Founded by Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman & Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini in 1998, the Nielsen Norman Group is one of the most known user experience and interaction design research firm, mainly due to the legacy of the founders, and their tremendous contribution to the user experience and interactions fields of design.

In February 2018 I had the chance to attend the excellent their ux conference at Singapore. It was an intense 5 days experience with a lots of great stuff to learn and digest about leadership and strategy in the user experience design field. I had great time and pleasure to meet plenty of designers and design leaders from APAC. We exchanged our thoughts about the current and future state of UX design and discussed key points from the conference.

In this post I will share a brief summary for each one of the days I have attended together with my notes from the conference. I hope you’ll find it helpful, and if you have any question feel free to comment it below.

The UX VP Director – Nancy Dickenson

Design leadership is a demanding role that require a different mindset from doing the craft, switching into a position where you start to think and negotiate the user experience strategy and vision. Communication and soft skills are key in this role, and the ability to plan and articulate compelling visions are crucial competencies to convince executives and senior leadership. Beside having a complete ownership, it is a responsibility to advocate for the user and to make sure that the design strategy aligned with the business goals. Nancy Dickenson shared her experience together with some tips and real use cases on how to improve those competencies.


  • Leadership is contextual and the style of leadership need to fit a specific situation
  • As UX leaders we should have our own measures to build our self-confident in our work. We should define the project’s KPIs for ourselves.
  • Leadership is about positive mindset, attitude and point of view
  • As UX leaders we need to develop our emotional intelligence and soft skills
  • As UX leaders we need to develop the empathy to relate to other people and their issues
  • We need to have a compelling vision that could convince others to join us in the same direction
  • We need to be able to motivate and convince others
  • People are motivated by their own self-interest
  • How do we draw the connection between what we are doing and how does it help the other person? How does our UX enhancements connected to the other person / business objectives?
  • There is a difference between leadership and management, and both roles have set of skills that are needed for a good leader
  • To lead mean to transform something and change it for good
  • Leadership is not defined by the ranking, anyone can and should lead
  • There are 6 styles of leadership. All the 6 are required for a good leader, and the knowledge and practice of when and how to use them. The styles are: Direct, visionary, democratic, coaching, pacesetting and affiliative (Daniel Goleman)
  • We need to answer the question: why would they care? why would they follow me and my direction?
  • There is time to lead and time to follow and its important to distinguish between the two and know when to switch between them
  • How does UX effect the 3 factors: Profit, revenue, differentiation
  • Don’t complain and try to understand the business as much as you can. Look for the competitors and speak data
  • How do I demonstrate ownership in any area that related to the product?
  • How to connect between the UX and business?
  • We need to be “agents of change” – seek for growth and business transformation
  • Services have become a commodity, the way to excel is by excellent user experience
  • How do I make my product meaningful so it’s not just about the price difference?
  • We are not designing experiences. Experiences can’t be design. We design the stage for potentially good experience based on our knowledge and research of the user’s needs and pain points
  • A UX designer can be compared to a party planner who prepare ahead to the experience of the party itself
  • We need to have the knowledge that will help us create a memory (the experience) and we do that by research

Becoming a UX Strategist – Nancy Dickenson

A powerful and mind opening session conducted by Nancy who shared her interesting and inspiring experience from working at eBay and other large organization. Nancy explained the meaning and process of user experience design strategy within the company, how it is aligned to the overall business strategy, and what is our role as designers and leaders (depending on the maturity of the company) to influence the direction of products and services by identifying opportunities and problems to solve for the users and customers. If you are interested to learn more, you can check out my post about UX Strategy where I go into more details and demystify the subject.


