Rationalizing the Tension Between User Experience and Technology (part 1 of 3)


Creating a value system that equates the demand for superior user experience to the requirement for a more future friendly technical architecture is a core challenge for organizations and a matter of survival.

The tension inherent in the relationship between speed, user experience, and technical currency is palpable. Organizations are witnessing conflict between the advocacy by the CMO to meet the needs of an empowered and demanding customer and the urging by the CIO to adhere to a sound technical roadmap to avoid unnecessary friction, rework, and investment.

Business and Technology Leadership

·      Business and technology leadership must be transparent and collaborate “in the sunlight”. Technical direction must permeate and become part of business decision-making.

·      User experience should be contextual, performant, and accessible.

·      Technical architecture serves to not only deliver the user experience, but to also establish a platform for cost effective development that mitigates risk and technical debt, an often foreseen implication of business strategy.

Today’s CMO is challenged to meet or exceed customer demands while delivering on the brand promise. The challenges of building for the future and delighting customers are many. At the forefront of this is the user experience of application front ends. User experience challenges include:

·      Understanding customers, their motivations, priorities, and goals

·      Creating value for customers that is free of friction, contextual, and if possible, automated

·      Creating experiences in an ever changing and hard to understand technology landscape

·      Staying on the cutting edge of user experience trends, interaction patterns, and modern application interface design

User Experience

User experience, while focused on usability, information architecture and interaction pattern design across application interfaces is part of a much more holistic tapestry of experiences, the overall customer experience (CX).

As customer experience becomes a stronger differentiator for organizations, the user experience of web applications becomes more important as it often represents the front line when it comes to customer interactions. It is this continuous drive to improve user experience that has led to the shift in technical strategy favoring heavier front end applications. There are several important questions that you must ask to evolve the practice of user experience design:

·      How should you approach the problem solving necessary to evolve and improve your user experience design?

·      How do you instill a user experience oriented mindset in your technology teams?

·      How do you learn more about your customers in order to optimize the user experience of your applications?

Similar to the technology landscape, there are several tools and strategies that can be employed to confront the challenge and answer these questions.

Design Thinking

Design is often thought of as the creative work conceiving the look and feel of interfaces as a discrete phase at the beginning of a project. It is informed by a set of requirements developed by a product manager and has a distinct output that then feeds development. But how do you adapt to change? How do you evolve your technology teams to think more creatively?

One answer is to employ design thinking. Design thinking prescribes utilizing creativity and design principles at a business level to influence strategy and innovation. The tools of design thinking are a pencil and paper, white boards, mind mapping applications, customer interviews and rapid prototyping to name a few. At its very core, design thinking is a human centric approach. It is about empathizing with your customer and experimenting to arrive at solutions based on what customers actually want rather than metrics or historical data analysis alone. By empathizing and finding a path that accounts for their emotions in your solution, you can truly connect with your customer.

Approaches to Design Thinking

·      Create a design framework that allows you to fail fast. Define your methods of customer research, definition, ideation, prototyping/experimentation, testing, and critical thinking to facilitate the needed idea generation, collaboration and problem-solving.

·      Problem-solve through experimentation. Create experiences - be that low fidelity sketches or models or high fidelity HTML prototypes - that enable you to quickly and aesthetically collaborate and know whether your approach meets the needs of the customer. Iterate and improve your solution to the point of exhaustion before considering next steps.

·      Utilize patterns, methods and constructs that inspire the team creatively. Ideation and collaboration across a multi-disciplinary team that is broader than just designers necessitates the identification of new ways to serve and support team communication and collaboration to uncover customer needs, desires and behaviors.

Design Thinking Considerations

·      Define and employ designer tools and skill sets that work for your team and needs. Be bold and creative in selecting the constructs and approaches used in your design thinking methodology.

·      Insights and data alone will not transform anything. Converting findings into actionable ideas demands sustained innovation practices and eventually implementation and build competencies.

·      Speed should not trump the journey and process. Stay centered on your customers’ needs, desires and motivations and you will remain on the right track.

By leveraging these approaches you can bring a broader set of tools and strategies to bear when problem solving throughout your organization. Do not be afraid to engage your technology teams throughout this process. By bringing your technology teams into the process of solving customer experience problems, you can ensure that your technical architecture will be developed in context. Exposing your technology teams to the tools and disposition of design thinking will challenge them to think differently about the applications they are developing, considering the broader needs and motivations of the customer and impacts on the business.


·      Foster open and transparent communication between the CMO and CIO to understand the tradeoffs between pace, user experience, and technical architecture adherence and integrity.

·      Design should be holistic to your projects rather than a discrete phase. Anticipate change, reduce iteration friction, solicit continuous customer feedback and embrace design thinking to establish a culture of innovation.

·      Develop a technology “blue print” informed by your business strategy and the input of the CMO and CIO that will guide the organization and become a foundational document of architecture, patterns and development processes.

·      Create a company-wide digital strategy with an assigned executive owner, clear milestones and meaningful metrics.

Aggressive forward progress is imperative as leading firms are using digital as a differentiator. Maintaining the status quo is a non-option and the time for “watch and learn” is over. Inaction by fast followers and laggards will leave them vulnerable to disruption by more innovative entrants into their markets. The CMO and CIO bound together by shared values, goals, and a clear digital strategy is your competitive advantage.