If you have a tech start up, the chances are you are trying to get to grips with product design, but you can't afford to pay a full time UX designer to help develop your interface. Good user experience is essential if you are trying to scale your product, but money is always an issue for start ups. I know of many cases where start ups have ended up with poor UX as a result of trying to keep costs down by hiring a graphic designer to work on their product. This blog will hopefully help you navigate this journey better.
In the pre software days, designers used to make things look pretty. The job description "UX designer" started in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. It has only become mainstream in the last decade. When a UX designer is doing their job well, using software is effortless, meaning that often they only get noticed when things went wrong. UX is the design behind the visual.
Good UX people always have the mantra of "I am not the target audience" running through their heads. They can also predict ahead, i.e. if you do customer discovery, people will largely tell you what you want to hear. They also think they want different things to what actually works for them. An experienced UX designer will see through a lot of this and be able to predict what people will like.
Remember graphic designers still do great work. They will make your website look slick and are essential for your branding and content marketing. But you need to know when to stop using a graphic designer and start using a UX designer if you are creating a product. This can be confusing; I have witnessed firsthand how graphic designers, keen to win business, may tell start ups they can do UX work. To try and avoid this, you need to know the following.
1. What product and UX work they have done before -- you don't want them to be learning on your time. Make sure you have a look at this closely. Website design is totally different to designing a product.
2. Is the person you are communicating with going to be doing the hands on UX work? If not, things can get lost in translation. Especially if they are off shoring the work which happens a lot in UK and Ireland.
3. You expect them to be asking you a lot of questions, as a good UX designer will know that user experience is influenced by a multitude of things such as:
• marketing copy
• functional performance
• colour scheme
• customer support,
• set expectations
• financial approach.
I recently attended a UX training course and the lecturer, Colman Walsh, who has worked in UX for the last 15 years in Silicon Valley and Europe explained
"Because of the word 'design', UX often gets conflated with styling. But they're not the same. UX is a problem solving discipline. Identifying problems, solving them and designing elegant solutions. Styling is often part of the solution, but doesn't have to be."
Lets look at some practical examples. Survey monkey have built up a huge reputation around good UX. Having recently used the software (initially for free and then paying) the experience was a good one from start to finish. I have tried to break down why it was good and why I will use survey monkey again and recommend it. These second two benefits show that good UX is critical to the success of software.
Survey monkey is clear about what it is offering you, it is helping you create and distribute a better survey without over loading you with advice. The process is streamlined from start to finish, and when you have completed the survey the analytics are good. You can take a number of months break from pre paying the monthly subscription and your data will still be there. All this and more means that survey monkey has totally nailed the UX without the graphics being anything special while you are working through the process.
For those like survey monkey who have mastered UX, it is easy to see their money spent on this area is giving a great return on investment. For you and me it is sometimes harder to join the dots from good UX work to the bottom line of your business. However, good work is being done here by Elisabeth Hubert and others who are actively working towards mapping user experience activity to business value.
Always remember that the ability to understand and communicate can be as, or more, important than graphic ability with a UX designer. It is also a much more iterative process than you might expect, so be patient!
Follow Elaine Thompson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thompsonelaine1