Notes from book: UX Strategy

Jany Zhang
10 min readMar 15, 2020


Experience Strategy = Business Strategy + UX Strategy

01 What is UX Strategy

Misinterpretation 1: UX strategy is about identifying a “North Star”.

Due to the nature of digital products and fast-moving market environment, ux strategy should be a goal or point to work towards but steer every time you pivot.

Misinterpretation 2: UX strategy is a “strategic way” to perform UX design.

A product strategist thinks about all possibilities for the products and defines it after researching the potential customers and existing competitors. She comes up with a game plan while the product designer actually fabricates the thing.

Misinterpretation 3: UX strategy is just product strategy.

UX strategy goes beyond just one digital product or online experience. (e.g: digital products, services, platforms, a whole ecosystem). It accounts for the entire user journey down the funnel.

Misinterpretation 4: UX strategy is closely tied to brand strategy.

Poor UX will decrease the value of a brand, but even a brand is good enough, it can not overcome poor UX of a product. And solid UX design no longer differentiates brands. A product needs a good UX no matter what.

“Marketing can increase awareness for the product, but if the product sucks, that’s what the buzz will be.”

02 The Four Tenets of UX Strategy

The discovery phase is where UX strategy begins. UX strategy is based on four tenets: business strategy, value innovation, validated user research, and killer UX design.

Tenet 1: Business Strategy

A business must continually identify and utilize a competitive advantage. A competitive advantage is essential to the company’s long-term existence.

There are two common ways to achieve a competitive advantage: cost leadership and differentiation.

Cost leadership: offering the lowest price for products in a particular industry. (Think about Walmart and Target.) Disadvantage: when the prices hit rock bottom, the battle needs to be about what makes the products better.

Differentiation: is based on a new or unique product or a unique aspect of the product for which customers will pay a premium because of its perceived value. (Think about people pay for $5 for a latte, they are paying for the experience.)

Today, a UX differentiation is the digital-product game changer. Traditionally, the purpose of a competitive advantage was to make a product that was self-sufficient through a revenue stream. But UX differentiation does not necessarily mean big bucks when the product hits the market. Instead, the goal is mass adoption. (Thnk about Facebook). Still, a good business model doesn’t just define the revenue stream of a product. Nor does it just rely on a ridiculous number of users adopting it. Product founders should adopt a flexible business model that requires all of the key components to be validated using empirical, customer-facing discovery methods.

Tool: Business Model Canvas

Nine essential elements: Customer segments, Value propositions, Channels, Customer relationships, Revenue streams, Key resources, Key activities, Key partnerships, Cost structure.

Building a business strategy is not about formulating and executing a perfect plan. It’s about being able to research what’s out there, analyze the opportunities, run structured experiments, fail, learn, and iterate until we devise something of value that people truly want.

Tenet 2: Value Innovation

Traditional value chain (for physical products):

Research → Design → Source → Manufacture → Market → Sell → Service

Value innovation occurs when companies align newness with utility and price to create a leap in value for both buyers and the company.

Value innovation = (simultaneous pursuit of ) Differentiation + Low cost

Sustaining Innovation v.s Disruptive Innovation:

Sustaining innovation is any innovation that enables industry leaders to do something better for their existing customers.

Disruptive innovation is a product that a company’s best customer potentially can’t use and therefore has substantially lower profit margins than the business might be willing to support. However, disruptive innovation usually is “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” (e.g Airbnb) True value innovation occurs when the UX and business model intersect. ( that separates Airbnb and Craigslist)

Tenet 3: Validated User Research

Validation is the secret sauce of the Lean Startup business approach. Validation is the process of confirming a specific customer segment finds value in your product. Without validation, you are simply assuming that customers will find use for your product. Validated user research goes beyond just observing and establishing empathy for potential users. It is a process based on a reality-check that focuses on direct feedback from interaction with users. It helps your team to determine if the vision of your product is a dream or a potential nightmare.

