The UX Design Strategist
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Think UX Isn’t Crucial to Your Success? Think Again.

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First, Consider this BI Definition

It’s generally accepted that Business Intelligence, or BI, is the practice of finding and using data to analyze a business, from quantitative measures like dollars and units, to qualitative measures like customer satisfaction.  This is accomplished in modern business through the use of technology that takes the data and spits out charts, reports, dashboards, visualizations, etc.  Of course that’s grossly simplified but you get the picture.

Forget for a moment that we haven’t yet defined what we want to do with this new intelligence but… 

Wait a second. 

How can we know what we’re looking for if we don’t have a goal, and we have no idea how we want to use our newfound intelligence?  That might be kind of backwards, wouldn’t you agree?

I teach a visual strategy design class and one of my slides talks about how good analytics and visualizations show you things you didn’t know you didn’t know.  You’ve no doubt heard that somewhere before.  I didn’t make it up, but it’s a pertinent statement to BI success and, it’s the perfect segue to UX.

So what’s this UX thing?

UX, or User Experience, is a discipline around which every BI project should be built.  It’s a foundation, a methodology, and a framework around and through which we discover information about our users and then craft a BI solution to serve the needs of those users.  Consider this illustration where UX = User Experience, UI = User Interface, and DV = Data Visualization:


UX informs the UI and DV.  The UI part that lies outside UX contains color, font choice, the specifics of interaction and other aspects of presentation.  The DV lives completely inside the UI and is your selection of charts, identified by the UX research, and placed in the logical order called for in a Use Case, Journey Map, or Persona, all of which come from the upfront UX work.

UX is two distinct sets of project work that fit into an overall Visual Strategy:  UX Research and UX Design.

  • UX Research
  • Interviews – from analysts to CEOs to IT
  • Data Discovery
  • Journey Mapping, Use Cases and Personas
  • Business objective
  • See what we have
  • See how we can use it to get better (stop losing money)
  • See how we can use it to make more money
  • See how we can use it to transform our business
  • UX Design
  • What do we need in our applications to serve our goals?
  • How do we ensure that each user type is satisfied?
  • Where do these things go?
  • What is a logical progression from Point A to Point B?
  • What’s the best, most intuitive workflow?
  • What saves my team time and makes them more efficient?
  • How much do we really need?
  • How many different ways do we provide a user to perform task XYZ?
  • How do we ensure that everyone “gets” it?
  • How do we incorporate microinteractions and feedback for the user?
  • What security measures do we need to account for?

Strategy Documents

These can be very informal but are great roadmaps to help get a project off the ground.  A typical document will outline the users to interview, a timeframe for completion, vendor contacts, key stakeholders – both business and IT, and the overall project goal, such as “We need system X to pull data from here and here and here, provide dashboards for upper management, deep-dive analytics capability to this group of analysts, and generate reports for all staff members.”  It should also list contingencies and possible blockers, much as you would identify in an Agile project.

We’re creating the scope of a project and the rules of engagement.

The UX research will uncover all the pieces of the puzzle in writing this starter document.  It will help you define what you need to do, who gets involved, and approximately how long it will take you to complete the project.  It will tell you where you must to go to gather the data needed, and it will most likely define the questions you begin asking.

A huge part of this research process is that last part – defining the questions you begin asking.  I interviewed a top executive out west last year who, after two hours in a room with me said that I’d been able to pull more out of him than anyone ever had before.  He said that the way I lead the session showed him that he was thinking too linearly and that he now had a better feeling for the data around him and how he could use it.

Those are the “AH-HA” moments we all look for.  Those are the win/win situations that propel us forward to the next insights.

Now We Begin UX Design

Now that we have our document in hand, our roadmap, our blueprint, and hopefully our team in place, we can begin the design work.  We have to account for further interview sessions, but we have what we need to get a good start.

Look back at that Venn diagram above.  See how a large part of the UI circle is inside the UX circle.  Yeah, that’s because in many ways there is an overlap of the two that can’t be denied.  While UI is mostly presentation layer, all the info you need to do that comes from the UX research and design.

And We Talk About Workflows

All of this work circles back to one thing and one thing only:

Did we build the right thing for the right person in a way that serves the purpose in the best way possible?

In other words, did we do our research right, and did we then turn that research into a usable and useful product for our customer/user to work with?

If our customer/user isn’t using the system, then we failed.  If our user starts at A and wants to get to C, but has to go through B, D, E, F, and R first, then we failed.  You think I’m kidding?  I’ve seen it!  I’ve seen workflows that involved printing a report, walking it to someone in another building, having that person print another report, hand it over, walk back, enter answers into another system, and on and on.

Users want to know essentially these three things:

  • Is it useful and relevant to me?
  • Will it be easy for me to use?
  • Does it make my job easier?

I’ll wrap this up with a tasty morsel for you to chew on.

Experience is about expectations.

If you don’t fulfill the user’s expectations in your BI tools/suite/application, then you need to tear it apart and rebuild it.  A satisfied user is your reward and starting every project with UX will get you there.