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UX Design Strategy


When I began designing identities for people, I was working at a studio that had no established way to collect information from the client and organize it into a proposal that could guide the project. I watched projects crash and burn; I watched them drag out for months or simply fizzle out altogether. It was excruciating, not only for the designers, but for our lost and dubious clients. I went through the process once, completely oblivious to another way, and immediately knew that this was not how design projects should be run. Design strategy seems completely obvious once you know what it is, but without it, everything seems impossibly overwhelming, messy, and without direction.

To me, design strategy is the same as any strategy—a game plan for moving forward based on sound research, a high level goal, and a boatload of preparation. UX design strategy is exactly that and much more. It includes researching and learning about the product or idea at hand, the people who will be using it, the people involved in making it, and prioritizing next steps. I really like this definition from Robert Hoekman Jr.: "What good UX strategy actually entails is researching and recognizing the constraints and concerns from all sides and painting a big red target on the wall so that everyone involved can make decisions that serve researched, vetted, and defined objectives.” Design strategy is the foundation on which a product is built, and the roadmap people can refer to when they are feeling lost along the way.

Once I became a freelancer, design strategy was an integral part of my process. I spent hours and hours crafting intake questionnaires, outlining a step by step journey for my client, designing templates and and figuring out my delivery method. All in all, it saved me tons of time, my clients were more satisfied, and I actually enjoyed designing. What I was missing however is an important part of design strategy: success metrics. I would hand off logos and style guides, content that my clients were excited about the work and would whisk the files off to do great things. The truth was, I had no idea if the designs were working, and I hadn’t planned any way to measure that. Again, Hoekman sums it up best: "Without constraints, without understanding, without research, without vision and success metrics and guiding design principles, design is not design. It’s decoration. With these things, however, we practice design at its very best. We design with purpose, intent, and measurable outcomes."