When to Partake in a UX Project?

Every single product or service can benefit of employing a user experience (UX) designer. Unfortunately there are always way less good designers than projects and therefore they have to be selective.

Both the designer and the project benefit if the designer feels happy. In a selection process every designer has his or her own ethical principles to start with. When a project passes the moral test, please, consider:

  • What he/she can bring to the project?
    Knowledge? Skills? Positive attitude?
  • What he/she expects to get back?
    Moral satisfaction of making a good product?
    Or making a world a better place?
    Or creating a perfect icon? Or expressing the inner self?
  • What expertise is already presented in the project team?
    Who is in charge of the product/company development strategy?
    Who defines product/service functionality and visual style?
    Who decides what (brand) message the product communicate?
  • What can the designer add?
    On what level the designer have to be involved? Strategic?
    Or the help is needed in a tactical realization of the defined goal?
    Or the product needs someone who will prettify the existing solution without asking questions?

As you can see there is a world of possibilities on a different levels. Some designers aim for perfection on one of them, some on another. If both the designer and the employer are on the same page about the role and the level of involvement of the designer in the project and satisfied with answers to the questions above, you should proceed.

Here you will find some information of what can you ask and expect from the designer and how to communicate a UX projects needs and results effectively. Good luck!

The Process

Most designers hate to even think about the process. It seems that structure kills the fun and leaves no space for creativity.

But on the other hand the process is exactly what makes the difference between hobby and profession.

When a customer comes to you he wants to see a professional who will find and solve project problems and who he can trust. The one who blows worries away. How? By proposing a good strategy and by acting accordingly with the strategy proposed.

Diagnose

This is a delicate moment. When a customer or his representative approaches you, he  already has something. This can be a raw idea, a business plan or an existing product with quite some history. Most probably he loves what he/she already has.

Your is goal to find out:

  • What you customer already has?
  • What is a problem to be solved?
  • Who (will) use the product?
  • What is a current status?
  • What is in the current implementation your customer is satisfied with?
  • What is in the current implementation the customer wants you to improve?

You can read more on a topic of stakeholders interview in a dedicated article on boxes and arrows.

Understanding Business

It seams too obvious to talk about, but remember that behind each and every project there is a business with its’ goals and strategy. And businesses work on money.

In order to do a successful project you have to understand the business. Know what basic principle makes this business run, who is involved in its’ ecosystem and how they interact.

To understand business you can dig through the Internet and talk to the people involved. I would also suggest to draw a business-model canvas that will help you to ask right questions but also make sense of answers.

Plan

Good planning is actually how you can ensure you will have enough time to do a good job and reserve some space for creativity.

Before going deep into detailed planning, first of all define:

  • the project goal,
  • the project scope,
  • success criteria.

While planning, consider how much time you’ll need for:

Go in small steps. Iterate.

It is important:

  • plan to perform several design iterations during the process in order to refine your design,
  • plan to reuse the results from the previous steps and iterations in the following steps and document key decisions.

If different steps are executed by different teams ensure sharing of the information.

In reality things rarely go according to plan but since you have it, you can adjust estimations, foresee consequences and proceed. Do not forget to communicate the plan adjustments and consequences to the project team and stakeholders.

Do not forget to communicate.

The Goal

A good project goal helps you to stay focused, choose a right design alternative, verify implementation and convince stakeholders on the choice of alternative.

A good goal is a SMART:  Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Trackable.

A specific UX goal focuses on:

  • a human activity which the designed system supports,
  • people, or users who perform this activity,
  • a level of support which the system must provide,
  • a form of solution.

A specific UX goal  can be written as a single sentence “elevator-speech” form
(credits to Suleman Shahid from Tilburg University (the Netherlands)

design a <form of solution> that helps <people>
to perform a <human activity> with a provided <level of support>

Example:
“Create a web-portal that helps solo UX designers, startupers and project managers to define relevant steps and a scope of UX design in their project that is easy to apply in everyday work”.

A measurable UX goal defines UX metrics that are used as benchmark and for future design evaluation.

Those metrics could be taken from the problem statement above:

  • human activity gives you a hint about this activity success criteria,
  • level of support defines measures.

