Though some UX professionals have more than one hat (and skillset), it’s important to not confuse them with UI Designers - the people primarily responsible for the look and feel of a product, or UI developers - the people who make the interface work. The “UX people” I’m referring to here are the User Experience (UX) consultants, Interaction Designers (IxD), Information Architects (IA), sometimes Usability Analysts (UA or CUA) and many variations of these. There are differences between these roles, but I prefer not to go into that right now.
As it’s a very interdisciplinary and relatively new field, “User Experience people” come in all shapes and sizes. Some will sit down and start sketching in the 5 minutes after you’ve met them, others will take notes and come back a week later with the working prototype. Some work back-to-back with developers and designers, others prefer to work alone. How do you know who’s worth your time? Of course, everyone thinks differently about this, but here’s a couple of things to keep in mind:
Does your UX team want to talk to your users? Some people rely heavily on best practices on the industry, not bothering to actually gather information about users while others do just the opposite. They prepare questionnaires, 1-to-1 interviews, research and analyse whatever data is available on the target market. These are the people you want to work with - people who rely on data more than assumptions, people who put the user in the centre of the design process rather than their (or your) ideas of what the user should be thinking and doing.
Is your UX team happy to go back to the drawing board if something doesn’t go as planned? Rapid prototyping is an iterative and extremely fluid process. Things change, ideas get tossed around and rejected. The whole point of this process is to work out the details. If your consultant is afraid of making mistakes or has the “my way or the highway” approach, get rid of them. The prototype is the means to an end, not the end itself. If their goal is to build this kick-ass prototype instead of a kick-ass end product, well, move on.
Is what they’re building technically and visually feasible? While not many would list this as a top priority, working with someone who validates their ideas with a technical team - or are familiar with the technology of your choice themselves - can greatly improve your workflow and end result. That’s unless you have an unlimited budget and are happy to build whatever, no matter how long it takes. Building “ideal scenario” prototypes can be useful in some cases, for instance if you’re looking for funding, but often you will need to make sure you have the means to build what you plan and it just doesn’t make sense to prototype anything else.
Is your UX person too submissive? When working with a UX professional, you should expect a couple of civilised, well-argumented disagreements. If your requests to change elements in the prototype are always welcomed with “okay, as you wish”, without any attempt to convince you on why they prefer that solution over the one you propose, watch out. This means that they either don’t care about your project at all, or they don’t know why they arrange it that way in the first place. UX people should be able to support their decisions / interaction design choices. And it’s okay to ask why they thought that was a better solution.
Does the level of fidelity (how much it looks and behaves like the end product) of the prototype match your needs? Again, it’s not about the prototype - it’s about the product. Zooming in on the information architecture and core features, without being distracted by style, look & feel and colour choices is the priority for quality UX work. In some cases, however a high-fidelity prototype is the best way forward, for instance if you want to present your idea to stakeholders and they need to get an exact impression of the product, or if you’d like to user test a highly visual interface. It all depends, but figuring out the level of fidelity should be done at the very early stages of the project.
Does the UX person want to test their solution on real users? Sometimes this may be as simple as grabbing someone sitting next to you for a few minutes of conversation about the product and watching them use it. Other times, it’s done in a specialised usability lab with eye-tracking equipment and expensive software. Regardless of which your budget allows, being able to prepare and conduct usability tests is a very important characteristic of a UX professional.
No matter what guidelines you choose, searching for the right team for the job it’s well worth the effort. It can make all the difference between the success and failure of an otherwise brilliant idea.
What do you think? Have you worked with any dedicated UX consultants or teams before? Share your experience in the comments!
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