And now do it Backwards
I remember when I was in college, the teacher was talking about the importance of following the process step by step, when designing websites and user interfaces – without skipping the steps or doing them in a different order. There was a step for initial requirements gathering, then for analyzing those requirements, identifying the audience and their needs, working on scenarios, creating a scope document, estimating all the work required, sketching experiences, designing prototypes, testing them etc etc.
I didn’t quite understand at that time why he was stressing the fact that you need to follow the process. I thought “yeah, yeah, of course I’ll follow the process. It only makes sense.” Why would you even mention that? I imagined my biggest worry at work would be to be creative and to deliver great designs. Little did I know then that being creative would be the least of my worries.
It turns out that a lot of times in real life you are not given the chance to follow the design process. Why? This basically comes down to one thing – You, the designer, have no control over the project.
Here are a few possible scenarios that you might encounter when working on the web projects:
- Client oversimplifies the design process and doesn’t understand why you need to spend so much time on each step. He can’t wait to get the designs done. So he is not interested in discussing the goals & objectives or talk about the users. Oh, and he won’t pay for that work, if you do it on your own. You are then forced to skip steps, usually dropping personas creation, competitive analyses, web traffic analyses or usability testing in early stages of design, in hopes that you’ll be able to do some of it later, after the designs are implemented. However, he still expects UI to be user friendly, even if you are not given the chance to do things your way.
- Another similar situation is when client doesn’t distinguish between UI and Visual Design. He wants pretty pictures to be included in his presentation now or as a functional demo to the Executives, and you find yourself working on high-fidelity prototypes or polished designs, before you’ve completed the requirements gathering and analyses stage.
I also had an interesting situation recently when the client took my UI Wireframes to build the site, skipping Visual Design step all together.
- Client already designed Interface himself. He knows a bit of photoshop and he is a hands-on kind of person. He hands you a few mockups and expects the site to be developed in no time. He is genuinely surprised to hear you say that we should step back and have a discussion about business goals and user needs. This is the situation when a bit of knowledge becomes dangerous.
- Your project is technology-driven and organization-centric.
Everyone in IT naturally concentrates on the technology pieces and completely overlooks the design component. IT engages internal stakeholders to gather their requirements on what business thinks users need. They then put together a Business Architecture document and describe capabilities required from the IT to build the site. You raise your hand saying “But what about User Needs? We should validate all our assumptions with the end-users of the system. Are we going to do user research etc.?” The answer is “No. The Business knows their customers and they’ve provided us with all the requirements we need.” Shocker! We are talking about large projects that cost organization thousands of dollars and we are not planning to spare any money on User Research or Usability Testing? So how are you supposed to deliver user-friendly Interfaces, if you are not given the chance to engage with the end-users?
- You are working on a project that is so messy and convoluted with so many interdependent components being worked on at the same time, with no clear scope or end goal, constantly changing priorities, deliverables and dates, that nobody has a clear picture of what needs to be done and when.
Here is one real-life project, where all these things are happening at the same time:
- We are redesigning a few sections of the existing site and adding a few new sections and prototyping major features, like My Account, while re-branding the whole website
- Setting up Working Groups, which require business stakeholders to collaborate against their will
- Implementing Content Management System and converting content from thousands of static pages into CMS, without real support from the management and a lot of resistance from everyone else in the organization
- Doing massive content, services and forms inventories and analyses
- Working on Classification System, Taxonomies and Common Language components
- Creating Identity Management System to handle logins, permissions etc
- Choosing eForms engine and redoing all web forms
- Looking into changes to Privacy and Security
- Figuring out integration with external sites
- An interesting twist – the project is called X, though it delivers Y, however it was funded for Z. Half way through the project its name is changed to W, now it suppose to deliver ABC with no funding available. Oh, and there is no Project Manager or Program Manager to align all those activities. Try to plan anything and deliver quality work in that environment!
- Oh… did I mention that I am the only UX Expert on this massive project?
It feels a lot of times like I am asked to do my job backwards, blind-folded with my hands tied behind my back. They don’t teach you that in school.
Photo credit: Kevin Spear, peartoons on Flickr.