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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