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The User Experience Brief


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Presentation by John Yesko at the 2011 Information Architecture Summit (IA Summit) entitled: "The User Experience Brief: The What and Why Before the How." …

Presentation by John Yesko at the 2011 Information Architecture Summit (IA Summit) entitled: "The User Experience Brief: The What and Why Before the How."

We IAs spend a lot of time discussing the “core” documents in information architecture—wireframes, site maps, prototypes. But we often jump into these very tactical, design-oriented deliverables too hastily.

The user experience brief takes on a more strategic role. Early in the project, it’s our vehicle to summarize what we know so far, particularly requirements and research results. More importantly though, it lays the foundation for the UX design approach, with the goals of gathering consensus and identifying sticking points early on. The user experience brief illuminates the organizing principles—user experience fundamentals to be followed and referenced throughout the project.

We’ll talk about the value of this early-project document, its role in shaping the user experience approach, how its composed, and its limitations. We’ll look at a number of great visual examples too. Introduced the right way and at the right time, the UX brief can be an invaluable stake in the ground with clients and internal stakeholders.

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  • 1. The User Experience Brief
    John Yesko
    IA Summit 2011
  • 2. About me
    Now: Director of User Experience at Walgreens
    Information Architect / UX Designer
    Web Designer
    Medical Illustrator
  • 3. User Experience at
  • 4. User Experience at
    UX group
    Organized by lines of business
    13 UX designers
    Information architecture
    Interaction design
    User research
    Just announced deal to acquire
    60K more products
    3M loyal customers
    Several strong URLs/brands
    Looking for experienced UX help in Chicago!
    And small agencies
  • 5. Basics
  • 6. What is the UX brief?
    Early-stage strategic approach document with two primary goals:
    Summarizes what we know so far = output of Discovery process
    Sets up how we intend to attack the project
  • 7. Who is it for?
    Clients (external)
    Business owners and executives (internal)
    “Downstream” team
  • 8. Where does it fit?
    Delivery to Creative and Technical
    Business Requirements Document
    User Experience Team
    UX Business Insight
    UX Brief
    Implementation / Product Assignment
    UX Business Insight
    User Flows *
    User Flows and Wireframes: Conceptual
    Wireframes: Detailed / Annotated
    Input from Stakeholders
    User Research
    User Research
    *Your process may vary
  • 9. Why do we use it?
    To get a head start on building consensus
    To discover any early “red flags”
    As a touch point to reference later (CYA)
  • 10. Composition of the Brief
  • 11. What’s in the UX brief?
    “Master” content outline includes:
    Project overview
    User experience inputs
    Organizing principles
    Issues and risks
    Tailored to the particular project
    Varies in length depending on needs (and audience’s attention span)
    Often doesn’t include every possible element
  • 12. User Experience Inputs
  • 13. User experience inputs—what we know
    Insights from:
    User research
    User experience / heuristic
  • 14. Inputs
    Analytics insights
    Survey results
    Other metrics
    Customer satisfaction
    On-site behavior
  • 15. Inputs
    User research insights
    Usability tests
    Card sorting
    “I can’t find where to refill my prescription.”
    “Let me finish my primary task first—then I’m OK with being upsold.”
    “No additional features - the Home page is so crowded now that I want to give up now rather than slog through the ads and options for what I'm after…”
    “[Expletive] just ordered a calender on and it was literally the hardest thing I've ever done in awhile, [expletive] that.”
  • 16. Inputs
    Personas and scenarios
    May be developed specifically for larger / longer-term projects
    Existing “approved” personas can be referenced where applicable
    Scenarios may reflect requirements and preview functionality
  • 17. Inputs
    Competitive insights
    Best practices
    Opportunities to fill a missing need
    Emerging standards, e.g., common functionality or taxonomy
  • 18. Inputs
    Stakeholder insights
    Goals and challenges from those sponsoring the project
    Consensus, or alliances on controversial topics
    “We have a great story to tell. We need rich case studies to show what we’ve done in the past.”
    “Booking appointments online is great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we can get them into the shop right away when they show up.”
    “When a potential customer sends an email inquiry through the site, it typically gets shuffled around to five or six people. We don’t have any way to track whether it’s been followed up.”
  • 19. Inputs
    User experience / heuristic insights
    Observations from the UX team
    May be hypotheses, not yet proven by user research (or unprovable)
    Potentially confusing category labels
    Inefficient global navigation
