Archives For User Experience

I was noodling this idea early last year, and shared it with a local Austin company that deals in ratings for retailers. They nodded and said, yeah, yeah, we are already going to do that, it is nothing new. But I guess I am not shopping at the right places, because I have yet to experience this type of personalization while shopping for clothes online.

The problem in shopping for clothes online- I don’t want to see all the merchandise in a stores, just the clothes/lingerie/swimwear that will look great on me. If the store knew my measurements (they can collect it at account creation time or when I leave a review), and the measurements of other reviewers, they could just show me clothes that were highly rated by other women with my shape. This concept isn’t new, Netflix built an empire on it, but why hasn’t it extended to other e-tailers?

For example, when I land on AnnTaylor.com, it should show me 5 shirts and 5 pants that are perfect for me with a big “Add All to Cart” button. Throw in some matching shoes and accessories and I just dropped $1k in 5 minutes. Done! Happy retailer, happy shopper.

Oh, and make sure to follow up with an email when new items are rated highly by my same shaped peeps- odds are good you’ll hook me for another purchase or two.

Who’s going to do this first? Gap, Nordstrom’s Victoria’s Secret, David’s Bridal, anyone game to beta test this and watch the revenue spike? I’d be happy to help with the UX design.

I get this question all the time from clients and fellow designers. The answer is yes and no and sometimes.

What should match

The Core UX: The overarching user experience, meaning the flow of the application, should be the same in across all OSs for a specific form factor. The personas, scenarios, design principles and conceptual model should all be established and validated before screen level design begins.

Aesthetic: The overall aesthetic should be similar for both; it should support your brand strategy.

What will probably match

Information Architecture: The IA for both OSs will likely be the same, although the navigation controls may be different. I have seen apps deviate when one OS offers features (not UI controls, but actual functionality like in-app launching of another app) the other does not.

Content: The base copy will probably be the same. You may have more or less transactional copy for one OS vs the other depending on the specific UI, but the majority of the copy will be identical.

What won’t match

User Interface: Each OS has their own set of controls that should be leveraged.

Interaction Design: The OSs also have their own gestures and interaction design conventions that should be learned and respected (if not always adhered to).

Please note, the answers above may not apply to games since games typically use a OS neutral custom UI.

allthecooks

Let’s take a look at an interesting example I found yesterday of a company who nailed their Android App design, but blew their iOS7 redesign, allthecooks. I don’t want to sound too harsh, they were likely under some tight timelines. But tight timelines are even more of a reason to stick with the established UX and IA in the Android app.

The Android App

This is a slick app for social recipe sharing. Of more than 300 Android apps I looked at, they definitely rise to the top 10% for usability and UX design.

Navigation
We recently had problems at RetailMeNot when testing a the navigation drawer design that complied with the Android design guidelines:

Upon first launch of your app, introduce the user to the navigation drawer by automatically opening it. This ensures that users know about the navigation drawer and prompts them to learn about the structure of your app by exploring its content. Continue showing the drawer upon subsequent launches until the user actively expands the navigation drawer manually. Once you know that the user understands how to open the drawer, launch the app with the navigation drawer closed.

We followed the Android design guidelines exactly, but this did NOT test well with RetailMeNot Android users. They were confused, “Why can’t I just see the home page?”.

Allthecooks menu invitation strikes just the right balance between obtrusive and instructive:

Search & Results

Next comes probably the most important element of a recipe app- the search. It is well designed using:

  • Auto suggest
  • The Android spinner control for changing sort order
  • A clear option for adding dietary preferences to refine the search
  • Tags (albeit at the bottom) to make it easy to hone in on specific types of recipes. Even though the tags are all the bottom, if you select a certain tag it is redisplayed at the top so you can see what tags are currently applied to the results.

allthecooks_autosuggest

allthecooks_results

allthecooks_results_sort

allthecooks_filter

allthecooks_results_scroll_down

allthecooks_filtered_and_tags

Couple of minor quirks:

  • The gear/settings in the top right of the results page is a duplicate of the filter functionality. Wrong icon, and why do you need the same features twice? Just ditch it.
  • The checkboxes under the search box don’t really make sense. I would have never given these a second though except for the implementation in iOS7 filter made me wonder: Who thinks like this?

    “I want to search for ‘pear’ but not in the title, only in the description, but not in the ingredients.” Seems like an edge case which means those checkboxes could be de-prioritized in favor of the more common ways people think of finding recipes: by entree, dessert, salads, etc… (ie. raise the prominence of the tags that are pushed down to the bottom of the results list)

quirks

Details Page

Once the results are reviewed, the social cook can navigate to a recipe details page. It is well laid out, easy to scan, with the common actions clearly visible.

