The Director of User Experience explains how UX and business strategy meet, and how the pair informs all our client projects and internal design initiatives.
With a diverse background in design & development, Brian Lamb, Seamgen’s Director of User Experience, leads the effort to design and build digital experiences and services for all of our client projects and internal design initiatives.
We sat down with Brian to discuss how user experience fits in the software development process and how user experience strategy informs our approach to new projects.
How did you become a strategist and get into doing strategy as a part of your work?
I would say that strategy has kind of always been there in my line of work. I have worked in few agencies, and from those agencies, I have been responsible for solving problems with technology. Back around 2004, I started to build applications with touch screens before we all them on our mobile phones. I had to figure out how to source equipment and technologies the would support these platforms, and figure how they were all going to interact.
And that knowledge carried over to everything from websites and mobile applications. It is about finding the limits of the technologies you are working with, and then seeing how it best applies to the problem you are working on.
The strategy has come along as a part of problem-solving. It’s a way to look at a problem from taking a step back and kind of approach it and solve. The strategy is a natural part of it. It is just about how you are going to get to your product. Without having a strategy in place, you are not going to be set up to success and to get to that final product. You have to have a game plan.
What does UX strategy mean to you?
For me and for what we do, it is more of a product strategy. It is not how a user is going to interact with a product, but where does our product fit into user’s lifecycle. We have to ask ourselves: What are they doing day-to-day? Where is the value proposition? How does this fit into their life?
Have you looked it from a standpoint of using integrations? Is that something that this user is already consuming? Is this going to be relevant? Is it just going to be repackaging something that they already have? Say we are using some Foursquare integration. Are we using this in a different way that they haven’t thought of before or that they are not currently using it? Or are we just repackaging something that they already have? How does it fit into our life, and how is it going to provide value? That is the holistic approach to the strategy. How are we going to improve their day-to-day? More than just what’s the on-screen flow.
How did you learn business strategy?
I learn by doing. Seeing how things fit into a business’ overall approach.
How does this product or products, fit into what this business is already offering? Is this something that they’re going to be completely relying on? Is this their one and only product, or is it a complement to what they’re already offering?
A lot of that is going to gauge how much value that they are going to be one, willing to put into it, and two, they are going to get out of it. If it is just something that is nice to have, an add-on, they are not fully relying on it as a business, it might be a way for the business to test a product or market. But if it’s their one and only product that they’re either marketing or that that is their product, then, of course, that is going to be their most important thing. That is their asset.
Regarding how that strategy fits into what they are doing as a business, it is going to relate back to how much they care about that product. And then how to maximize that or make it more efficient is going to depend on how it relates back to the overall product strategy. How is it going to fit into whoever’s using it? How’s it going to fit into their life cycle or their day-to-day.
It could be something that’s unlike any product their business is currently using, but their customer support team or sales team is using that every day, and that is impacting their workflow so they can spend less time interacting with this application and more time servicing customers. It is going to impact their overall bottom line. It all need to tie together.
Do you think it’s helpful for UX designers who are aspiring strategists to get an MBA or a business degree?
Hard for me to answer because I have neither of those. I can’t say it’s not beneficial. But again, my take is I think learning by doing, working and building things is a lot more beneficial than learning the theory.
There’s a ton you can learn from having an MBA or a business degree. But, I think if you’re pursuing a UX path, there’s a lot more to be learned and leveraged by building and doing in the real world than it is to learn about in theory. But if you’re going to go for the MBA or business degree route, you’re probably just shooting for management or owning your own business.
But, I think if you’re pursuing a UX path, there’s a lot more to be learned and leveraged by building and doing in the real world than it is to learn about in theory. But if you’re going to go for the MBA or business degree route, you’re probably just shooting for management or owning your own business.
Say you had a job candidate applying, and he or she has an MBA or business degree, would you take precedence over that person above someone who may not have one?
No, not for a UX role. I think that’s great to have. But in that case, you might be looking more at someone who’s more of a researcher than, say, a designer. You can have multiple degrees, but that does not necessarily translate to a good eye for aesthetics or an understanding of empathy for your users.
What kind of products have you done the strategy for that were the most exciting and fun to work on?
Everything has its unique challenges and their interesting rewards. Some of the things that are most fun, though, to me, are products that challenge us to merge of a lot of different technologies. It is not just necessarily working in, say, one static or one particular platform. I love working on mobile products where we can combine different platforms and work with different APIs.
Combining a couple of things together to create something totally new, that’s super fun because there’s a lot of research that goes into that, regarding finding out what we can and can’t do with it. Building a whole proof of concept. It’s not just design working on its own. There’s a lot that we have to do to vet that proof of concept and build a strategy around it. Those are pretty rewarding.
Other super rewarding products are the types of projects where you impact somebody’s day-to-day. It could be redesigning a business portal or redesigning something they work in every day, and they have a lot of frustration with.
You can go to them, hear them out, and understand what they don’t like about it, what they’d like to improve, and then focus on and iterate upon that. Releasing continuous updates back to the team provides critical and useful feedback. By the time of a product’s launch, we start to hear how much the product is improving their day-to-day and how they are now working more efficiently. That is super rewarding.
Releasing continuous updates back to the team provides critical and useful feedback. By the time of a product’s launch, we start to hear how much the product is improving their day-to-day and how they are now working more efficiently. That is super rewarding.