UX Strat - Boulder, CO 2019 - Part 2

by Jon Fukuda

This post is a continuation of UX Strat 2019 Part 1, Workshops. Keep reading to learn how industry leaders leverage research and data insights to drive UX strategy.

Days 2 & 3 – emergent themes: Commonality, Controversy, and Communitas

In the subsequent 2 days, the conference lined up speakers who represented UX research and strategy leadership within leading consumer app startups, technology businesses, and engineering firms. There was a lot to learn and share, but the bulk of the conference can be distilled into UX Strategy themes summarized by Ben Judy of 7-Eleven – commonality, controversy, and communitas.


A recurring theme throughout the conference was that it is essential to find common ground during the UX strategy process. Some companies bring stakeholders along for field research – both Spotify and Uber Eats have team members fully participate in field research activities. This helps to enable cross-functional collaboration toward a mutual goal. To find commonality, you must establish a mutual, shared language with your stakeholders. Mozilla emphasized making strategy formulation open by design. They do this by having three teams conduct research in parallel – data science, ethnographic researchers, and data analysis – and all contribute to the strategy in an open, collaborative manner.

UX Designer/Researcher Margot Lieblich noted, “How you share/distribute information is just as important as how you gather/research information.” This is such a valid point. At times, we feel that once the research is done, the hard part is over, and we don’t fully think through the best way to share that information so that it is understood and appreciated. (If you haven’t seen Margot’s fantastic sketches of the UX STRAT sessions, she posted them out on Twitter.

Key takeaways from Spotify and Instagram were that foundational user research is comprised of innovation, winning UX Strategies, and frameworks to validate. Jamie Nichols of Instagram explained how the social media platform’s stories and stickers evolved out of understanding the journey people take migrating from being strangers, becoming acquaintances and growing from friends to besties!  These features are a great articulation of product design in support of relationship dynamics along this journey.

And, a final pointer was to keep asking and explaining “why” throughout the UX strategy process in order to foster commonality.


In an interesting twist, the UX STRAT conference organizers called out controversy as an emerging theme in UX strategy. Most people tend to shy away from controversy. They don’t want to rock the boat; they want others to like and respect them. But controversy also encourages people to look at things from different angles. In the words of Yoko Ono, “Controversy is part of the nature of art and creativity.”

Some of the controversial perspectives that were introduced for discussion included:

  •         Design principles supersede data
  •         Are stakeholders the villain?
  •         Solve for human needs, not short-term profit, and
  •         Personas are still a super useful tool

Sohit Karol of Spotify presented on personas – which are often misunderstood and misused – and how the Spotify team challenged themselves to enhance the persona artifact to build more dynamic complexity to align with realities on the ground. With 200 million listeners, they needed to create a better understanding of existing and potential listeners.

This blog post on The Story of Spotify Personas explains their journey in constructing a   framework for articulating personas with more dynamic consideration for variables that might impact their needs. For Spotify, their personas tool is an example of a boundary object – a durable and reliable artifact that’s flexible enough to inspire discussions, share information and adapt to the needs of the product development process. As a reliable, durable and carefully designed information artifact, they have seen many teams beyond the product organization adopt the UX personas into their work and vocabulary over time – including those across Marketing, Content, and Brand.


Communitas is a Latin word referring to an unstructured state in which all members of a community are equal allowing them to share a common experience. A big part of the communitas discussion was around building empathy and trust.

Cindy Kim of Airbnb Plus stated, “Trust and empathy are essential to our product research and design process.” Minal Jain of Uber Eats added, “Great research is empathy building.” He discussed his company’s user research — with the appropriate acronym EATS — for Empathy building, Action inspiring, Truth-seeking, and Scoped for impact.

As we empathize with our users, we come to understand their needs and are better able to design to meet them.

These three Cs – Commonality, Controversy, and Communitas – tell a good story that focused research, shared within an organization, coupled with thoughtful insight distribution led to a higher emphasis on strategic leadership, not only for innovation in user experience design but also for unmet market opportunities.

Key Takeaways

One of Limina’s key takeaways from the event at large is that all of the firms who presented at the conference clearly value user research, demonstrated by:

  • dedicated research teams
  • executive and departmental buy-in and support
  • process reengineering efforts to find ways to better integrate research insights into product teams
  • widespread cultural acceptance, adoption, and infusion of research and strategy as a key role in product and market differentiation

Most importantly the funding of research efforts and knowledge-based infrastructure to collect, analyze and distribute research insights.  This validates the need for outside user experience and technical design service firms like Limina to continue emphasizing the importance of research and strategy as a service.  It’s no longer good enough to simply deliver design and implementation services – higher and more sustainable returns are clearly on research and strategy efforts that yield both insights to user needs within an experience ecosystem, and provides strategic frameworks to meet those needs in incremental feature releases in ways that can range from simple delight to complex functions that anticipate and meet user needs.

One final example to better articulate this theme is Uber Public Transport currently being pilot released in Denver.  Through a robust research program of passenger’s multi-modal transportation needs and behaviors whether on foot, bike, scooter, car, bus, train, or plane.  Uber hypothesized and learned that by facilitating the total transportation experience beyond the ride-share component, users were more apt to use their services.  Where you might expect revenues to fall by potentially steering ridership away from their cars, they experienced a revenue spike in the facilitation of point to point traffic in areas where this service was deployed.

Limina delegates left to right: Ellie K., Jon F, Maria T.

Overall, our team learned a lot about the diversity in approaches to user research, UX strategy and approaches to integrate cross-disciplinary knowledge to maximize business impact and design operations.  We thank Paul Bryan, for his dedication to making UX Strat such a successful community of leadership, inspiration, and demonstration of what’s possible at the bleading edge of our industry.

We’re already looking forward to UX Strat 2020.

Read Part 1: UX Strat Workshops