Macadamian Blog

Part 4: The Competitive Advantage of Using User Experience

Scott Plewes

Looking at companies in the awakening stage of implementing user experience

UX Maturity Model

This is the fourth in a series discussing the benefits of user experience. Catch up on part 1part 2, and part 3.

Stage three: enlightened
Teenagers trip over their own feet sometimes, but may at times perform with elegance and grace. An organization at this stage essentially behaves like this. It is now doing UX design “right”, or at least significantly better, on some projects. There is growing belief among the leadership team of the value of design (although the leaders themselves may have little knowledge of UX) and investments are being made in professional hires or contractors. The prospects for using UX design as a competitive differentiator are positive however there is a high risk of getting stuck at this stage, or worse, “regressing” to old product design habits.

Implications
Some products are now distinguishing themselves based on UX design, or at least they aren’t losing to competitive alternatives because of UX short- comings. Success is still inconsistent across the portfolio though, and customers may not associate the company itself with excellence in UX design.

Indicators of an Organization at This Stage
Your organization has reached adolescence and is enlightened in its approach to UX design if:

• There have been some successful products recently where the UX design has clearly had positive business impacts;

• UX goals are clear and measurable on some projects (user error rate targets, efficiency measurements, user satisfaction goals, etc.);

• Users are regularly consulted on many projects though not always in the right ways or in time to inform design decisions;

• There’s still a lot of “hit or miss” in UX projects. Usually good UX design is created on paper but it doesn’t always actually make it out the door;

• There’s typically still no senior leadership in UX (no Director or VP) and the UX function may report into Marketing or Engineering or is distributed between individuals across projects;

• There is no “standard” design and development process being practiced within the organization. For example, some projects or parts of the organization may insist on usability testing of products; others may not;

• Similarly, roles are not “standardized” throughout the organization. On one project a business analyst may be responsible for understanding user context and motivations; on another project it’s a UX researcher. Sometimes there is tension because roles are not clearly defined or responsibility is being transferred. For instance if developers or graphic designers were formerly doing interaction design, but it is now transferred to a UX designer;

• There’s a lot of discussion about UX design within the organization. Successful products/projects that used UX design as a differentiator have made executive decision makers take notice. These executives and influence leaders now have strong and usually differing opinions on product design (even if they don’t have commensurate expertise);

• A common perspective on UX design doesn’t exist throughout the organization. The expertise exists within the company but still at the project delivery level, not at the executive level.

Critical Success Factor to Achieve the Next Level 
When it comes to enlightened but still adolescent organizations, truly growing up means setting clear UX goals for teams on projects and providing accountability and empowerment to UX experts. Roles need to be defined so that everyone on a project feels they can contribute to UX outcomes in some way. Obviously senior leadership and experience is required to help align and coordinate UX resources and other functions. Among the best next steps is to augment the management and executive team with senior UX leadership and understanding. If this is not done, the lack of understanding at the decision-making level can undermine the experts. UX experts must both be empowered and take accountability for their roles.

The bottom line on why good UX is now sometimes getting out the door:
the relevant UX expertise is now largely in place at the working level, but the organization hasn’t had either the time or leadership to entrench how it is consistently used. You must have UX experts willing to take initiative, collaborate and integrate with other functions (marketing, development, and so on) and the leadership (with a basic understanding of UX design) to make it happen.

To read more, please read our newest whitepaper entitled A UX Maturity Model for Companies Seeking Competitive Advantage

Author Overview

Scott Plewes

As VP User Experience Design, Scott brings over 20 years of experience in understanding customers and how to incorporate their needs into software product design. He's put his skills to work on overseeing the user experience design of dozens of desktop, Web, and mobile applications. Scott holds a Master's degree in Science from Queen's University, and prior to Macadamian, he worked as part of Nortel's Usability Design Group. While Scott would have you believe he is an ardent NFL and NHL supporter, he is still a physics geek at heart. His secret passions include bad science fiction movies and even worse - action ones; and trying to understand Shakespeare… and failing badly. When Scott is not working he's either his kids personal chauffeur, or more likely sound asleep on the couch… the one hobby he has truly mastered.