So you have a great idea. Maybe you are a small business with a great concept and need to get the word out with a web site or app. Maybe your idea IS an app, but you are a programmer or on the business side of the operation. Or maybe you are a little bit bigger business and have an in-house design team, but your digital projects are missing the mark. What do you do? What is going wrong? While we can’t diagnose your exact issue, we have some tips on tackling UX/UI projects and challenges. We are a San Francisco based UX design firm, so we’ve seen a thing or two. We can even point you to an excellent UX design agency in your area, so you can get some help if needed.
- Start with the Problem, Not the Solution
All too often, people want to jump in to design without first exploring the challenge or problem to be solved by the project. This is short-sighted because there are typically many ways to tackle any issue, and you won’t know which is the right way without first talking to users and looking for root causes. Maybe you’ll find a new way to accomplish a task or find out you are solving the wrong problem. So, don’t skip the discovery phase. This phase will help you to figure out what your users really want and need as well as identify key functional requirements. Take some time to assess the breadth of the project.
One useful practice you can borrow from Lean UX methods is to develop a hypothesis after you’ve done some research. Your hypothesis should summarize what your problem is, what you think you should do about it, and how you can prove it. It should look like this:
We believe that <feature> is essential for <demographic> users. This will achieve <goal>. We will have demonstrated this when we can measure <goal> <metric>.
Make sure that when you are looking at your problem you use methods and tools like brainstorming, user interviews, subject matter expert interviews, competitive benchmarking, user observation, and reviews of existing research on your topic. You should end up with some key deliverables as well, including, user stories, personas, flows, and use cases.
- Users, Users, Users
This should be pretty obvious since we are talking user experience and user interface, but it can be tempting to take short cuts. You are not your user. Your designers are not your users. And your developers are definitely not your users. Unless you are building a tool for one of those groups, and even then, you need a second opinion. When do you need to talk to users? Constantly. Interview or observe them at the beginning of the project to find out what their habits and pain points are. Talk to them again when you have narrowed down your solutions to two or three. Get their opinion on the general approaches you are considering. Test your wireframes for your final decision. Ask them to show you how they think about things with a card sort. Test your low fidelity prototypes. Test your high-fidelity prototypes. Never pass up an opportunity to listen to a user’s perspective; they will almost always surprise you and help you take a new perspective on your problem and solution.
Some user experience companies focus specifically on user testing. It can be helpful to hire a UX firm to take on this type of work because they have already developed pools of users that they can tap into on your behalf.
- Do Your Own Research
Another place it is tempting to cut corners in doing research. Believe it or not, we have heard comments like, “well Google is doing it, and they must have tested it.” There are a million factors that go into selecting a control, call to action text, or overall approach. Your context is unique. Your users are unique. It’s always useful to look at competitive products and approaches, but just because a particular control works in one space like the web, doesn’t mean it will work for others like a touch screen interface, or a TV where you navigate with a remote control. You can find out what’s working, and not working, and try it out on your users, in your application.
Competitive benchmarking and research is another area where UI/UX design firms can be helpful. They do lots of projects for lots of different industries and applications. They’ll have ideas and resources from across domains and disciplines that they can use to generate different ideas as well as sources.
- Hire Professionals
Does your company already have a UX team? If not, you might want to look into hiring a professional UI/UX design agency. UX agencies do one thing, and one thing only; user experience. They have experience, diversity of skills, and move quickly. UX Design firms have to be nimble to deliver to tight deadlines and meet client needs. They can move staff around to accommodate different client projects while delivering great service.
If you do have in-house staff, are they able to give you the results you expect? You may be stretching them to their limits with work or breadth of skills. Not all designers have the same experience, and some specialize in a particular area like UI, information architecture, or visual design. Take a look at your team and level set on the size and shape of your team. Looks for pros who can lead, as well as those that can tackle your specific domain. UX design companies can help you offload work when the load gets too heavy by augmenting your staff as needed. They can also offer more specialized designers when needed for a special project.
- Be Flexible
These tips will result in surprises. Your exploration and testing will change your perspective, challenge your ideas, and threaten your timelines. Build in time to allow for changes in direction, iteration, and some frustration. It will all be worth it in the end because your product will be better and your users will be happier, as will your bottom line.