No Project Left Behind: Get a Little Bit of UX Review in Every Project

Many projects are large enough and complex enough to demand a dedicated team of user experience (UX) professionals, and if you have the need and means to do so, then you really should hire one.  Other projects, like many of the ones Soliant handles, have reasonably well-understood requirements and user populations, but still have areas where user research and testing can make the difference between success or failure, or if an application is loved rather than tolerated.

If you’re working on a project and want to introduce some UX review and testing but feel intimidated by the enormity of the topic and the fact that many people dedicate whole careers to the discipline, fear not.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to get great returns on an investment in the design of your project.

At Soliant, we all bring a practical user-centrism to our work no matter our job description, but when we find problems that need a more formal approach, we staff the team accordingly.  In doing that, we’ve picked up a few tricks for doing UX work within tight budget or schedule constraints.

UX Review Guidelines

How to decide when user experience / user interface testing is called for:
  • When you find yourself making guesses or assumptions about user goals or skills
  • When you are designing something complex, with lots of elements, lots of data, and/or lots of different usage patterns

Bottom line:  If you don’t know, find out.  If the problem is difficult, test out one or more solutions in wireframe or prototype and see what works.

How to approach the problem, if you don’t have or can’t hire a dedicated staff for this kind of work:
  • Don’t test everything. Decide which things are the most risky or poorly-defined, and put those through a ux review to get the most return on your investment.
  • Work out a lightweight approach. Read Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy, a short book with a pragmatic approach to sound testing principles. Use his scripts and methods verbatim, or adapt them to your needs keeping his principles in mind.
  • Keep an open mind. The most important thing is to invest enough time in designing and running tests without bias, which can be trickier than it seems when you’re close to the project. The second most important thing is to be open to the things you discover, even if they seem wrong to you.
  • Do some research. Spend a bit of your spare time doing relevant reading to pick up a few more tools. Learn as much as you can about real users: what they do, what they know, what they care about in life, not just with regard to your product. Do a web search for similar or competing products and learn how they work. Read some UX blogs and search around for relevant topics to get ideas from the professionals.

Bottom line:  You don’t have to be an expert to reap solid value.  Get a few good tools and use them as best you can, and your end result will always be better for it.

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