Adam Powers, head of UX and digital design at BBH
Adam Powers, head of UX and digital design at BBH
A view from Adam Powers

Why great things happen when UX design meets marketing expertise

Some of the biggest successes come when marketing and UX are joined at the hip as partners, writes Adam Powers, head of UX and digital design at BBH

During my many years as a user experience (UX) lead at the BBC, my teams and I found our silo of residence to be the Future Media and Technology group.

A large and talented part of the organisation that developed all those websites and apps that millions enjoy every day, it was also responsible for big, technical architecture projects that enabled those great user-facing services to function.

It was often more like working for a software company than a broadcaster that was home to some of the UK’s most loved brands.

After three years growing a UX team in a progressive agency, and working with many of its like-minded clients with their own in-house UX function, I’ve come to the conclusion that there was an important disconnection at my previous employer that actually exists in many organisations. One that, if addressed, can be transformative for a business.

I want to refer to an elegant model to describe the foundations of a great UX team, which Matt Marsh, of agency First Hand Experience, introduced me to.

UX function

Between users and technology, an optimised UX function creates the interfaces that enable users to interact with technology. This is an expression of UX that most are familiar with, that slightly lazy shorthand that conflates UX practitioner with web- or user-interface designer. It’s important, no question, but it’s the other sides of the triangle where really interesting things can happen and even-richer rewards await a business.

So, between a business and technology lie the systems that are in place to enable a business to function effectively. This could be anything from the accounting software to the processes in the HR department. UX thinking can be applied throughout the spectrum of "systems" to deliver improvement and innovation.

The maturity of brand-ecosystem thinking for our clients is generating success – creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

How do you communicate most effectively with your internal users – your staff? Why not have the UX function involved in the design of performance-management processes? Give the same attention to internal software tools that you would give to customer-facing products or services. Applying the skills of the UX team in this way leads to higher-performing teams, which creates higher-performing businesses.

The third side of the triangle is particularly pertinent to the world in which my team operates – where "brand" is what a business leverages to communicate to its users or customers. This manifestation of purpose and promise that occupies marketing departments around the world – a part of the BBC with which the UX team felt least connected.

Some of the biggest successes I have witnessed have happened when marketing and UX have been joined at the hip as partners. Applying the talents of marketing and UX practitioners together to consider entire brand ecosystems; analysing the performance of brand touchpoints, both on- and offline, against strategic imperatives and KPIs; and evaluating the purpose and design of every manifestation of the brand and the connective tissue that links them – or does not.

It’s not unique to BBH, but the maturity of brand-ecosystem thinking for our clients’ brands is generating success – creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Something great starts to happen when UX design is applied in the broadest sense.

I close with a quote from Jesse James Garrett, who wrote The Elements of User Experience, the definitive book on the subject: "Experience design is the design of anything, independent of medium, or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome, and human engagement as an explicit goal." That’ll do nicely.