Sunday, October 5, 2014

User-Centered Design: Tips for Growing It in a Technology-Driven Agency


The division of labor required for a technology-focused agency to succeed necessitates a formal User Experience (UX) team with a solid history of school or career-based education, who is responsible for the company’s UX initiatives, work, and deliverables, and who continues to grow and learn. But it’s just as important to blur the lines of that division of labor in order to establish user-centered design (UCD) thinking in the heart of any developer-driven culture.

There are a few rules to imbue UCD in a fast-growing agency and ensure that UX is not just a step in a project but instead an integral part of your agency’s DNA.

Open up the gates

Appreciate and overcome your human tendency to be territorial of your users’ experience. True, your UX department should own their deliverables to ensure quality and consistency of the experiences you craft, but you don’t have to be a solo rider in the process. Involve different people in the agency to benefit from their contrasting perspectives and open others’ eyes to how design decisions affect the overall user experience. Once you invite your colleagues into the process, you’ll see that your solutions are more inventive and your agency is more UCD-minded.

Employ a flexible and responsive scoping process

Ignore that old-school candy land poster or the wallet card you collected at your last conference- when estimating your projects you need to be nimble, while staying true to the process that you know and love.

Evaluate each RFP that come across your desk and think long and hard about discovery, design, iteration, and delivery- is everything equal here, or does this project require more discovery than most? Is it one that should involve multiple iterations? This is no small task, but it is important for you to consider your skills in a modular way and meticulously design the appropriate UX project each time. As you do this, make it clear to others on the team why you made the decisions that you did- use it as a teaching moment to outline when and why UX methods are employed.

This is another opportunity to be flexible about who is involved in which step of the project- include your technical architects in stakeholder interviews, for example. Involve your BA in user archetype creation or use your marketing manager for your usability test dress rehearsal. It’s likely they will be hesitant at first, and then they will embrace and appreciate the process as they are exposed to it.

Continue your education and share what you’ve learned

Our company values an ‘insatiable quest for knowledge’ and there’s a related fund for that pursuit so anyone (not just UX’ers) who appreciates the process, and/or values the data and context that UX brings can go to conferences and attend on-line classes.

In the case where continuing education isn’t always possible for everyone on the team, there are ways to work around the constraint:

- Interactive lunch and learns

- Share what you learned at conferences or meet-ups

- Showcase case studies or project wins, and ask non UX team members to chime in on their experience

- Plaster your walls with deliverables, and invite colleagues to comment or make suggestions

UX your UX process

This work is never done- it’s important to keep an open mind and be receptive to feedback, keep your eyes peeled for red flags, and evolve how you work internally. If you make it clear that you are willing to work to refine your internal UX process, you will find that most colleagues will step up, eager to be involved.

Again, it’s important to have a dedicated UX team to be responsible for the quality and value of the UX work in your projects, but it’s imperative for everyone in the agency to embrace UCD so that it is integrated into everything you produce.