Architecture and User Experience, Part 4: The UX Vision

The point of these blogs is to sketch out the notion of  “UX architecture,” something that many people talk about (or at least they post job descriptions for UX architects; I assume those people will be working on UX architectures…) but for which there is little documentation. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past ten years. I’ve concluded if there is such a thing as a UX architecture, it needs to be as comprehensive as Architecture, the “Mother of All Arts.” Whether that happens depends on UX architecture’s evolution over the next several years. The need for (and costs of creating) differentiated products continues to rise. At some point those costs will cross a threshold beyond which enterprises will require an “Architectural” level of sophistication and strategic thinking.

In this article, I continue the strategy discussion, focusing on communicating a vision of the future with other stakeholders.

User Experience Architecture and ‘The Vision’

The vision is  an essential part of a UX architecture: it sums up, in a single icon if possible, the entirety of the desired outcome.

In conversations with business leaders over the years, I’ve learned how hard it is for them to articulate a product vision.  They have roadmaps: technology roadmaps describing the trajectory of their technology evolution; product roadmaps describing the progression of product families and still other roadmaps to communicate their business to various audiences. What I’ve rarely seen is a compelling vision of their products and services.

That’s ironic, because crafting a vision is, for me at least, the fun part! I love envisioning the future based on extrapolating trends we know today. I love bringing metaphorical thinking into the mix to help people grasp a new and exciting world using familiar images and messages. But I’ve found many folks in the enterprise who are not impressed by “visions.” They’ve seen plenty of ’em and nothing seems to ever come out of those exercises. That’s not been my experience and so I continue to enjoy facilitating the process of creating a vision and the process of using that vision to move the enterprise forward into the future.

The vision is  an essential part of a UX architecture: it sums up, in a single icon, if possible, the entirety of the desired outcome. It is the “brand” of the UX Architecture.

The Vision is the UX Architecture (and vice versa)

Assume the following are true:

  • User experience is responsible for every touchpoint of the enterprise with its users
  • User experience is responsible for the users’ emotional response to an experience
  • User experience integrates into all aspects of an enterprise’s operations to support points 1 and 2

The UX architecture has to account for all of that, and it has to communicate all of that in 30 seconds or less. At least, that’s the way a vision works. Think about it: which resonates more: a 30 page, glossy ‘playbook,’ or a single page image embodying the contents of that playbook? You can have both, by the way, and probably you will. But the front cover of that playbook embodies the vision described inside.

We have to be careful with our terms, however. In a recent conversation with a business leader, he made it very clear that the enterprise had a compelling business vision. We have to make sure the UX vision responds to and embraces the other visions in the environment. So, the UX vision encapsulates all of the UX architecture. Paradoxically, and simultaneously, the vision is a part of the UX architecture. That’s a bit of brain twister there, but for UX architects, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Implications and Examples

In one recent engagement, my team reviewed a playbook for an enterprise-wide experience hastily assembled by an outside consultant. Although the parts and pieces of the playbook were components of a UX architecture, they weren’t put together coherently into a self-reinforcing whole. It failed to cross the threshold of “fitness” to be an architecture. Even worse, however, was the metaphor they had chosen for the vision. The project was transforming a traditionally non-collaborative business unit into a global collaborative organization. That’s my description of it. That wasn’t the vision offered in the playbook. The vision was some biological DNA double-helix thing. Nothing about this organization was biological. And nothing about that imagery moved the notion of collaboration forward one iota.

Instead, my team immersed itself in the primary data we had collected on the target group. We knew how they ticked. We knew how they worked together already, collaboratively or not. And we understood a few of the key elements of their culture. When we presented our version of the vision, it immediately struck a harmonic chord. We heard reactions like, “You got it! That’s exactly the way this thing should work.” A single image, without a word on it. All we had to do was offer a “title” for it.Image of four volume set of books, with the spines creating a complete image, reflecting the front covers

Or, consider the UX architecture I created for Tektronix. When I was putting the cover together for the four volume set, I wanted to elicit the notion of an architecture. References to classical motifs (pediments, entablatures, classical orders) were not compelling. Quite the opposite, in fact: my group was fighting the perception we were antiquated and irrelevant in the contemporary world. So, a classical motif wasn’t the right choice. What we landed on was pretty nifty and worked well to coordinate the multiple volumes in the architecture.


A UX vision, as part of a UX architecture, isn’t a pretty picture that tells a thousand words. It may be the only image the enterprise ever sees. It becomes the brand of the UX architecture. But it must emerge from a user-centered context: it represents the aspirational user experience, after all.

The UX vision is “owned” by the UX team and it is incorporated into the UX architecture. By owned, I mean the team is responsible for its curation, evolution and application over time. But like the proverbial magic penny, the UX team must give the vision away as much as possible for it to gain value.

In the next article, I finish this first section on the strategic nature of Architecture. What actions can we take to improve the visibility of user experience and improve the likelihood of it being incorporated into business strategy?

Phase II does visioning

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