I’ve met a lot of talented designers and know a number of very smart strategic marketers, but the fact is that no one person has all the answers to the many questions that arise in the digital marketing industry. It can be very challenging for designers to bridge the gaps among strategy, eCommerce, SEO, CRO, and real-world business constraints, while still thinking through the nuances (and there are many) of intelligent design. There are gaps to fill—and the best way to fill them is through collaboration.
It’s imperative that those who live in the strategy world and those skilled in design come together to produce the best overall user experience possible. Combining forces in the right way, and at the right times, will result in a solid UX strategy that all teams can stand behind.
That said, collaboration doesn’t need to be a constant at every turn. Some elements of design simply don’t require strategy—and, in turn, not all strategic decisions require UX consultants. Today, I’m on a mission to spell out the main areas where even the best digital strategist needs some assistance from their user experience counterparts. In doing so, you’ll find you start getting things right the first time, without having to go back to the drawing board after launch.
As strategists, one of our primary roles is to solve problems. At times, we may stumble—and when we do, we need to seek the right help to enable things to fall naturally into place. Below are some key issues I’ve solved with the help of a design or user experience expert. I’ve presented them as questions, because more often than not, that’s how they present themselves in the real world. Through collaboration, you’ll find that even though things seemed murky at first, the pieces of your projects fall naturally into place.
As a strategist, I admit that I’ve grappled with the concept of truly building a mobile-first web project. In theory, mobile-first design approaches sound great—they help you filter out everything that inevitably creeps into a website that sits on the fine line between importance and irrelevance. I even wrote once that small businesses should go mobile or go home, and I stand by that strong need to focus on mobile. The fact is, however, that mistakes happen in mobile-first strategies, and starting with mobile isn’t always possible or practical.
The question of whether or not to go mobile first is best answered by a strategy and design collaboration. UX experts and strategists should sit down and map out what’s important to users at every stage. Be as empathetic as you possibly can with their expectations and needs, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Together, UX and strategy can determine if mobile first is really something your company can (and should) achieve.
You probably already know that one of the most important things you can do to induce a digital marketing transformation for your business is incorporate video in some way. And if you’re in a position where you have a healthy (or growing) amount of video content, you’re likely ahead of some of your competition. But implementing video in an overall design strategy isn’t always easy. Sometimes, your video content is complementary (Lush Cosmetics, which uses a multimedia strategy that includes both video and stories is a good example of this), while other times it’s the primary focus of your strategy—as is the case for Dollar Shave Club.
Content strategists know when video belongs at the forefront of your approach, and when it should exist as a supporting element—and UX experts are skilled at differentiating the two distinct purposes and their effects on your audience. Together, design and content strategy can figure out how to use that awesome new library of videos you just produced without slowing down your site or overwhelming users with too much info. From there, you can determine the best approach for presenting your video content in a way that meets both your users’ needs and your business objectives.
This one is huge for collaboration between the business strategy and user experience teams, and it’s one that can often mean double-digit differences in conversion rates. Obviously, your website exists to serve your business. If the website or mobile app consistently fails to convert, inform, entertain, or otherwise fulfill its purpose, it will be forced to evolve—or worse, to die.
The strategy side of the house understands the top priorities of your business’ digital property; that is, the things the site or app must accomplish for your business. And without effective user experience design, those priorities may be lost, buried among other competing priorities, content, or simple marketing fluff.
UX and strategy teams should collaborate on placement, arrangement, and look and feel for your digital properties, making sure to emphasize the top two or three key elements on a page (like a CTA or opt-in form). This will ensure business priorities are accounted for without sacrificing the user’s overall experience. Strike a balance between the needs of your users and the needs of your brand. In some cases, the line may be razor thin—but it’s a line that can be walked when strategy and user experience unite.
Similar to the challenge above, the answer to this UX strategy question boils down to optimizing for conversion rate. However, it specifically addresses an identified need to improve an area around which your business already has supporting data.
UX teams are very skilled at designing experiences that encourage conversions, while strategists are intimately familiar with the reasons users would want to convert—as well as where they are at any given moment in the decision process. Collaboration when optimizing a funnel is often seen as a UX-only exercise, and that’s a huge mistake.
Conversion rate optimization should be a collaborative effort between the experts who know the user, the product, or both, and who have the data to support driving change. Together, these experts know how best to be effective, and they know the right questions to ask, both of one another and of the user.
In seeking to ensure that any changes made to improve overall web experience are laser-focused on both the brand and its audience, there are a few questions worth prioritizing. These include:
There’s no question that color plays a huge role in the overall user experience, and should be considered as a key element of UX strategy. Yet, often, the creative types in the organization are the only ones tasked with deciding on color schemes. When that happens, it’s easy to wind up with those discordant pairs of colors that can make your website distracting, difficult to read, or generally painful to look at—causing users to turn away or drop off your site completely.
I was recently part of a team that came together to define a large marketing campaign. The team decided to divert from the typical colors and do something different. What came out of that collaboration was something neither the brand nor its customers had seen before; it worked because the team had the courage to get past the usual and collaborate on something new.
Collaboration between brand marketers, marketing strategists, and designers on combinations of colors, shades, gradients, and other visual elements can really help draw captivate users. Holding users’ attention and focus is everything when it comes to conversion—and yet, this opportunity for collaboration is often overlooked.
I’ve personally participated in a number of projects where design and content strategy had been misaligned up front. The results typically involve a mad scramble to figure out how to retrofit a design that, at very least, prevented the content from breaking the page altogether.
For example, an eCommerce project I was on had a product detail design. The page had the usual elements—product name, product image, a product description, and technical specifications. The design presented these elements in a neat and orderly way that fit together the way that pieces of a puzzle do. However, what the design failed to account for were common edge cases. If the design represented neat and tidy 50-character product names on a single line, what would happen if the product name was 200 characters long and wrapped to three lines?
In other words, early guidance and collaboration on the types of content and how to properly display that content is crucial. Finding a preemptive solution to the inevitable dilemma of limited space and differing quantities, types, and structures of content is always better than trying to correct after the fact.
So that’s my list of areas where strategy and design can come together to create really awesome experiences. Can you think of any scenarios or questions that I’ve missed? Have you, as a strategist, designer, or UX expert, collaborated on similar areas? What were the outcomes of your collaborations? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.