All technology products, including software, require a long and rigorous cycle of ideation, strategy, planning, design, development, testing, maturation and adaptation. Software development is not easy. It requires high standards, extensive multidisciplinary teams, rigorous documentation, and long workdays to keep the project moving forward without hiccups…or catastrophes. But a strict adherence to this cycle will ensure your project reaches maturity, and eventually, success.
Many paths to maturity and quality exist. But all projects begin with a need. Fulfilling that need requires the prioritization of features, the prioritized feature set defines the timeframe, timeline determines budget, and maximizing the value of this budget requires a good and solid plan. The details of a project are many, and they all influence each other. This is why the paths to the ultimate goal line are innumerable and—unfortunately—no one strategy applies in all cases. But while selecting the right strategy to advance your current project stage is multifactorial, the safest path to take is always the one that analyzes the project in a “business context.” Understanding your current business situation enables you to devise a plan that is both feasible and actionable. Conversely, failing to recognize the importance of these factors can result in burned-out teams, budget overrun or poor implementation.
When it comes to design, developing a product that works and looks great should be a top priority. Obviously, an app must perform flawlessly and look amazing to be well received by users and to stand out and be preferred, with respect to the countless related apps/platforms that are already out there. The question is: at what point in the project is it critical for my product to work and look good? In most scenarios, trying to achieve perfection at the onset is not ideal, and may even cause delays and diminish the quality of the final product. If the scope of the research and UI/UX design work is underestimated, solving the problem can be complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Though the user experience should be considered in the early planning stages—as with everything in software development, the process should be iterative.
But what does Iterative design mean?
Design teams sometimes focus on process so rigorously that they want to repurpose the approach for all projects—since it was already proven to be successful. Don’t fall into this trap. Don’t treat process like a cooking recipe for making a cake. Yes, a cake will always be a cake, but consider the countless types, flavors, consistencies and ingredients! The recipe and procedure must change with each new confection. The same goes for projects. So, an iterative UX/UI starts with building a tailored strategy that meets your specific business goals and ends when the project state is re-evaluated and key findings from previous iterations are analyzed to inform the next design cycle. The specifics of the approach depend on how far the project has advances towards success.
The following are some business factors that play a crucial role in helping you determine which path should be taken for the next design iteration.
For projects in the early technical stages—developing web services, integrating custom or third party CMS or ERP—should focus on achieving good wiring in order to build a project foundation solid enough to sustain usage and avoid major functionality issues when scaled. Reliable, attractive, intuitive products don’t get built in six months, good products take ample time to establish a solid foundation and build from there. From a UX perspective, giving foundation its due means handing over a well-thought-out user experience to development that is also fundamental enough to allow effort to be focused on technical implementation. Implementing fundamental UX experiences allows the whole team to build a beta or pilot app that may be tested and analyzed in order to further improve what was already built. Think about it. To make a chair you first need a model to test that it’s structurally sound. Once the model is successfully tested, that’s when style and polish may be added. Following this approach makes adding style to your interactions (e.g. animation) way easier than if you have to go back and tear apart the code.
Priority and Time
You might be surprised at how often clients tell us, “We want the best UX/UI, but we need it in two weeks.” This isn’t always an impossible task, and sometimes tight deadlines and business requirements can’t be avoided. We’ve had to work this way on a variety of projects and results have generally been acceptable—for the design iteration. When this occurs, priority is especially important. Ironically, a short timeline usually indicates a high priority project. Acknowledging this relationship will help your design team understand the need to focus on the immediate next step. The approach varies from project to project, of course, but our big recommendation is still to take an iterative approach rather than throwing everything in and driving the team crazy trying to digest all requirements at once in an attempt to keep up with a massive amount of work in a short timeline.
In the past, software development used to base cost estimation on work hours through all aspects of the project (e.g. project management, development, testing, and—of course—design). A deep, honest analysis of budget limit versus business expectation lets project owners distribute the budget wisely among all parties. In the Technical Maturity section, I mentioned giving priority to technical implementation over UI design in early stages. Under that same scenario, we can conclude that budget allocated to design should be limited, and therefore focused on defining good UX foundations that may be polished and improved for style and usability in following iterations.
As the name implies, a user experience plan must be centered around the user. We put this into practice whenever we research and execute design process for our customers to create designs that follow tech best practices and delight users. But strategic planning must also be considered—analyzing and incorporating business needs—since the factors mentioned above (and many more) directly impact the efficient use of resources that keep the project moving forward to completion.
This blog is an extract from our white paper: “Planning Your UX/UI Design Strategy Based Upon Business Context.” In that paper, various business context examples and parameters are provided to illustrate the best strategy that should be followed in each case. For more detail on the most appropriate execution plan to follow for each UX/UI iteration, please click here to download this white paper now.
Lastly, if your organization is developing an app and needs some design help, or needs help updating or extending an existing application’s UI/UX, please check out our Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart or simply reach out to us—we’d love to help you get started.