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Three resources to help visual designers break into user experience strategy

Three Resources for a Great UX Strategy | Edgar Allan

In talking with designers that come from a visual design background, I’m often asked, “What books should I read to get into user experience design?”

Breaking into user experience design can be a challenge because the typical designer’s playground — the visual artifact — is really only a tiny part of the process. Wireframes, user-flows and site-maps are the culmination of research and testing that unless you have a more technical background (either though school or working in the industry), can be difficult to obtain.

Ask from the internet ye shall receive. 

There are a bunch of great resources out there that I’ve found helpful in our work in content strategy, selling organizational change through user experience practices, and unlocking design thinking in a short timeframe. The three listed here are a great place to start.

Learn the basics
Hubspot Academy

Hubspot as you may know, creates software that focuses on inbound marketing and sales optimization. (And before you throw up in your mouth a little at the thought of that, stay with me…)  

Fundamentally, user experience is about looking at ways to map a path for a value exchange between groups. Whenever someone visits an app or website, they are essentially hiring the site to accomplish a task for them. Sometimes the task is really simple, like read an article (provide me with information) or purchase a good (help sell me something). The value exchange in the first example is the time and attention of the user. In the second, the exchange is actual currency. The idea for both is the same however, and approaching user experience like this, from a sales perspective, is perhaps the most practical and real-world application of the craft. But it’s also one of the hardest to teach. 

Think of it like this: the typical elements of UX such as design patterns, tools for creating wireframes or prototypes, aren’t really that effective if they don’t ladder back to the bigger “why” of the value exchange, i.e. “Why would someone invite this experience into their life?”

Hubspot does a good job of breaking down the basics of user experience into the fundamentals of content, customers, and containers. But don’t expect to get any quick wins here, the videos are in-depth and it takes some serious time to cover everything. 

As I write this, I’m currently chipping away at the courses. Most are a refresher for me, but so far, it’s been a good reminder of the basics.

Sell the change

User Experience Revolution

So, you’ve learned various approaches to UX, but the biggest next question is how do you start to implement these ideas inside an organization? 

Again, because user experience is fundamentally about how a company goes to market, one of the next challenges is getting the organization to embrace it from the inside, out. When it comes to great UX, companies often talk a big game about wanting it, but are more often than not resistant to some of the fundamentals, such as simply learning from users and being okay with the idea that we don’t have all the answers.

The book User Experience Revolution does a good job of talking about how to take the principles of good user experience and demonstrate those benefits to the larger group.

Move fast and test ideas

Google Ventures Design Sprint

Finally, after you’ve learned the basics and have a handle on how to sell the need for great user experience inside an organization, it’s time to look to the masters for guidance on how to move all the great ideas you’ll have out of the boardroom and into the real world faster. So, hello, Google!

Google Ventures’ Design Sprint methodology takes many of the elements from the previous two resources (which are really as much about rigor as anything else) and asks “How can we identify an idea, product or process that is more informed than a gut feeling, and test that thing to see if we are even on the right path?” Google’s answer: Let’s all get in a room with a clear goal (answer 6 big questions…concept and create a working prototype…test a theory) and go through some smart, collaborative steps until we have something ‘real’ at the end of our time together.

It’s intense. But we have been adopting this approach on different projects over the last few months, and have found it’s a great tool to have in our bag of tricks.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it's a good place to get started.

There are no shortage of resources for learning about this stuff, and sometimes that is part of the challenge. So, if anything, I hope this helps get you on your way, shifting from traditional design toward a new path, one that ends with satisfied digital users at the end of the road.

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