January 12, 2017 by SDesign
In my time I have seen many, many UX projects. And while each one tends to have its unique flavor, there are some common challenges to all projects that I would like to describe here. Only teams that have been working on designing and implementing quality UX on a repeated basis tend to be able to avoid these pitfalls.
Golden Path Thinking
I was once working with a group on a web app that was for people to set up appointments. We spent a lot of time working on a really slick, dynamic UI design that had some cool factor and packed some punch. It had taken a while to perfect it, and finally we were ready to hand it over to our overseas team in India. Several weeks later I got my first preview. Anxious to see the UI in action I set the date and time and clicked on a button and…nothing happened. Literally nothing. I thought it was a bug at first. But actually what had happened is there was an error in the date I had entered; I don’t remember now exactly but it was something like I picked a date that was in the past. The reason that nothing had happened is that we had not defined what should happen when there were errors in the initial date entry. And rather than asking us about this omission, the overseas team just did what they thought was right. But when developers start doing their own UX design usually bad things are going to happen.
A ‘Golden Path’ is the path that a user is most likely to take in a particular design. Golden Paths are used early in the design ideation phase, and there is nothing wrong with that. Golden Paths are often used to show to clients and stakeholders, since they tend to show important interactions. There’s nothing wrong with that either. However, as this example shows, regardless of what your slides show, you don’t get a great UX if you don’t think about paths that are off the Golden Path.
Another thing that can happen if you don’t think about many paths is that your Golden Path design may not be able to accommodate certain conditions. If you were designing a list, the Golden Path for your list would be when there are a good number of entries already in the list, and that’s what all the slick presentations would show. But what happens when the list gets very long, or the list is totally empty? Again, although these items are not Golden Path, they are not necessarily unlikely. In my case, because I had failed to say what should happen off the path, I got back the design equivalent of gibberish. But sometimes when a designer considers some of the less likely scenarios it will actually affect how he or she might choose to handle the Golden Path, often in just a small way. Let me put it this way: how can a good design accommodate a condition that the designer has not even considered? By considering all the cases, not just some of them, the overall design is improved.
It’s one thing to have a set of shiny designs that you want to implement, but it’s quite another to actually implement them. There is a big gap between a set of wireframes, or a prototype, and having your engineering team build the complete vision. Some development teams working on a new initiative don’t have the front-end skills needed to implement a great UI; some teams don’t have the sensitivity to pixel-level detail that is necessary to properly execute a UX design. Often the teams working on the design tend to want to put their own stamp on the project, either by actively questioning some aspects because they don’t agree, or because they don’t have sufficient buy-in. I have written at some length on this topic here and here, but the central point is that teams that are not used to working on UX initiatives tend to have a lot of trouble executing on the vision.
Lack of Internal Memory
A big problem when companies first strike out to fix their UX problems is that they rely too much on outside resources. There’s no problem with hiring an agency to do work for you. But an agency works on projects for a set period of time. Once they are done, they move on to other projects. What happens when you have questions about what the agency has produced? No matter how much an outside firm may offer to make their resources available, unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that those resources are now assigned full-time to another projects. They just don’t have the bandwidth or inclination to actively dig into questions for a client that they worked for months ago (and has already paid). Similarly, if you need changes to documents that the agency generated, it is very unlikely you will get those changes unless your Statement of Work specifically provided for it.
I strongly recommend against commissioning a set of external resources for a UX project without internal resources working closely with them. This resource can’t just be any old person in your business, it has to be someone who understands UX and who knows that they will responsible for filing in holes once the agency engagement has been completed. Having a knowledgeable, UX-sensitive internal resource follow along with the project from start to finish, and be on tap shepherd the project as it continues, is a key to success.