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I can remember a time not so long ago when the notion of "strategy" seemed nearly divorced from the design and/or creative process. Strategists performed competitive analysis or "landscapes", talked to stakeholders—aggregated industry reports and trends and did stuff with lots of charts, metrics, bullet points etc. Then they moved on to the next strategic initiative on and performed an augmented version of the process while an "execution" team came in and did their thing. I may be oversimplifying, but speaking from experience—I don't feel I'm too far off.
But many of us are integrating strategy with the creative process to result in tangible deliverables that are informed, and can help result in not only a recommended "roadmap" but lead to a vision for what direction an organization can move forward in. Many of you no doubt are already working this way. And if you're not, take this as food for thought for how you can better integrate planning and design as part of the broader "experience strategy" for your digital touch points of choice. Some things to keep in mind:
Research doesn't have to be a dirty word, and while your clients may feel that they've done enough of it, sometimes what's actually been done is market research vs. more qualitative measures such as user research. Any experience strategy needs to begin with people—common sense stuff of course, but sometimes it's difficult to sell this notion to the business who's potential you are trying to maximize. Contextual user research including ethnography techniques such as shadowing or field studies to help provide unfiltered insights that kick start the process.
Traditional planners lived in the world of brands and consumers. Experience Planners also factor in brand and consumer relationships but integrate elements that will be critical bridging the user experience with the total customer experience. Research done in the previous overlapping state informs artifacts such as personas and mental models which helps to prioritize wants, needs and the desires of a user. It also helps make the user into a person, and when done properly creates empathy among various stakeholders.
What once may have been a creative brief, an experience briefing synthesizes insights that comes out of research and communicates them in a way which can be easily digested among a variety of audiences. The briefing can include artifacts such as videos, photos, or audio to help make a compelling case for why the project should move in a specific direction.
(Conceptual) Experience Design:
This is a fancy name for prototyping. Basically, you ideate and start building stuff. Point is that we need to start creating in the strategy phase because it will help make the project objectives tangible and concrete. What's essential in this part of the process is that the ideation is informed by insights. This makes the process co-dependent on the initial research. Anyone can start building a prototype, but good research, analysis and synthesis will likely result in a better prototype. With a rough prototype in place, you now have a "thing" which can be validated or invalidated. In this approach—while you're still thinking strategically, you now have something to "test".
Here's where we bring it back to strategy basics. Everything that's been learned about business, brand, and user needs. All of the research and analysis combined with what's been learned through prototyping leads to a vision, a set of recommendations plotted over time. A version of the prototype can be updated to help visualize what the this is and a plan is laid out for how to get there.
All of this can be done in probably less time than you think. And the next step is for a more detailed design process to take place. Probably an iterative process that aligns with the roadmap. But the most important thing to think about as a "Web Strategist" is, can you go beyond analysis in how you develop your strategies for a digital world?
Tip of the hat to fellow CMer David Stallsmith for contributing to some of these thoughts. You'll find related reading and visual thinking in the Experience Map which also influenced this approach.