The MVP approach: learning if potential customers want your product by building just the core features of your value proposition. This is far different from traditional product development in which building a prototype was often a simulation to show potential investors the future product. By getting customer buy-in on your value proposition early, you are de-risking your product. And if users don’t like what they see, we need to either “pivot” to a different customer segment or pivot to a different problem that our value proposition can address. Feature validation process: build — measure — learn. (lean startup feedback loop)

Validated user research is a collaborative process that should involve as many members of the product team as possible. The collaboration will actually help organically build consensus on the value proposition and any pivots that follow.

What if I work in an agency model environment, and the product requirements are already locked in stone during a requirement-gathering phase that I’m not involved in?

That’s the exact moment that you need to be intrapreneurial. Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. You need to decide to take the fate of the product into your own hands through assertive risk-taking and innovation. Stand up and ask for the extra week or two to conduct validated user research. If you get a “no” or are too afraid to ask, it’s time to start working off-hours. The worst thing that can happen is that you will discover something about yourself and/or start looking for ways to improve your own work process. The bottom line is that confronting your target customer is non-negotiable. In the end, though, this approach is more cost-effective and efficient.

Tenet 4: Killer UX Design

The traditional ux design is associated with deliverables for development and design execution — site maps, wireframes, process/task flows, and functional specifications. Recruiters identify UX design with job title: interaction designer, information architect, UX designers. The “traditional” system is often more focused on the issues of user engagement and design rather than customer development and business model generation.

Difference between a novice UX designer and a killer UX designer: killer UX designer knows how to guide the value innovation of a product in the following ways:

  • They work collaboratively with stakeholders at the idea’s inception. Then UX designer is involved in designing structured experiments for validation. Using measurable results, they make design decisions based on real evidence.
  • They help determine key moments and features that are critical to the product.
  • They learn about the existing market space to identify UX opportunities that can be exploited.
  • They talk directly to potential users or existing power users of the product to discover and validate its primary utility with respect to the problem that must be solved.
  • They weave UX through all touch points-online and offline- enabling an experience that’s frictionless. (e.g Airbnb: transaction happens online, fulfilled offline, and then loops back online to write reviews)

03 Validating the Value Proposition (tenet 1,3: business strategy and validated user research)

Five steps to create value proposition:

Step 1: Define your primary customer segment

Step 2: Identify your customer segment’s (biggest) problem

Step 3: Create provisional personas based on your assumptions

Step 4: Conduct customer discovery to validate or invalidate your solution’s initial value proposition

Step 5: Reassess your value proposition based on what you learned

Step 1: Define your primary customer segment

Examples of successful digital products when they first launched: FB was exclusive to Harvard University students; Airbnb tested on the 2008 Democratic national convention; Tinder piloted with college students at USC.

The customer is a group or segment of people with a common need or pain. Your primary customer’s pain point must be severe because there is a lot of risks involved in trying to change how people do something in a familiar way to an unfamiliar one in an uncontested market space.

Step 2: Identify your customer segment’s (biggest) problem

The problem should be a specific one that a specific customer segmentation is having. It’s ok to make assumptions in the very beginning about user’s needs and how to solve them, but you need to be honest about them.

Don’t build your product’s UX around a value proposition unless you have tangible evidence that people will want the product. Don’t believe in your own hype. Instead, approach every new product or project like an experiment.

Step 3: Create provisional personas based on your assumptions

Personas can be a helpful tool in giving stakeholders and the product team an empathetic sense of what the end user’s needs, goals and motivations are. When you don’t have the budget or time or resources to do months of qualitative “ethnographic” research, you can use provisional personas (a Lean UX technique) as a communication tool to depict your hypothesized customer and align your team. It also gives everyone a starting point for the validation process.

Provisional persona layout and breakdown( four parts):

  • Name and snapshot/sketch: name, gender, demographic, photo, etc
  • Description: motivations, a composite archetype that’s relevant to the product idea.
  • Behaviors: How the customer is solving the problem now; is the customer tech-savvy? The person’s personality that affects the behavior. Are they trusting or skeptical?
  • Needs and goals: What’s missing from current solutions? What goals are not satisfied by current behaviors? What are the deal breakers the customer is facing? What are the compromising points?

