User Experience: Is your website worth it?

POSTED ON July 29, 2009

At one time or another we’ve all unexpectedly come to a dead end. Whether it’s in your car, in a voicemail tree or on a Web site. Fortunately for Web surfers -- and the sites they visit – the discipline of interactive User Experience (UX) is dedicated to helping users easily find information, intuitively conduct transactions, and never, ever come to a virtual dead end.

So why are some Web sites more difficult to use than others? The most obvious answer is that a User Experience team probably wasn’t involved in the project. And that creates a myriad of pitfalls that can lead to frustrated users, negative brand perception, lost business and long-term cost overruns.

User Experience Benefits

User Experience is responsible for understanding the business goals of a Web site, then prioritizing and organizing site elements into a tangible framework. Major deliverables of User Experience teams typically include site architecture diagrams, wire-frames dictating the layout of pages, and personas describing specific types of users and how they can be expected use the site. These deliverables are, literally, the blueprint for how your site will look and function. While end-users ultimately benefit from UX, other facets of project including design and development all greatly leverage from this work since they are all working from the same set of plans. The end result is a project that runs smoothly and is done right the first time.

Key Reasons Why User Experience is Not Engaged

Omitting the User Experience phase of an important Web project is like trying to build a house with a contractor and interior designer, but no architect. Things are going to go terribly wrong at some point. It’s just a matter of time. So why would any client skip the UX phase?

• Lack of Client Education: Many clients understand the importance of design and development, but may be unfamiliar with the UX and the benefits it provides.
• Budget Constraints: When project scope needs to be cut back to accommodate a fixed budget, UX is often seen as an easy target that can be absorbed by design and/or development.
• Firm Expertise: Not all firms are created equal. Some are heavy on design. Some are heavy on development. Few are exceptionally competent at both. Even fewer are also equally competent in User Experience.

What To Look For When Hiring a Firm

Assuming UX is important for your next Web project, a few things to look for when hiring a firm are:

• A dedicated UX team. If the firm uses visual designers and/or developers to do UE work, it may be a red flag.
• An appropriate amount of UX in the project proposal. A project that has 60 hours of design, 60 hours of development and 10 hours of UX may not be devoting enough time.
• Examples and references. Just like you’d ask to see a design portfolio, ask to see UX work the firm has done for similar projects. It’ll give you a good sense of how seriously they take the UX process, and how detailed their work is.

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