An actionable UX goal gives you a hint where to start:

  • a form of solution + human activity = benchmark area
  • form of solution = work outline
  • UX metrics = evaluation criteria

A relevant UX goal keeps you in focus. The relevance of product secondary features should be questioned trough the project. It could happen that the results of evaluations and chosen metrics show a good progress, but users and your designers fillings tell you the opposite. It is a moment to stop and revise.

A trackable UX goal allows you to see the progress though iterations and suggests the right direction at a specific stage.

Scope

UX design could be a complex set of activities in several dimensions:

In different projects you can work on one or several of those dimensions simultaneously. And while performing those activities you have to consider how the created design influences users’ emotions, feeling, cognition… the product aims to invoke.

Exploration

Before the start of the project ask yourself and the team members:

  • Who will use the product/service?
  • What similar products/services are already on the market
    (try to use them, read use-cases, available documentation, everything you can find)?
  • How do people use available products/services?
  • What problems do they encounter with available solutions?
  • What users needs needs are not supported already?

After you have an answer to the first question, go find those people (nearby or online) and ask them the same set of question.

Not only ask but also observe if you have a possibility:

  • visit their working place,
  • attend a master-class on using a competitors product together with them,
  • read thematic blogs and forums,
  • watch what they do,
  • listen to questions they ask,
  • talk to them.

During exploration phase leave your mind open to the others ideas. Note down those ideas. Ask questions. Explore.

Expected result

  • Personas (max. 2 per target group) or a verbal portrait of users of the product including their lifestyle, activities related to the product usage;
  • Benchmark (for each design aspect) comparison of competitors products with a product or an idea of your customer including main features but also defined in a goal metrics;
  • Core use cases (max. 5 per product) or main usage scenarios.
  • Opportunity areas (max. 1–5 cases) usually derived from users complains and requested features.

Note: the numbers given here are enough to do effective UX. Surely you will find more but you have to shortlist them. Otherwise will be difficult to stay focused.

 

Ideation

Ideation is an exploration of how we could make a good product or in other words how we can solve existing people’s problems for given use cases.

Activities

  • Write a use case scenarios for at least 3 core use cases;
  • Create 3 alternatives that address opportunity areas;
  • Create visualization to illustrate improvement in core use cases in comparison to existing products.

Expected result

3 design alternatives implemented in presentable prototypes (like flowchart, storyboard, video or interactive prototype)

Concept Evaluation

If ideation is an exploration with no limits, concept evaluation should bring the limits back. The goal of concept evaluation is to understand either proposed ideas of how the product can be improved are useful and feasible and choose a single concept.

Preparation

  • Set evaluation criteria (defined in a project goal)
  • Write evaluation scenarios
  • Prepare prototypes
  • Prepare evaluation inventory
  • Get a budget confirmation
  • Find a place where you invite people
  • Schedule workshops and interviews
  • Invite target audience representatives
  • Invite technical experts

Note: You can mix a group of technical people with nontechnical to increase empathy within you project team.

Evaluation criteria

I recommend to reuse defined in the goal UX metrics through all evaluation sessions and track the change over the time.

By this moment in your project you must already have some measures got from benchmark to compare to. If not, you can include one benchmark (competitors product) sample into your evaluation and set a baseline.

Evaluation inventory

Here I call an evaluation inventory on a “One participant set” a set of documents you need to conduct a formal user experience interview with a participant:

  • consent form a user study contract
  • that can be combined with NDA,
  • demographics form,
  • description of tasks for a user to perform during study,
  • closing questionnaires.

Evaluation sessions

  • Run a workshop or a series of user interviews with target audience representatives to review concepts for usefulness.
  • Run a workshop with technical experts (engineers) to review the concept for feasibility. If it is possible, invite stakeholders to this session to save some time for explanation later.

Expected results

As a result of concept evaluation you have to be able to:

  • choose a single concept or get enough information to synthesize a new one,
  • based on end-users feedback list core design principles for the product,
  • based on technical review list  limitations for your product.

Note: This days technology developers so quickly that ideas not feasible today can become feasible in a few month from now.