UX Strategy in an Uncertain World

December 17, 2015 | Mara Low

person with many paths leading in different directions in front of themAs a strategist at TBG (The Berndt Group), I help organizations develop digital roadmaps to solve their real-world business problems in the digital domain. Developing a winning digital roadmap—particularly a long-term roadmap—can be tricky. How can you ensure the strategies and solutions that are appropriate to your current plan will be relevant in the future given evolving business priorities (internal forces) and ever-changing market circumstances, technology landscapes, and user expectations (external forces)?  How do you prevent rogue feature requests and other forms of scope creep from diluting your overall vision and strategy?

First, Let’s Define a Digital Roadmap

A digital roadmap defines problem-spaces critical to your business and provides a timeline for solving these problems. A quality roadmap sets a high-level vision and outlines specific, actionable goals, while also allowing the flexibility to adapt strategies and solutions to changing needs. A well-rounded roadmap aims to solve fundamental usability issues and business problems while also allow space for innovation.

Problem Solving Over Feature Setting

This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but as User Interface Engineering Founder Jared Spool reminded us during his keynote address at the recent UI20 Conference in Boston, “A digital roadmap is not a crystal ball for predicting the future.”

Rather than pretending to know what your users or customers will want in the future, a solid roadmap should orient a potential sequence of initiatives and guide tactical decisions. It should include adequate time for testing and research to understand the context of a specific problem—and develop a solution—appropriate to the time and space your roadmap has carved out for solving the problem.

As Spool mentioned in this presentation (the inspiration for this blog post), “great designers don’t fall in love with their solutions. Great designers fall in love with the problem.”

When it comes to planning digital experiences, it also is important to keep in mind that your users are not considering your brand in a vacuum or even just comparing you with direct competitors. Users come to your website and other digital properties with expectations set by their previous digital experiences—regardless of vertical.

For example, visitors to a healthcare website expect a fully-featured site search, similar to what they encounter on retail websites, with filtering and facet options that allow them to refine and customize their search results. Likewise, the rise of social media has caused a shift in user expectations across the board; the ability to interact with, share and add comments on content is almost expected. People’s experiences shape their expectations, and Web concepts and features that once excited and delighted your users quickly become commonplace as the novelty dissolves.

The Kano Model

This shift in user expectations can be described using the Kano Model, developed in the 1980s by Noriaki Kano of the Tokyo University of Science and championed by Spool at the 2015 UI20 Conference.

Basically, Kano believed that a business could only succeed by meeting three levels of customer expectations for product and service quality—Expected, Normal and Exciting. Expected needs are basic expectations that produce dissatisfaction when not met. Normal needs are the “wants” and “satisfiers.” Exciting needs produce a “wow” effect and bring your users delight. Meeting exciting needs will take you from the realm of merely satisfying your users to actually engaging them (Revelle, 90-93).

The Kano Model, as shown below, also provides a model for evaluating the ROI (in terms of user satisfaction), and also shows how things that delight become basic expectations over time.  

I like to think of the Kano Model as more-grounded version of today’s popular notion of “designing for delight.” Rather than focusing all of your energy on developing THE NEXT BIG THING, the Kano Model provides a logical framework for guiding and prioritizing solutions to a given problem.

For example, pretty much all healthcare websites share a common primary goal: they drive appointments. Within a healthcare organization, stakeholders will have diverse ideas on how to accomplish this goal such as integrating reviews and ratings on doctor profiles, producing more patient stories and testimonials, developing a robust find a provider search tool, automated appointment reminders, and implementing online appointment scheduling.

While each of these features may support the overall goal of driving appointments, you obviously cannot tackle all of these new or improved features at once. The Kano Model can help you prioritize and keep your teams focused on the right priorities by providing a case for you to “just say no!” and avoid the dreaded “experience rot.”  Here’s how you might plot these features using a Kano graph: 

matrix of customer satisfaction and degree of achievement

You might be thinking: “OK… but what does it all mean?” Well, from this graph you might infer that Automated Reminders for existing patients represents an area where basic user expectations are not being met, which is a clear opportunity for improving customer experience. Patient Testimonials and Doctor Ratings would likely also be highly prioritized given the relatively low level of effort and implied ROI in terms of user satisfaction. Also, Online Scheduling may be a highly desirable feature, but the investment required to achieve it may be prohibitive at this time.

Let Your Users Be Your Guide!

Our example Kano graph above is based on assumptions, but digital roadmaps should be based on facts, not assumptions. This is why at TBG, our strategy work draws not only on the immense expertise of our team, but is also grounded in quantitative and qualitative research, including (but not limited to) stakeholder interviews, observation, user surveys, usability testing, and focus group discussions.

Since the Kano Model first became popular in the 1980s, numerous researchers, academics and consultants have used Kano’s questionnaire model—or some derivative of that model—to understand users’ needs and expectations. The Kano questionnaire, further developed by Kurt Matzler and Hans H. Hinterbuber in 1998, relies on sets of two questions per feature set, with the questions formulated from the customer viewpoint (rather than in terms of the feature about which you are inquiring). The sets contain functional/dysfunctional question pairs, for example:

Functional Question—How do you feel if a doctor’s profile includes consumer ratings information?

  1. I like it,
  2. I expect it.
  3. I feel neutral.
  4. I can tolerate it.
  5. I dislike it.

Dysfunctional Question—How do you feel if a doctor’s profile does not include consumer ratings information?

  1. I like it,
  2. I expect it.
  3. I feel neutral.
  4. I can tolerate it.
  5. I dislike it.

Do you want to learn more about how to apply the Kano Model? I recommend checking out UX Magazine’s practical guide for how to design, facilitate and analyze the results of a Kano survey.


Kano, N., N. Seraku, F. Takahashi and S. Tsuji: "Attractive Quality and Must-be Quality", Hinshitsu. The Journal of the Japanese Society for Quality Control, (April 1984).

K. Matzler and H.H. Hinterhuber: “How to Make Product Development Projects More Successful by Integrating Kano’s Model of Customer Satisfaction into Quality Function Deployment”, Technovation, Elsevier Science Ltd, (1998).

Jack B. ReVelle, Quality Essentials: A Reference Guide from A to Z, ASQ Quality Press, 2004.

About the Author

Mara Low

I am the Manager of Digital Strategy & Optimization with TBG. When I’m not crafting user experiences, you’ll  likely find me fire hula hooping, hiking, or creating up-cycled art.

Leave A Reply

comments powered by Disqus