User Experience: The Third Objective

By Larry Marine, Sean Van Tyne
December 06, 2010

Conventional wisdom holds that the true measure of your product success is in how well it meets your business and marketing objectives. But what about the third objective—user experience?


Conventional wisdom holds that the true measure of your product success is in how well it meets your business and marketing objectives. But what about the third objective—user experience? Apple, for example, has developed a reputation very different from Microsoft. Which one would you say succeeds at setting and meeting successful user experience objectives?

How is a user experience objective different from a business or marketing objective? Common business objectives focus on increasing revenue or decreasing costs. Marketing objectives focus on increasing market share and deepening existing relationships. While necessary objectives, they focus more on the business and product. User experience is about managing the customer side of the equation.

User experience (UX) isn't a warm and fuzzy superlative such as "easy to use," or "delightful." A good UX objective needs to be much more specific and measurable, like business and marketing objectives.

Business, marketing, and UX objectives are complementary and support each other. Marketing objectives directly impact UX objectives in that marketing strategy defines target markets, which includes target customers and users of the experience. Moreover, UX objectives help refine the target market. And as much as business objectives guide marketing objectives, they guide UX objectives, too. In many cases, UX objectives refine both business and marketing objectives.

For example, we conducted research with a client to uncover ways they could attract their competitors' customers and identified a more lucrative and unmet need within the customer organizations, but not in the IT department, where all of the competitor products were focused. This new opportunity was closely related to the existing product offering and merely required a focus on a different user group. This new insight transformed both business objectives (reduce costs) and the marketing objective (attract competitors' customers). The company was able to change business and marketing direction, increase revenue by expanding an immature market-base, and now dominate their market.

Define your user experience objective

To create your user experience objective you must first have a clear understanding of your business and marketing objectives. There are plenty of books and articles on this subject. Decide on one key business objective and one key marketing objective when defining your first user-experience objective.

User experience objectives must align with your users' needs. Successful UX objectives are borne from a deep understanding of your users' environment. Applying proven user-centered design methods provides a straightforward approach to gaining insight that accurately defines your objective.

There are seven steps in defining your user experience objectives. While the insight that defines your objective can occur in any of the following steps, you never know which step it will be, or if separate insight from each step combine to form your objective. So you must commit to the whole process. But, don't go into analysis paralysis. At this stage, all you want are insights, words, metaphors, etc., that suggest what the key users' desired experience is or should be.

Don't ask, observe

Listening to your customers' suggestions may lead to incremental improvements instead of real innovative market solutions. Rather than asking your users via focus groups, interviews, or surveys, you will have much better results going out and watching them perform the tasks related to your product. It's even better when you observe them performing the task without your product as their task process may be modified to conform to your specific solution. All you end up doing, then, is automating their frustrations.

When users perform a task, not every action is verbally communicated to the observer, often because users perform tasks unconsciously, or don't see them as important, or think they, the user, are the problem. For example, your users may have created special information "cheat sheets" to do their job. These cheat sheets indicate something in the task domain is missing or too difficult to perform.

Sometimes when we solve a market problem, our solution may completely eliminate existing workflows, activities and tasks with a better process. In many cases, customers only know their way of doing things while we possess a broader perspective across many customers' processes and a deeper understanding of technology capabilities. An individual customer does not have our aggregated view of the larger market problem across multiple customers.

Define your key users (persona)

Based on your marketing objectives, you should have a clear idea of where to find your target users. Personas are a common tool to help define your key users. Personas are a stand-in for a unique group who share common goals. They are fictional representatives—archetypes based on the users' behaviors, attitudes, and goals.

You need to be more specific than your typical demographic-based customer description. You should be able to not only describe your users in terms of their demographics, but also be able to describe their cognitive and behavioral attributes.

Another way to think about your users is in terms of the various and more specific roles they perform. We all wear different hats. With each hat, we endeavor to achieve different objectives and bring varying degrees of task knowledge. Instead of looking at your users as a single person, describe them more specifically by the roles they assume when performing separate tasks.

Give the described user roles cute names to help keep the design team focused. In e-commerce projects, we've found three basic user roles:

Browsing Betty—who, without any specific objective, ambles through the mall looking at various shops and items.

Surgical Sam—who knows exactly what he wants, where it is, its cost, etc.

Birthday Bob—who has 40 minutes left on his lunch hour and $40 to buy a birthday present for his 6-year old niece. He doesn't know what 6 year-olds like or what his niece wants specifically, but he's got 40 minutes and $40 to find something.

It's not uncommon for users to start in one role and then switch to another, thus switching hats. Betty may find a pair of pants and then realize that the belt she saw at another store would go perfect with the pants, so she switches from being Betty to being Sam.

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About the Authors

  • A 20-year veteran in the consulting world, Larry Marine is a leading expert in product design, having designed over 200 projects, with many achieving market dominance success. Larry has worked with many types of products, such as enterprise software, websites, and medical devices, in various types of development organizations from waterfall to stage-gate to agile. Contact Larry at

  • Sean Van Tyne, AVP User Experience, LPL Financial,solves business-critical problems where people intersect with technology. Sean is: the current President of the User Experience Special Interest Group,; a member of the Board of Advisors for UXnet,; and advisor on a number of professional and corporate boards. Contact Sean at

Categories:  Roles & Activities

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