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How to Fit User Experience Design into the Development Cycle

Even the most agile of companies struggle with having the time to incorporate changes to their product that are not explicitly bugs or enhancements previously listed on a product roadmap. That being said, the power of user experience design is becoming increasingly obvious. For every $1 spent on user experience, a company can expect to return at least $2 or more. But UX enhancements still get bumped from releases and prioritized far lower than they should.

There are some simple, yet effective ways to change this. However, it requires total buy-in as an organization. If you want to ensure UX enhancements don’t fall to the bottom of the priority list, try implementing these ideas in your design and development process:

  • Characterize UX issues as defects, not enhancements
  • Bring developers into UX meetings
  • Set expectations up front

This, of course, is not a be-all, end-all list of ways to ensure the proper prioritization of user experience items, but it’s a start. So, let’s jump in.

Characterize UX issues as defects, not enhancements

While improving the user experience on your site is certainly an enhancement, it’s not the same as say, adding an additional feature that might be useful. Useful and usable are two different things. Features and user experience enhancements should not be lumped together.

When you find an issue related to user experience – perhaps it’s copy on the page or the placement of a text box – it should be classified as a defect rather than an enhancement. In most organizations, big and small, defects are fixed before enhancements are even considered. There’s a natural reason for this. When something is broken, it’s imperative that it be fixed. When something needs to be improved, the timing of it is flexible.

Think about it. How many times have you set a self-improvement goal for yourself? How often have you found yourself becoming too flexible with that goal? “Oh I’ll start running by March…well, maybe May.” Or, “I’ll learn Ruby this year…well, I learned Python, so that’s ok.” Enhancements to self and product are flexible by nature.

Your product’s user experience is not flexible. If it’s broken, it’s a defect. Classify it as such, and the fixes to user experience will be included in the development cycle much easier. Much like the defects you’re used to – you know the ones like this button doesn’t work, or that data comes back inaccurate, etc – user experience defects have a profound impact on your customers. Stop treating these problems as potential enhancements. Instead, treat them as defects that are mandatory to fix.

Bring developers into UX meetings

One of the inherent benefits for designers is their ability to observe things being used. Seeing it in action is powerful. It provides context for everything. Many developers and project managers (depending on the organization) do not see the product in use. Through no fault of their own, the end use examples are kept under lock and key by the “business” units or the designers. This extends as far as user experience testing.

When an organization utilizes formal user testing (which all should!), it’s important to include everyone who touches the product. If you have a business unit that develops requirements to meet business goals, include them. Obviously include your designers. Most definitely include the developers.

By including a little mix of everyone in a user testing session, your organization will not have to rely on the passing along of second-hand information to convey user experience concerns. If something is spotted during testing with real users, representatives from all parts of the company can and will be aware of it. This makes collaboration on a solution easier and more likely to be prioritized higher.

What many people outside of design do not understand is just how painful it is to watch a user navigate through a product with a poor user experience. If more people are brought into meetings that expose such things, it’s easier to justify a higher priority on user experience.

Set expectations up front

In my time working with organizations large and small, it’s easy to say your focus is user experience, but it’s hard to live that commitment. It is incumbent upon managers, company leaders, mentors, and everyone in between to set high expectations for user experience. If a leader in the company brushes a user experience issue aside even just once, it becomes far easier for others to brush it aside as well.

The current product I’m working on was built from the ground up with usability, accessibility, and experience in mind. Those ideas are the drivers for the product’s development, and the expectations as such were set up front. Anyone being on-boarded to work on the product is made very aware of the importance of user experience. It’s difficult to let an issue in user experience fall on the priority list for that very reason.

If an organization is truly going to focus on user experience, it has to be more than just lip service. Everyone has to be on board, expectations have to be set, and no issue can be too small to address when it comes to the experience of your user.

Conclusion

Nothing I’ve covered here is truly groundbreaking, but I think it’s important that we continue to talk about it as a web community. User experience is important. We all know that. However, it’s easy for user experience issues to be misclassified and not receive the priority they deserve.

Whether you work for a startup, for a big corporation, or for yourself, make sure you are taking the necessary steps to ensure user experience design is part of your development process. Without it, you will be left behind. The true differentiator in the market going forward will be user experience. Don’t let poor prioritization hold you back.

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