  • Strategy can help us transform a vision to something real
  • UX strategy can transform the organization
  • We need to think how UX strategy can make the company successful
  • What value can I bring to the company?
  • Strategy can be compared to SMART goals, its need to be specific, measured, achievable, realistic and timely
  • What are the steps that we take as part of the strategy?
  • Strategy should be defined as established period of time
  • Part of using strategy is also to learn through using it
  • Moving without data is not a strategy
  • Every strategy should include defined milestones
  • Long term is relative to the industry, for each industry long term can mean different timeframe
  • Strategy is for long term, tactics are for short term
  • We use tactics to execute the strategy, strategy – planning, tactics – doing
  • ROI is a low bar, UX can do more than that, we (UX) are not a call center, we help increasing revenue and profit
  • Plan a long term plan, but present short term milestones to get buy-in
  • Amazon started as an online shop for selling books, but the long term plan was bigger than that
  • If you can’t make a different with UX, you have a hobby (wireframes monkey)
  • We need to be able to articulate why UX is important for the business by using business language
  • How do we move from deliverables to strategy? Deliverables are part of the tactic, the strategy is higher level plan to transform the business/org
  • What are the business needs? how can I look at it from a user-centric perspective?
  • We can approach executives and stakeholders by saying: “I’ve heard what you said and I thought about it, and I have an idea” – when we want present suggest them a UX strategy that can help them achieve their business goals
  • Business people know how to deconstruct data, we as designers are good at constructing something new of it. It is one of the unique skills we have
  • What is my own strategy for myself and my career?
  • The strategy for the company and for myself are the same. By creating a strategy for the company I work for, I develop my own career
  • How do I get a “sit on the table” and get my ideas to be heard?
  • We get to be heard when we know how to align UX and business, and speak the business language
  • Initiate a project on your own and show its connection to the value of the business
  • “Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness” – meaning, it is better to do something and explain its results after than wait for someone to permit you to take an action
  • Everyone have different expectations about what does UX strategy means
  • Having a plan help survival
  • Strategy can help us know what to say yes or no to
  • Think about the reason of why strategy is needed, and what should be the best approach to make it
  • Which actions can lead to the highest value?
  • Your strategy needs a strategy
  • The strategy need to fit into the context of the organization
  • There are a few types of strategies: Classical, Adaptive, Visionary, Shaping and Renewal (detailed in slides)
  • Companies sometimes create innovation labs to allow them to use and experiment with adaptive and shaping strategies without taking high risks
  • The types of strategies can be mixed, and sometimes more than one is needed for the business
  • UX becoming one of the drivers of a company or organization
  • Two questions to ask stakeholders about current business strategy: “How will we win our market? Why will the customer care?”
  • The 5 P’s – Henry Mintzberg
  • Strategy is not just a plan
  • Strategy as a position
  • If we just follow the market, we are always about two years catching behind. we need to drive the business for differentiation through user-centric design thinking
  • User-centric innovative culture – to always think ahead of the competition
  • “Strategy is intention, culture is habit”
  • Conduct user-centric competitive analysis
  • Conduct UX strategy workshop with stakeholders and executives
  • UX design + Business strategy = UX strategy
  • We should drive for competitive advantage through UX
  • UX to have a say over the roadmap

Designing Influence – Nancy Dickenson

How do we influence others to take an action and follow our suggestions? How do we design a compelling message that could convince and inspire to follow us? In Designing Influence, Nancy deep dived into the details of communication and soft skills that are necessary for design leaders to succeed in executing their visions and plans for the user experience.

Most designers struggles with these issues, and not always take the time to develop and improve their interpersonal competencies. These are important no matter if you are interested in climbing to a leadership position or or wishing to become a professional practitioner. If you are not able to articulate your work and influence others to follow and take an action, your work mean nothing. If you are having issues articulating your work and getting the right actions, check out this post where I provide some further tips to overcome the frustration of not getting a buy in from stakeholders. Or see this post for learning how I developed some of my communication skills by attending the Toastmasters Club


