer who wants it all (It can’t just be me!), all of this naturally begs the question, “Do I have what it takes to be UX Strategist?”
If you develop and master these 5 main skills in your UX toolbox, you’ll become UX Strategy material in no time. (It’s the sort of thing that becomes hard to hide!)
1. Develop your UX gut
As a UX Strategist, you should be able to summon your UX design skills in your sleep. This means, walking up to a whiteboard to draw out some rough wireframes is something that you do subconsciously when chatting with someone. This also means you have an internal compass. You’re able to look at designs and for the most part have a gut feeling about which one is the right one that will resonate with your users. You’ve probably seen enough design patterns to know what your users will gravitate towards. Part of this comes with experience and the other part comes with sharpening your UX skills. This means attending working shops, learning new ways to design and communicate with your collaborators, and even reading a few books.
2. Be aware you’re designing for humans, always
In a nutshell, get to know human psychology. As a UX Strategist, you should understand why your users act in certain ways and desire certain things. You should know their user-task-environment intimately and partake in empathic modeling when needed. User research is something that comes to you effortlessly. You know that the only way to be sure you’re marching towards product-market fit is if you know your users and how they think.
3. Know the business, respect the business
Okay, real talk for a second… As a UX Strategist you’re aware that sometimes business decisions and good user experience don’t mean the same thing. You know that a business needs to keep running for you to continue the UX Strategy-ing. This means that you know when is the right time to choose the business over the users and when not to. (Let’s be honest, as a UX person you’re going to choose your users more often than not). Keep in mind, I’m not saying you’re a UX sellout, all I’m saying is that you’re realistic, reasonable and level-headed.
One great example of putting business needs before user needs is something I saw when I was at RetailMeNot, working on the design of their storepages. On these pages, the user has to click on the blue button to reveal the coupon code. In reality, the best user experience here would have been to just show the code without a click. However, in order for RetailMeNot to get paid by the store for sending traffic to the store’s site, a cookie needs to be dropped on the store’s site. This cookie is initiated when the user clicks that blue button. So this is an instance where I had to keep the business needs in mind when designing a good solution to reveal the coupon code to the user. A great UX Strategist knows the reality of the business and is sensitive to those needs.
4. Have an eye for good design
The blossoming UX Strategist in you knows that it’s not just about research, design recommendations and developing a gut. UX Strategy is also about knowing what good design is. You need to be out there in the world constantly looking out for new apps, designs, branding, packaging, ads and more. All of these things have been designed and will help you differentiate good design from bad design. This skill should be constantly active with you. Aside from the real world, a few great places to spend time on the internet are: Dribbble, Behance, and even Pinterest!
5. Study how and why things work
Be extremely inquisitive. UX Strategists know that to do their job, they need to have fresh new ideas that work in order to succeed. This means, you need to ask yourself “how” and “why” when you come across successful products, designs or experiences. It’s about digging one level deeper and asking yourself why you gravitate towards Coca-cola over Pepsi, why you’ve decided to stop shopping at Macy’s, why you can never watch just one episode on Netflix, or why you still haven’t canceled your BirchBox subscription. Observe these behaviors in you and others and don’t be afraid to go a little deeper into why you act a certain way. This habit will serve you well as a UX Strategist.
In many ways, the UX Strategist is the ultimate unicorn and needs to be a rockstar in several important areas. It may seem impossible to master all 5 of these skills – and that’s okay! These are the kinds of skills that you’ll spend a career growing and strengthening. The great part about all this is that you’ll probably land great UX focused roles even if you get a grasp on all 5 skills and master just 2-3 of them. That point where you’ve become the expert!
Which of these 5 skills is going to be the next one you choose to work on?