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UI13: Peter Merholz and Andrew Crow’s “Design Strategy and Planning”

This year Jared Spool‘s UIE put on its 13th User Interface conference. That is an incredible accomplishment for a practice that still feels so new. But Jared is a pioneer in the field; he’s been focused on product usability since 1988 (I was in the 1st grade!). Given UIE’s immense experience in the space, it should be no surprise that the conference went off without a hitch. Every last detail was in place — free, reliable wi-fi; power strips under every table; a spiral notebook and pen in a great canvas bag; healthy snack food; etc etc. Considering how many conferences I’ve gone to this year, I’ve come to appreciate the niceties.

UI13 took place in Cambridge, MA from October 13-16. Unlike IDEA which is more high-level conceptual, the sessions at UI13 are very applicable to our everyday work. Three of the four days featured full-day seminars from some really prominent folks, and one day was a series of shorter talks.

Unfortunately due to a full workload, I had to miss the last day (Bill Verplank on Sketching Metaphors and Jared’s New Perspectives in User Experience Design) which really, REALLY bummed me out. But I guess that’s the life of a consultant.

So without further ado, here are my Twitter notes from Day 1: “Design Strategy and Planning” from Adaptive Path‘s Peter Merholz and Andrew Crow.

  • Techniques they’ve found valuable for getting ducks in a row when starting a project. Arc: Design Strategy, Design Research, IA, IxD
  • Design Research: focus. Information Architecture: feasibility. Interaction Design: offering.
  • @peterme telling story about an @adaptivepath project that started really well w research but when they went into design it fell apart
  • They had fundamentally different concept of what the project scope was than the client did. They jumped into research w/o planning
  • “Moral of the cautionary tale: To have a successful design, you have to connect to a clear strategy” — @peterme

  • Our first activity is going on, so pardon the lack of tweets
  • We’re working in teams to brainstorm experience concepts that match the strategy for Hotel Ganache, a make-believe posh chain in CA
  • Strategy system diagrams: create understanding of how components of org work together, show connections bw design&strategic activities
  • …and inform design strategy hinting at what design activities are strategic and which are tactical
  • Now showing a video about the Target pill bottle & ClearRX system created @ School of Visual Arts by Deborah Adler
  • Design impacts strategy; strategy is about fit; strategy is a system. It’s about aligning customer, company, and competition
  • Strategy isn’t about being the best, operational efficiency or best practices
  • Prototypes and storyboards help communicate strategy. @andrewcrow giving a shoutout to Kevin Cheng @k‘s comics
  • Best practices are a starting point, but you want to add on to that. Best practices are just a baseline.
  • Strategy is about tradeoffs (it’s ok to say no), sustainable differentiation (don’t get into feature parity war), & 3 Cs (noted b4)
  • Getting your ducks in a row: focus + definition + customer value + scope
  • “Too often we’re handed briefs and expected to execute on them w/o vetting them in any way” — @peterme
  • Focus activities help to answer the question “What is worth doing?” What’s the ROI?
  • Download @adaptivepath’s report “Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes User Experience” now FREE

  • @adaptivepath research case studies examine link b/w UX and biz value. How is value measured & why? What effect is it having?
  • UX value chain: identify biz probs & opps > identify metrics & measure > choose projects > design/test > assess value > set budgets
  • “If you’re perfectly comfortable being told what to do, there are better sessions for you” — @peterme
  • As a UX designer you can slowly work your way up the chain.
  • Symptoms that your org lacks focus: “panacea project” — this will fix everything; “We want to be the Google/iPod of ______”; …
  • ..ambitions exceed resources; too many competing requirements (stakeholders don’t agree); prior attempts failed (process doesn’t work)
  • Identify opps & probs: culled from stakeholder interviews, brainstorm in a workshop (don’t sell yourself short!), map out your opps
  • Using example of http://Lulu.com — service for authors to upload their books and users to print on-demand
  • Lulu makes money by: # of titles x average orders per title x commission on each order = $ revenue
  • Influencers, Levers and Opportunities. How can we increase # of titles? Increase # of authors? Increase # titles per author?
  • Increase unique visitors, increase purchases per visit, increase commission rate. LOTS of opportunities, but need to be prioritized
  • @adaptivepath uses two axes to map opportunities: Viability/Feasibility by Importance.
  • If you go to stakeholders, all items will be placed in the top-right corner: high feasibility and high importance. Duh
  • But remember: strategy is about saying NO! Being the best isn’t a strategy.
  • Rate each biz opp. Keep it simple (2 dimensions, scale of 1-5): importance (how crucial it is for biz to solve) & feasibility

  • Feasibility/viability = how much impact you can actually have addressing this problem or opportunity.
  • Limit the number of points, an average of 3 points per biz opp. 6 biz problems, then you have 18 points to distribute
  • Graph the ratings determined by the team. Plot biz opps. Cluster them based on which to focus on & which to ignore. Gut check results!
  • Opps/problems from 3-5 on Feasibility AND 3-5 on Importance = FOCUS. The next band (1-3 on both) = Consider. Below that, Neglect
  • Presenting prioritization: “Based on [our effort], we need to focus on [what the key focus areas have in common, such as [examples]…
  • … not [what the opportunities to ignore have in common].” Be able to defend why you’re neglecting some opportunities.
  • Other tool that can help prioritize: Linking Elephants. Biz opp > Desired Behavior > Behavior Metric > Value Metric =Financial Outcome
  • Do-it map: Should we be doing it? Are we doing it? Yes, yes = Good! Do it better! No, yes = Stop! Yes, no = Start! No, no = Thank God
  • Definition is key because everyone in the meeting has something different in their mind that you’ve “agreed” to doing.
  • The worst: “The swoop and poop” — the executive who comes in at the last minute and totally changes direction
  • Symptoms that you lack definition: endless feature creep, misalignment w/ org, unclear boundaries/vision, varying interp/expectations
  • @andrewcrow reading quote by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. In full here
  • Definition: converting biz case/goals into something tangible; if biz case is “why” this is “what”; start of product reqs; …
  • Definition is the go-to-market solution: meeting biz goals and customer needs. Co-create concepts with your team to help communicate
  • Involve many ppl at start: stakeholders, users, etc. Concepts can be: “tangible future”, UX packaging, storyboard, lo-fi prototype

