From Obama to UX – Creating a Shared Vision

by on Jan.23, 2009, under UX Design Solutions

We’ve got a new President who has given us a vision of hope as a nation.  We have had many “visionaries” prime our imaginations with fantastical thoughts that have sparked  some of the most creative solutions to problems that face us on a daily basis.

So too is the role of a vision in the UX realm.  I’m working with a client right now to develop a user experience vision for their product.  And as Jared Spool (yep .. my fav go to quote guy) notes:

We’re finding having a solid vision is really key to success. Do you know what the experience of your design will be like in 5 years? In 10? Does everyone on the team share the same perception?

– from The Experience Vision, UIE Brainsparks

Fundamental truth.  When everyone is marching to the beat of the same drummer towards a shared goal/vision  it’s amazing the energy and quality that comes out of their work. 

Convinced?  Please do be.  It’s going to be worth it to you in the long run.  Whether it’s just your blog or a suite of software tools, having a vision will help you make the right decisions about your user experience at the incremental level (those little baby steps you take to get your stuff out there on the web :)).

As soon as you say “vision” everyone starts to think “OMG this is a big deal! We don’t have time or $$ to do something like that!”.  Actually… you do.  There’s no reason that creating a user experience vision has to be a long and expensive process, whatever works for you is the important part.  Fit the process to your needs, not the other way ’round.  I will say that the more involved or mature the product that you are dealing with the greater the level of rigor that should be applied.  However, quick and sort of dirty will also get you something to work with which is better than groping in the dark.

So here’s the list – the steps if you will – of the process I’m working with.  I will put the “Don’t try this at home” warning out there.  There are definitely parts of this process where you may want to work with an expert to guide you.  But I’m also a believer in everyone’s ability to make something their own.  If you feel confident, have at it.

1. Gather Inputs

Collect as much information as possible from  customers, staff (especially those guys!), current product research, etc. Wherever there is something that is relevant and sparks an idea grab it and put it in the pile.  Think about where you want to be 5 or 10 years out with your user experience. 

2. Define Principles and Priorities

What are your buisness goals or product goals?  Use these to prioritize your thinking, for instance, what is more important time to market or quality of interaction?

Define what your principles are.  What values do you stand upon for your business?  Is transparency an important value?  In many cases these values can be directly translated to guiding principles for your user experience.  This is one of those items where you may want to get some help from a UX person.  They can help you translate your principles into UX principles.

3. Define the Vision

Using your principles and priorities as filters for your inputs, create a sentence or expression that defines what you want to achieve.  Here’s a great example from Google that they used for developing their new browser – Chrome:

Major Themes
Content not chrome

In the long term, we think of Chromium as a tabbed window manager or shell for the web rather than a browser application. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the standard window frames of applications on their operating systems.

The tab is our equivalent of a desktop application’s title bar; the frame containing the tabs is a convenient mechanism for managing groups of those applications. In future, there may be other tab types that do not host the normal browser toolbar.

Light, fast, responsive, tactile


4. Socialize, Review and Finalize

Buy-in for a vision is critical.  If you make it they won’t necessarily follow.  Make sure that whomever is going to participate in creating your user experience has an opportunity to review the vision you have defined.  This is an opportunity to gather straggler ideas for input, and provides a litmus test to be sure that the inputs were correctly translated into a vision that is understood by all.

If need be, integrate additional thoughts and regenerate the vision.

 5. Document, Publish and Evangelize

Once you have a vision that you’re on board with you’ll want to document it in a way that communicates the vision and potentially create a model that SHOWS the vision.  There are a bunch of ways to do this, I have seen everything from a back-of-the-napkin sketch to full blown flash demo’s that depict the desired result.  The key is something that everyone in the organization can point to and say “that’s where we’re going” and they truly understand it.  For one of the BEST examples of this take a look at the Apple vision video:

The Knowledge Navigator concept piece by Apple Computer (1987)
inspired by the earlier “dynabook” vision and work of Alan Kay

And finally… Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize.  Keep the vision front and center at all times and work towards it with EVERY decision that is made, from where to put your buttons to the look and feel for your product.  

Hope you find great success with this, and as always, please keep me posted about your results!

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