Monthly Archives: January 2014

Budget – the crux in practical UX

In a perfect world our clients all have vast budgets and the appetite to spend that money on UX design. Analytics, persona planning, journey design, A/B user testing, eye tracking, multiple design approaches, user interviews, card sorting…and that is just the prep before any thing has been sketched and any ideas have been posed. I have been lucky enough to manage projects in previous jobs where the clients have very deep pockets and teams of IAs and UX Designer could go mad with post-its and white walls, watching eye tracking heat maps and interviewing every man and his dog about the practicalities of layout A over the functionality of layout B. But the problem is that these clients are few and far between and the pressures of timescales often preclude the opportunity to do this level of planning. I don’t think any UX designer worth their salt would choose not to do this stuff, but the majority of the time the choice simply isn’t their.

The practical aspect to UX design, and increasingly design in general, is that the client budget buys agency time and that time ultimately needs to pay for a finished website (or other asset). Even if a client has a ¬£25k budget, that isn’t going to buy a lot of UX time if the site itself is going to be functionally heavy, with multiple layouts to be put together and plenty of user journey variety. If it is a responsive site, which really it should be, then that further eats into the already stretched budget. If we all accept that we want UX planning to be in all of our projects then what options are left?

  1. Add in extra time Pro Bono in order to include the UX?
  2. Simply don’t do UX design and hope it comes out alright in the end?
  3. Tell the client they have to find more money if they want a better solution that includes robust UX thought?
  4. Find a happy medium? What is that happy medium?

It is a difficult line to find, and as someone who has previously run projects but now runs a business I can see how commercial consideration and project quality / pride are completely at odds with each other. Let me explain further;

From a business point of view the be all and end all of the matter is that revenue is what is required to pay employees and keep the business afloat. Therefore if you aren’t being paid for the time then strictly speaking you don’t do the work. The counter to this is that a business relies on case studies of previous work and so you want to produce the best product possible, keep the client happy, over deliver and get good referrals and a reputation for quality.

So in the situation where there isn’t the budget for nice periods of UX, which option do we take? I think the answer isn’t black or white. If the project is going to be a stellar one that is going to make noise, get lots of attention and potentially new business then adding in some Pro Bono time is definitely a good option, to a point. You are effectively investing in the future and so a logical decision is to monitor the time used and invest some extra to try and get the best solution possible.

But what if it isn’t something unique and therefore you can’t justify spending your time on it for no income? After all, those one off projects don’t come along that often. Well, option 2 isn’t really an option in my opinion. If you put no thought into the project from a UX perspective it is likely to fail. But you could apply UX lessons from other projects and hope for the best (I don’t recommend this).

Option 3 is always a good one to try with the client if you construct the argument correctly. The client needs to understand the benefit to undertaking UX work. If they do then they may be able to find more budget. But often they simply won’t have the budget available. So what are you left with?

Well you have to find a happy medium. The project will have some design time allowed for it so the best way is to use the budget wisely. Taking a lean approach is the best start point. If you can get agreement to do ‘design in build’ then that is a good start. If, like my company, you are lucky enough to have a genuine designer and developer in one then this is ideal. You can put your designs together as you code it, screenshot them for the client and then once it is iterated then the code is already built. This reduces design overheads and opens up some spare time to be used for UX. So what next? Summarise the key things you want to know in your UX strategy and see how many the client can answer. Analytics is a great one to give them. Prioritise the rest and then have a single workshop with the client to hash out as much as you can, in the priority order. Apply this to quick sketches, using tools like Balsamiq, to visualise the approach. Use the sketches to test whether the user journeys and sitemap work, to see what other people think of the designs and if the key areas are coming across the way they should be.

Lastly, remember why you are doing the work. You are the agency and you have the background so don’t forget that you have the experience as well. Trust your gut on decisions and use experience of what works well. If you don’t have the luxury of user testing then grab 5 minutes with some of the people in the office and mix this with your own ability and experience to make the call.

Getting UX into the process when budgets are small and the client doesn’t appreciate the benefit straight away is always going to be a challenge. But the key thing is to trust in yourself and try not to over complicate things. There are always examples of sites doing things well so use those examples and the people in your team to make a lot of decisions. We are all web users so as long as we identify what makes us different users to the norm (e.g. our savvy approach for example) then we are starting in the right way. If the budgets are there then dial up the UX, but if they aren’t then go lean and trust that you know what you are doing. The rest, well the work will speak for itself. That is why the client chose you!

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Freed from the device vice

One of the great things about the digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from. Whether it be for entertainment (playing games through to consuming media), communicating or organizing (or any blend of the above) there is a plethora of devices out there that can help. But one of the major drawbacks of the digital digital world we now live in is that there are literally thousands of devices out there for us to choose from.

No, you haven’t just entered groundhog day…the availability of a wide range of devices is great. It means we, as consumers, can select the one we feel is right for us. We don’t have to be either a Windows loyalist or otherwise an Apple advocate. There are so many makers of both hardware and software that we can mix and match to our hearts content. This is true for phones, tablets, TVs, games consoles, I could go on and on. But the problem with the variety is that often when we buy in to a specific model we then exclude ourselves from some of the benefits of the makers we didn’t choose.

Let me give you an example. The world and its oyster have recently gone crazy for the online broadcast sensation Breaking Bad, which is now exclusively available on Netflix. I, on the other hand, am a subscriber of Love Film. Both Love Film and Netflix provide largely the same service, except that I would now have to subscribe to Netflix just to get Breaking Bad…and I want to get Breaking Bad because everyone is talking about it and saying it is the greatest TV show ever made (caveat: I haven’t seen it so it may not be the greatest TV show ever made!). My choice to consume on demand content through Love Film excludes me from accessing Breaking Bad unless I subscribe to Netflix. I am reluctant to do this as I would either have to switch or subscribe to both and I happen to think that Love Film through my Smart TV is a good service.

It is therefore great news that Sony have announced this week that they are soon to make some of their Playstation console games available to play without having the console (i.e. through a smart TV, other conosle, mobile device) by streaming it over the web. Why is the significant? Because it is the first time a major console company has decided to decouple their entertainment product from their hardware. Previously, if you wanted to play Playstation games you would have to own a Playstation, and games producers would have to produce versions of games for each console.

The line is now drawn in the sand. Is this the first step towards content, applications and devices being completely agnostic? I would like to think so, although I am under no illusions that there is a long way to go before we get to that point. But the reality is that users want to be able to consume everything but on their own terms. I am an iPhone user and I would like to be able to access the same functionality as people on other devices but with the interface of the Apple device. Similarly, I would like to be able to play games from various consoles without having to have a living room full of different pieces of hardware. The age when you have to choose a piece of hardware and live with the limitations that imposes (or accept that you will also have to spend more to get other devices as well) is coming to an end. Companies are beginning to realize that how a user consumes content (channel) and the actual content they are consuming does not need to be linked. A user should have the choice about how they consume content and not be limited. Companies in turn need to realize that their content should be available to the widest group of people possible if they wish to capitalize and the best way to do that is to make it device agnostic…even if they have a shiny new device that they want you to own as well.