UX Essentials: Skills that Drive Value

by David Zerlin

Welcome to UX at VSA. We call it Experience Architecture here, to underscore the discipline’s planning aspect—and because we sometimes work outside the digital focus of traditional UX. While a career in this field requires both hard and soft skills, some take precedence in order to truly thrive in this important and complex role. To paint a picture of Experience Architecture in context, I’ve pulled some projects that highlight the role, and broken down the XA skills that helped them succeed. This should give you a sense of how we put Experience Architecture to work day-to-day and what it takes to thrive in this profession.

A WEB APP THAT HELPS SELLERS BRAINSTORM

“Client X” (at VSA, we abide by our client legal agreements) is an industry-leading multinational technology company that is shifting its offerings to be more service-oriented. To help its large sales org adapt, it developed a set of lessons and events to transform the way sellers engage with clients. This worked well, but it didn’t scale, so the company turned to VSA to research, design, and build a web-based experience that goes beyond face-to-face learning. The final platform teaches sellers by having small teams collaborate on sales briefs—brainstorming and ranking ideas, building business cases around them, and finalizing briefs together, while working in separate locations across the globe.

How XA advanced project and team success:

  • User Research: study designs, facilitation, and analysis/synthesis.
  • Thoughtful, research-based UX strategy delivered as POV documents throughout the project.
  • Strong information architecture that connected details on-screen to back-end systems.
  • Detailed flow and screen diagramming that kept stakeholders, designers, and builders aligned on what was important for end users.
  • User empathy that kept the learning experience from feeling like homework.

A WEB APP THAT HELPS TEACH DIGITAL SKILLS

As an internet tech giant with a conscience, “Client Y” wants to ensure that people have the basic digital skills they need to thrive in work and in life. To get started quickly, they launched a dozen online classes and a simple, home-brewed learning management system (LMS). They then turned to VSA to improve the user experience and visual presentation. VSA adapted and extended the existing design system and refined, simplified, and tested the UX of both the student and the instructor experience.

How XA advanced project and team success:

  • Systems thinking that consolidated overlapping aspects of the experience into just the essential screens.
  • User flow design that aligns and sequences tasks according to user priorities.
  • Thoughtful invention of new screen modules to help coach instructor users through the complexities of managing classes both off- and online.

A CONFERENCE BOOTH THAT TELLS GREAT STORIES

Not everything Experience Architects do at VSA is digital. This project involved a Silicon Valley company that needed an event booth to anchor their first-ever conference focused on the changing workplace. “Client Z” partnered with VSA to brainstorm and design a booth to represent the ideals of the company and the conference that would hold its own in a crowded vendor space.

VSA designed a holistic exhibit experience centered around the ideas of Inclusiveness, Unexpectedness and Playfulness. Quirky provocations on floor graphics were designed to catch visitors’ eyes and draw them in from a distance, while the airy, open booth structure piqued their interest by providing a look into a colorful interior packed with games and punchy posters.

How XA advanced project and team success:

  • Experience principles that established a common set of values which aligned our team and clients, created focus, and guided our creative concept development.
  • Experience design, through sketching, which facilitated findability throughout the space and enabled storytelling within the booth.

A MODULAR WEB DESIGN SYSTEM THAT SUPPORTS INTERNAL PUBLISHERS

Corporate intranets can be wild and wooly. They are often an amalgam of uncoordinated departmental and regional sites with a confused sense of audience and purpose, run by untrained and overworked site owners. For employees who need to find information or accomplish a task, this is a terrible state of affairs. To make matters worse, large enterprises that grow by acquisition inherit whole new intranets with each merger.

After years of working with multinational “Client X” (yep, Client X again), VSA suggested a way to at least begin to conquer inconsistencies with the company’s intranet. This turned into a 2-year engagement to develop a modular design system and the tools needed to maintain it. Now, internal site owners at Client X have an efficient, easy way to design and build sites that are expressive in the ways they need, while being modern, usable, and consistent with other sites.

How XA advanced project and team success:

  • Systems thinking to digest the needs of disparate publishers into a comprehensive set of design patterns.
  • Interaction design that kept each interface module focused on a user-driven purpose.
  • Usability testing that ensured each pattern accomplished the intended purpose for both end users and publishers.
  • Information architecture that maintained the through-line of specific patterns across the tools we made for designers, developers, and publishers.

VSA has been around for 35 years—way before the advent of digital interactive as a mass medium. Yet, designing great experiences has always been central to our mission. It’s in our DNA. Our approach to design, from posters to packaging, and from web apps to smartphone apps, is and always has been about how people experience them. And how those human experiences drive value for our clients. This is, of course, the air UX practitioners breathe, and why the skills outlined above are so valued at VSA.

 

David is VSA’s Associate Partner, Experience Design Lead at VSA Partners. In his role, David crafts and applies a proven set of tools to understand client’s business needs, solving problems through user research design and implementation, UX strategy, UX design, and design direction.  He has led UX for projects large and small, and planned long-term roll-outs with clients from Silicon Valley technology giants and blue chip multinationals, to local startups and nonprofits. Get in touch at dzerlin@vsapartners.com.