  • 20. Inputs
    Stupid elevator buttons
  • 21. Organizing Principles
  • 22. What are organizing principles?
    Loosely interpreted:
    Fundamentals and strategies we will observe while designing
    Major areas of UX focus
    High-level design approach
    Range from general to specific
    Generic UX guidelines
    Project-specific design ideas
  • 23. What are organizing principles?
    May include other “deliverables”:
    Concept map
    User flow
    High-level wireframes
    Suggestions of look and feel (e.g., mood boards)
  • 24. What are organizing principles?
    Examples from several diverse projects…
  • 25. Examples
    Really means…
    There will be several influences, but we’re ultimately making the decision.
    Leverage multiple inputs to taxonomy design
    Industry Standards
    Internal Business Insight
    User Experience Team Analysis
    User Research
  • 26. Examples
    Really means…
    We care most about what customers think of our higher-level taxonomy. Once we get down to the deeper levels, we need the internal team to make decisions—because it’s harder to test (and it’s a lot of work.)
    Leverage multiple inputs to taxonomy design
    The inputs will have different levels of influence at various levels of the taxonomy.
    User Research
    Internal Insight
    Industry Standards
    Tier 1
    Tier 2
    Tier 3
    Tier 4
  • 27. Examples
    Really means…
    If we can’t figure this out pretty soon, it will be hard to proceed with the UX design at all. We’ll give you our opinions, but it’s primarily a business decision that we don’t have authority to make.
    Establish the online relationship among the three brands
  • 28. Examples
    Really means…
    There are parts of the site that we’re not going to touch—but others that we need access to and cooperation on.
    Position the holiday content as free-standing, but with key hooks into permanent site features
  • 29. Examples
    Really means…
    Just what is says—this one is more about a design philosophy.
    Treat the product as the core, and organize the site around it
  • 30. Examples
    Really means…
    We’re getting rid of all this crap that you all fight over, but users don’t care about.
    Eliminate underused or poor-performing content
    Low usage; poor content
    Low usage; poor labeling
    May be consolidated
    Low usage; especially frames 2-5
    Low usage; redundant
  • 31. Examples
    Really means…
    You came to us for a re-design of your site, and we’re doing that. But your main call-to-action is that users should contact you to establish a relationship. If you screw that up, it doesn’t matter how good the site is.
    By the way, we don’t do CRM systems—this isn’t an upsell.
    Develop a lead management / CRM solution
  • 32. Examples
    Really means…
    This is a multi-channel experience (even though we’re only working on one channel). If we promise something on the Web that the in-store experience doesn’t follow through on, both are screwed.
    Adapt store operations to integrate with eCommerce
  • 33. Examples
    Really means…
    There’s a real “cool factor” with your work, but your 100x100 pixel graphics aren’t cutting it.
    Also we have a bunch of visual designers with hipster glasses who get tired of combing through stock photo sites.
    Leverage the rich visual nature of the company’s work
  • 34. Examples
    Really means…
    This kind of shopping is still new to a lot of people. If they don’t understand the overall concept, it won’t matter how usable the site is.
    Introduce customers to the concept of buying online, not just buying from us
    Make an appointment at one of our certified installers
    Go in for your installation appointment, and you’re done!
    We ship your tires to the installer
    Choose your tires
    Check out online
  • 35. Examples
    Really means…
    We’re going to expand the use of dynamic menus.
    Expand the use of dynamic menus
    Fly-out menus can empower more direct user navigation to deeper content and functionality
    Accessibility and mobile device limitations need to be considered
    Refill Prescriptions
    Transfer Prescriptions
    New Prescriptions
    Express Refills In-Store
    Chat With a Pharmacist
    Automatic Refills
  • 36. Considerations
  • 37. Risks and limitations
    May quickly become out-of-date as details are fleshed out
    Approach evolves as design details are worked out
    Treat as a “snapshot” in time
    Can create a perception of added time that could be spent designing
    Although it probably saves time in the long run
    Stakeholders may not understand what they’re agreeing to
    Can be too abstract for some to provide meaningful feedback
    May not engage until they’re seeing design treatments
  • 38. Wrap up
    Helps survey the situation
    Who has strong opinions? How much weight do we need to give them?
    What factions are going to clash?
    What important issues may have been missed?
    Encourages collaboration early (or at least healthy discussion)
    Can save time defending solutions later
    Winning over key allies can smooth the road
    Builds credibility for UX
    Demonstrates that a lot goes into the design process
    Positions us as strategic thinkers and experience planners, not order-takers
  • 39. Thank You
    John Yesko