The 2015 European UX Strat conference in Amsterdam still occupies our mind, and will continue to do so until we have digested all the input…

UXStrat’15 was a great moment in time.

The 2015 European UX Strat conference in Amsterdam still occupies our mind, and will continue to do so until we have digested all the input and the great insights.The perceived impact of this conference may have to do with the participants: around 200 of them, mostly at the senior level, all with their own experiences, things to say and ways to apply what they’ve heard to their own situations. All eager to share and discuss what they made of it or why they came. It may have to do with the wise selection of the talks, at least 75% of which were outstanding, and which covered different aspects and cases of UX strategies. It most definitely had to do with the close relation to real companies and cases (Paul Bryant’s formula: “We faced A business context, we used B methods to capture and analyse data, we came up with C strategy and we got D results.” ). Or it may have to do with the single-track conference design, which allowed everyone to hear the same stories and talk about them afterwards. Also Martin Kulessa from BMW was with us, so that we could challenge and map everything to our daily endeavours. All this together made the UX Strat in Amsterdam one of the best conferences we’ve attended in a long, long time.So what did welearn over those two days? Well, a lot, to be frank, but we want to focus on the three biggest things:

1. The time is very ripe

We came to the conference with our mind full of loose ends: the blurriness of any UX definition (and the attempt to affix the UX label to anything that is “front end”), the importance of UX as a competitive advantage (don’t we all want to be like Apple?), the importance of data, the speed with which the key digital players are creating user value; the increasing understanding at the C-level of the old economy that they may have lost the game already; the startups being forced to create user value (because how else can they grow?); the strong notion that Lean UX (or perhaps rather “Lean Startup”) is the only way to go… (feel free to add your own; there’s still lots of space).Now what could be greater than finding people who have the same thoughts, the same loose ends, who are also looking for answers? In fact, one of the strongest sentiments I had was the expectation that things MUST CHANGE NOW, and that continuing along the same path we have followed the last ten years would be a kind of suicide. To put it in simply: if strategy is a clever way of getting from a to b, then everybody wanted to take that path now.And one more thing: At no point did we have the feeling that people were competing with each other. Instead, everyone sees myriad challenges and opportunities to come, so there is no need to be jealous of one another. As Andreas Hauser from SAP calculated, 5,000,000 designers are needed to meet the coming demand (admittedly, we don’t really follow the equation UX=design, but it’s still a cool number). So it was all about fomenting the change, learning from each other and not accepting any more excuses for poor UX.

2. What UX strategy really is

The term “UX strategy” currently has the major advantage that it is quite precise in itself, and that it has not yet been hijacked by the masses trying to ride on its popularity. At the same time, there are still two possible interpretations that seem important to me:a) How to create a great UX (even under challenging circumstances). Let’s say you consult or work in an organisation and you want to create a concise, consistent UX across all communication channels or touch points. Your focus is on the products and services, you have a specific UX in mind that you want to create and you make that happen.b) How to create (or change) a company that creates a great UX. In this case, your job is not to create a specific UX for a specific product or service, but instead to transform and enable the company to create it by itself (or with your help), now and in the future, again and again, getting better each time. You could call it DNA. Or, since “DNA” does not change after the birth of an organism, you could call it “culture”.This is probably nothing new to most of the people who think about UX strategy. But it changes the mandate of external and internal UX forces. UX agencies that typically delivered products and services must instead become consultancies to enable these products and services; researchers who used to provide user needs, requirements, input and feedback must become agents for customer orientation on a permanent basis; designers who create user experiences must become facilitators of a company’s expression.In practice, the line between both definitions may become blurred, and in order to create UX, you may need to change the culture at the local level (as we have always done). But the second definition aims for nothing less than fundamental change. And this probably reflects the sentiments of the conference: the dissatisfaction with small-scale changes that do not result in permanent change.

3. That change is possible

Besides the great talks about surprising real cases of transformation that have actually taken — and are taking — place (Annie Stewart showed how she worked with the behemoth European Commission to realize a unified digital strategy!), an amazingly thrilling news item was reported by Jasper van Veen from ING: that the huge Netherlands-based bank ING is doing a full volte-face and transforming into a lean, Spotify-oriented, customer-centric company. WOW! And to counter our disbelief, he showed us the job postingshe put on the conference’s whiteboard. Even more WOW! And the openness and the excitement with which Jasper explained — again and again — what they did, how they did it and what they are still doing clearly said: change is possible, even at the enterprise level. As of 15 June 2015, ING has switched completely to a new model, giving up their old silo-based structure, and all 8000 people are working with only three company levels: the C-level, chapter leaders and everyone else.We are really looking forward to seeing this community grow, and hope that we will be able to maintain the same level of practical interchange and insights at upcoming conferences and elsewhere. And thanks again to Paul and his team for helping to shape this movement.
By relevantive perspective. on April 7, 2016.Exported from Medium on September 9, 2016.