Step 4: Conduct customer discovery to validate or invalidate your solution’s initial value proposition

Customer discovery: Customer discovery is a process used to discover, test and validate whether a specific product solves a known problem for an identifiable group of users; it is essentially conducting user research. Do not just observe them in a lab setting, really go out to the field and talk to users.

The problem interview: The goal of the customer discovery interview is to talk to real people (that fit into your provisional personas). The research should be meaningful, effective and swift. Get into the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop asap. Phase 1 is for screener questions. Phase 2 is the real interview.

Two sided markets: sometimes the business need two distinct user types for your product to have value. E.g: Uber drivers and riders, Airbnb hosts and guests. Then you need customer journey for both entities.

Step 5: Reassess your value proposition based on what you learned! (and continue to iterate until you have product/market fit.)

After gathering the feedback, share with the team. Make decisions based on:

  • You didn’t validate your customer segment hypothesis. Go back to step 1.
  • You didn’t validate your customer’s pain points. Go back to step 2 to pivot on the problems.
  • You validated both your customer and your problem hypothesis and feel good about your solution’s value proposition. Go to chapter 4.

04 Conducting Competitive Research (Tenet 1, business strategy)

Before you start a new business, learn about how it works.

Investigate your competition. What are they doing right? what are they doing wrong? What type of customer segment uses their products. Why should customers come to you? (instead of your competitor)

If you can’t figure out how to make it work, it’s okay to fail. Move on or pivot.

Understanding the Meaning of Competition

A competitor is a person, team, or company that shares your goals and is fighting for the same thing that your product team wants.

Direct competitor: companies that offer the same, or very similar, value propositions to your current or future customers.

Indirect competitor: offers a similar value proposition to a different customer segment, or they target your exact customer base without offering the exact same value proposition.

Find competitors and fill out the matrix with data

Ways to find competitors:

  • users mention products they currently use
  • stakeholders interview about their competitors or some products they have heard of
  • search on the internet using keywords

Matrix elements include(not limited to):

  • Competitors (separate direct competitor and indirect competitor)
  • URL of website or App store location (separate mobile and desktop experience if they are very different)
  • Username & Pswd (try register using a global username & pswd to share with your team)
  • Purpose of site (look at “About” page, or “company overview” or description part in app store)
  • Year founded (to see what products are new to the market, which are out there for a while)
  • Rounds of funding (find on Crunchbase, funding would be a competitive advantage)
  • Revenue stream (it could be: transaction fee, advertising, monthly subscription fee, SaaS fee, or sell user data and trends to 3rd party, like FB)
  • Monthly traffic (You can get free data on traffic on the website by typing in the url of the website here:, Quantcast, Alexa.)
  • Listings (Optional, to track how many items are available to the product so you can compare.)
  • Primary categories (understand how things are categorized and what are the main categories, e.g: main menu items)
  • Social networks (What other social platforms does it utilize? Twitter, FB, Instagram? etc)
  • Content types (think text, photo, video, etc and how it is presented. How detailed is the information? How much information about one product? How easy to read?)
  • Personalization (personalization features include: favoriting, watch lists, user profiles, wish lists, custom content, things listed under “my account” section.) (Jany: I tend to think these are more customization instead of personalization, and personalization should be automation like on Amazon: “you might like this”)
  • Community/UGC features (User generated content, or crowd-sourced content v.s editorial content or curated content. Think about how they bring value to the product’s other customers.)
  • Competitive advantage (Figure out top three differentiators of each product. Ask yourself: which features were successful because the product was first-to-market? Can those features be easily replicated? Which attributes are specific to online experience?)
  • Heuristic evaluation (Easy for users to accomplish tasks? Easy to navigate? Is system feedback satisfactory? e.g live help, chatbot, etc) (Jany: the author didn’t go in depth in heuristic evaluation, but only gave out some samples.)
  • General notes
  • Questions/notes to team
  • Analysis (see the next chapter)

05 Conducting Competitive Analysis

to be continued…



Jany Zhang

Product Design @Amazon Photos, love Arts, Architecture & Kendo, 📍Seattle