  • Those four concept types are plotted on two dimensions, Effort and Vividness, from easy to difficult, slanting from up & to the right
  • Taking a break to design an in-magazine print ad to illustrate our core concept for Hotel Ganache
  • After making concepts: assess (with stakeholders & users), refine (iteration makes it better, Agile?), get buy-in (achieve alignment)
  • Definition gives you: clear vision, obvious req’s, basis for prototyping, an offering to test w/ others, alignment of your team in org
  • @peterme and @andrewcrow’s “Product Strategy and Planning” session starting back up now
  • Showing the @adaptivepath Charmr concept video, took about 1 week to produce
  • Customer value: “What value does it provide?” Look for opportunities where you can be different from competitors, take chances
  • “The value curve is one of the most valuable tools that we’ll talk about today” — @andrewcrow So pay attn folks! (I’ll do my best)
  • …to translate, I mean
  • Here‘s the value curve example for photo websites that we’re looking at
  • Plots the value from low to high of a variety of features for each competitor. Helps visualize entire eco-system the user experiences
  • Think of the Nintendo Wii against XBox, PS3, etc. Not nearly as good graphics, but much higher interactivity.
  • Be honest about what the solved problems already are & that you’re not going to improve upon them. Then focus on the unsolved problems
  • Symptoms you havent clarified your unique customer value: vague mandate; look just like your competition; your target base is everyone
  • … people internally don’t understand what you’re working on; it’s a me-too product; your offering lacks competitive advantage

  • Via @threefour Blue Ocean calls value curve a “strategy canvas.
  • Framing a viable offering: Who is the target audience? What experiences are compelling to them? How are you diff from competitors?
  • The Elevator Pitch: For [target customers in your main market segment only] who are dissatisfied w [the current market alternative]…
  • … our product/service is [new product category] that provides [key problem-solving capability]. Unlike [the product alternative],…
  • …we have [differentiating attributes of your offering]. This helps to summarize research, force alignment w/in organization, & focus
  • Or another tool to define customer value: Who is this service for? What is the service? Why is it compelling? How is it distinct?
  • My group is modeling our make-believe Hotel Ganache on http://www.kimptonhotels.com/
  • “If your product can be found in a SkyMall magazine, you probably haven’t done the elevator pitch exercise well” — @andrewcrow
  • 1st impression tool: What’s a blog? Reorient on landing. What can you do w it? Determine value. How do I get one? Make microcommitment
  • @adaptivepath’s redesign of Blogger.com. What’s a blog: intro on homepage. What can I do w one? New features. How do I get one? Signup
  • Articulating customer value provides: clearly differentiated/meaningful offering; new value into the world; market viability; …
  • …and explicit design targets (for personas & use cases)
  • Getting our ducks in a row — fourth duck of the day: Scope (the scariest for me!)
  • Your idea of scope: one flower. Their idea of scope: a field of flowers
  • Symptoms that you haven’t clarified your scope. Too big: unrealistic delivery expectations, trouble creating timely release (eg Vista)

  • …battling, “Can’t we also have ___?”, nervous developers. Too small: unclear path to full vision, unremarkable watered-down releases
  • Classic example of scope creep
  • The relationship of scope & strategy: “Trade-offs are essential to strategy. They create the need for choice & purposefully limit…
  • … what a company offers” — Michael Porter, “What is Strategy?” Harvard Business Review
  • Ikea’s tradeoffs: Limited customer service -> intuitive shopping, lower prices. Knock-down furniture -> in-house, modern-style designs
  • …Suburban locations -> expansive inventory on-site
  • Product Evolution. Stage, Features, Revenue. From beta to gamma to delta. Etc
  • “At each stage you’re not just releasing features b/c you have the capability, but b/c it’s the appropriate time to do so” — @peterme
  • Product evolution maps — structure: stage the product into progressive offerings; convey the customer and biz value at each stage
  • Product evolution maps — effect: connect to ultimate product vision; define the right scope for the initial offering; win battles.
  • Developing a product evolution map: competitors (who they are/will be); org readiness (new roles/processes/infrastructure needed);…
  • …risks (obstacles to reaching each stage); decision points (go/no-go points in process); advances (research/innov’s that must occur)
  • Cake -> Filling -> Icing isn’t necessarily the smartest product evolution. Makes more sense to do Cupcake – > Cake -> Wedding Cake
  • “I hate methodologies — companies that do the best work don’t get caught up in methodology.” — @peterme Amen!
  • Defined scope provides: sanity; meaningful releases; comforting narrative; communication tool; execution plan; step-by-step relevance
  • Session over. I am *pooped* and have a long night of work ahead of me. Big thanks to @peterme and @andrewcrow for an awesome workshop!

[Other UI13 sessions I attended: Dana Chisnell; Kim Goodwin; Scott Berkun]

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