  • Being influential is part of UX
  • Craft + Knowledge + Influences = Design Lead
  • Leading without authority with the ability to influence others
  • Influence skills should be authentic and ethical
  • Expect resistance and always be ready and open for it
  • We are the users representative in the organization, we need to advocate and influence for user-centric approach
  • Facilitative leadership is a co-created of leadership style
  • To be an influencer you need to be ready to be influenced by yourself
  • Build for trust, be ready to morph your ideas
  • When I’m new in a company and I ask to influence others, they are taking a risk if they listen to me. Credibility and trust must be built first
  • To influence is not persuade
  • Don’t just tell people what to do, influence them to take an action
  • When you manipulate other people, they eventually find out and never trust you again. You lose credibility as well
  • Align, connect and involve are authentic ways to influence
  • Involve people in the creation
  • When you in love with your own idea and focus on it you can fail because of missing the blind spots
  • It’s an important skill to be able to facilitate a discussion
  • Whenever we have an idea, we should run a checklist to ask:
    • What is the point of the idea?
    • Who says this idea is true?
    • Ok, what is new about this idea?
    • Who care about this idea?
  • The checklist is a way for us to articulate our idea without the risk of ignoring the blind spots
  • We should strive for MAP – Minimum Awesome Product
  • Integrating the customer view into an MVP
  • We need to understand our default style and others, and learn how to communicate according to it and connect with others
  • How to influence “direct” people “I am going to tell you what I think, and I want you to tell me what you think”
  • Learn to recognize resistance and learn how to deal with it

Facilitating UX Workshops

UX workshop are great activity to collaborate and have a group brainstorm session to tackle complex and wicked problems. But how do you make sure that the session is really valuable and not turning into a waste of time for everyone attending? And how can you prevent the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) from hijacking the meeting with a conclusion to follow their initial solution? Kate Kaplan helped answering all these questions with a defined process to running different kinds of workshops that are designed to tackle different problems. She provided great tips such as predefined rules and constraints that agreed with the members of the workshop before it begins. Making sure that each and everyone in the session get to speak up and share their thoughts is very important as well.

(a more detailed post about UX workshops is coming soon, stay tuned).


  • Two things need to be defined ahead, the group purpose – where are we going? and the group culture – how will get there?
  • Workshops are different from meetings, things need to get done in workshop compare to a meeting where things are just discussed
  • There are five types of UX workshop: Discovery – for better understanding the business, Empathy –  for better understanding the users, Design Studio – to come up with ideas and concepts, Prioritization – to rank and define the priority of features, & Design Critique – to evaluate design current and proposed design solutions
  • Sometimes a few of the types are combined into a one workshop
  • Every UX workshop need a well defined structure and agenda
  • It is better to focus the workshop with a set of constraints such as: rules, boundaries, artifacts, and goals
  • These should be defined and agreed upon the members who will participate in the workshop
  • The high level process of each workshop include: opening, exploration, and closing
  • The process goes divergent and then convene again to come to the desired outcome of the workshop
  • In the opening the scope and purpose of the workshop need to be defined and agreed on
  • Workshops need to be structured, however improvisation is always needed as things can come up during the workshop
  • During the opening the participants need to be aligned and be on the same page
  • The are a few activities to turn during the different phases of the workshop (all are fully detailed in the slides)
  • It is important to understand the stakeholders, and their level of power and level of interest
  • The facilitator must be neutral and avoid participation in the workshop
  • The facilitator need to make sure the workshop is aligned and following the goals and purpose of it
  • The facilitator need to make sure all voices are heard with full participation from all the members and that there are no dominant participants that enforce their ideas
  • Every facilitator should include a variety of techniques and methods in his /her toolbox, and understand when and how to use those (detailed in the slides)
  • There are a few ways to  drive the conversation and getting ideas from the participants (detailed in the slides)
  • There are a few types of participant that can lead to a conflict and the facilitator need to prepare to handle those. The Dominating Participants, The Skeptic, Disengaged and the The Sidebar
  • The right type of workshop need to be considered according to the product timeline. Each type can be conducted during different points and steps, depending on its purpose
  • The agenda of the workshop must be well prepare and planned ahead. the plan itself is last important, what important is the planning process

The takeaway

As I’ve  mentioned in the beginning of this article, the NNG Group UX conference was an intense experience that left me with tons of stuff to digest and think of. I highly recommend attending one of their events if you get a chance to do so. The conference are taking place in different countries, so make sure to check out this page get more details.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or would like to learn more on any of the subject mentioned in this post.

Nahum Yamin

A user experience designer living and working at Bangkok, Thailand. A coffee lover who likes to read and wonder about design business and technology, life and everything in between.

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