Read enough UX propaganda and you’ll find that having a user experience professional on your development team helps make informed design decisions, cuts wasted development efforts, and reduces the chances of having to make costly redesigns in the middle of software development. I know what you’re all probably thinking – this all sounds great but wouldn't everybody already have an army of user experience designers on their team if these benefits were really true? In fact, the overwhelming number of articles, webinars, white papers, case studies, books, and presentations you can find on the value of user experience design show that the investment of your time is justified.
For whatever reason, the idea of paying a designer to do something more than to “making it look pretty” has been a difficult proposition for many businesses, especially cash-poor startups and internal development teams too slow to evolve their internal development practices. In the case of startups, the vast majority of their projects fail to create something that connects with their users. According to Fortune and CB Insights, 42% of startups failed because they pushed ahead with development on a project that later was found to have "no market need,” whereas running out of money came in a distant second (29%).
The thing that differentiates good websites and widely adopted mobile apps is their ability to connect with users and provide a great user experience. In many cases, the promise of faster deadlines and reduced upfront costs are the siren songs that lure unsuspecting startups and overconfident corporate development teams onto the rocky shores of mediocrity – fraught with adoption issues and lacking informed design decisions.
How do you know if your project will benefit from integrating user experience professionals?
Let’s look at some of the symptoms that typically leads to trouble for a projects lacking user experience design specialists.
Your projects tend to undergo redesigns within the first 12 months of being deployed
The most expensive way to prove your point is to blindly run forward and build your digital app or website. Yet this tendency to shoot first and ask questions later is the leading cause of risk in a software development lifecycle. The risk is that users won’t find the software helpful, accurate, or worse, they won’t even understand the need for the website or software. When development efforts are made in response to underwhelming sales and poor user adoption numbers, that points to a lack of early UX intervention.
A project that performs even basic user experience testing and business validation exercises can eliminate nearly 80% of the design flaws before a single line of code is written.
Nobody is advocating for user testing
QA shouldn't be the only new set of eyes on the project prior to launch. In fact, teams that put early prototypes or visual mock ups in front of real users identify design issues with things like layout, ease of navigation, and the process users take to accomplish the primary tasks in the software. For example, if you’re launching a typical business-to-business website, have your usability tester bring 3-5 administrators, 3-5 distributors, and 3-5 potential buyers though an early version of the website, whether it's a paper prototype or a clickable wireframe.
If you’ve populated the site with real content, the results can be staggering. This type of testing can be administered by anybody. However, the results will be far more effective if this is administered by a usability professional because of the types of questions they’ll ask.
Your management believes that because your visual designer has UX in their title, your bases are covered
There are many professional circles that make a clear distinction between UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) professionals. It's not just that these are different job titles, but that they tend to be entirely different skill sets. For many project teams their primary point of failure is relying on a design process that goes directly into Photoshop instead of first going into the field where the users are.
Your designer goes straight from stakeholder-provided use cases to creating wireframes
Using stakeholder-provided use cases and creating wireframes prior to visual design are both fantastic design tools that inform smart design decisions and provide solid direction for developers. However, the important distinction is that if you have a "visual designer" that converts stakeholder-provided use cases straight to creating wireframes, the user interface will rarely be more than “good enough”.
These types of user interfaces can get by when you have a naturally intuitive designer, but like professional sports teams, it takes the collaboration between multiple specialists to make a measurable impact on the team as a whole. If your only “UX designer” is responsible for all of your visual design and interface design, it’s likely that they will never have the bandwidth to perform the types of game-changing design that can impact user behavior, improve user adoption, or ensure a product actually addresses the needs for those it was created for.
Your project team claims that you’ll iterate on the fly.
On face value, iteration is a fantastic way to develop software when you have an intentional continuous development plan in place. But for most teams, they don’t have any such plan in place for proposing and then supporting development post launch. The problem is that software is never done anymore, it’s either incrementally improving over time and being adopted by users or it’s dying a slow death of irrelevancy and disrepair.
Having a member of your team that is anticipating the post-launch needs of users is no longer the sole responsibility of customer support teams. User experience professionals can recommend or even design a formal process for reviewing user feedback, prioritizing new features for ongoing development, and validating your new design choices with the same users you’ll want to attract and retain over time.
Job titles don’t mean anything, especially when designers come in all shapes, sizes, and specialized skill sets. Making the right move today to see that you’re setting your project teams up to succeed from the start will take time. It’s easy to see the value of integrating user experience professionals into your teams, especially after your first big win.
- Consider giving your visual designers the backup and support they need to implement informed strategic and tactical design practices that can measurably impact a product. You’ll have mixed results if you’re always relying on a designers ability to “wing-it”. Think about how can you involve design in your early stakeholder conversations and bring “user experience” into the conversation before people get fixated on “design means making things look pretty”.
- Consider how your team would adopt a continuous development plan, how sales will structure the offering, and how your project management team would resource this kind of ongoing engagement.
- Iteration has to be intentional and planned for between your team and your client. Don’t let iteration become the new form of procrastination.
About Ryan Carlson
Ryan is a veteran of product development, electronics manufacturing, and custom software design and development. He leverages his passion for emerging technology and the ways in which humanity can be impacted through creative use of new technologies. Ryan is a frequent speaker within the technology industry and has been a contributing author for Wired.com, GeekDad.com, and featured in over 20+ industry publications, trade journals, and numerous internet publications