Note: allthecooks are not following the Android design guidelines of putting all the actions in the action bar and using the overflow action menu, but have instead decided to put the actions in proximity to the content where they make the most sense. Bet this tested better in the real world.

allthecooks_recipe_top

allthecooks_recipe_middle

allthecooks_recipe_bottom

This page could have used the Android scrolling tabs control to show the Overview, Reviews, Photos, and Q&A, but a long page is even easier to scroll through and see all the important information at a glance.

The iOS7 App

Here is my audio and video walk through of the iPhone app:

Even ignoring the bugs, you can see the iOS7 experience is sub-par compared to Android. Let’s break this down:

Navigation

There is no menu invitation, but presumably the icon is familiar to most mobile users by now. Looking closer at the expanded menu- I noticed there are some differences in the IA.

allthecooks_menu_open_full

allthecooks_menu_iOS

Now, since I don’t work at allthecooks, I don’t know if they are in the middle of a strategy overhaul and the iOS7 app reflects this. But the IA could use another review- this menu is too long and poorly organized. Here are some tips to try testing:

  1. Remove duplicates. There is no need for the Search in the menu and a persistent search in the title bar. Roll Browse (by category) into the persistent Search feature, like Sam’s and Etsy.
  2. sam's club-browse

    etsy-search

  3. Group things that go together- together. For example: My Favorites and Shopping List are utilities for the user, might want to put them near My Profile and My Recipes and My Messages. In fact, bundle these last three together under My Profile. A single profile page that includes Recipes, Messages should work. The profile can also include who I follow and who follows me (like Twitter), and quick access to my shopping list and favorites.
  4. News Feeds, and What’s New and Forums are all ways to learn more and get involved, so consolidate them. Consider adding in some social elements like a leaderboard/top contributor page.

Search & Results
First and foremost the search should work. Once that bar is cleared, let’s look at the search results view. As I noted in the iOS7 video, there seems to be a completely different search experience design for iOS than for Android.

search_bug

search_results

search_filter

search_filter_bottom

search_results_users

profile_page_from_pears_users

Here are some tips to for improving the search experience:

  1. Show the number of results
  2. Show an on-page sort
  3. Use a standard filter icon to launch a filter form
  4. Show the filters that are applied
  5. Remove the toggle for Recipes/Users- instead consider elevating the social element by defaulting the sort to “most popular” or by showing results from people I have followed first in the list (include their photo maybe?), then the rest of the results.
  6. De-prioritize the filter checkboxes for title, description, ingredients, or consider implementing a scoped search control for both Android and iOS, if the demand for this feature is really strong.

Here are some good examples of results pages with sort and filter features:

Expedia offers onscreen sort and filter options.

Expedia_select_location

Expedia_filter

Expedia_sort

Target on Android uses and on screen sort and a filter drawer and shows that a filter has been applied.

target_search_results

target_filter_drawer

target_results_filtered

Saks uses a full screen form for both sorting and filtering and shows the applied filters.

saks_results

saks_sort

saks_refine

saks_sub_category

saks_results_filtered

Details Page
The details page on iOS7 may look nice at first glance, but it is not as easy to use as the Android app.

detail_page
Challenging elements:

  • The buttons (to the right of the title Ingredients) don’t look like buttons and are really small. The last button in the row is particularly hard to decipher, and doesn’t provide any accordance wen it is tapped. But once I scrolled down I noticed it changed the unit of measure from standard to metric.
  • The IA of the content isn’t as well structured as on Android. For example, there is an option to take a picture when done cooking, but not leave a review. Android offers both in the right spot, plus the option to Flag Recipe in case there are errors.
  • Each tab: Cover, Reviews, Photos, and QA repeats the ingredients and directions- more unnecessary duplication.

Other Examples

What are some examples of native apps that have done a good job of creating a consistent UX across the multiple OSs with the same form factor? Some of the best I’ve seen are the Android and iPhone apps from AirBNB, Expedia, New Egg, Zillow, Dropbox, Flipboard, and Evernote.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Mobile UX Summit along with Josh Clark, Brad Frost and some other inspirational guys. My talk was a case study of Silvercar, a start-up we led the UX design for last year. The talk explores how and why we took a Mobile First approach to the design part of the project. It also illustrates the process and deliverables for each stage in a cross-channel UX design project. 

I’m going to re-record and post the audio as well in the next week.

I’m working on the second edition of the Mobile Design Pattern Gallery and spending a couple of weeks with each OS. These last 2 weeks have been dedicated to Windows 8, which thankfully is way better than the last version. One of the best parts (for me) is that Windows finally included the ability to take screenshots. Yippee!

I’ve used about 300 apps so far. There are some really great ones, but also some major UX fails. I’m defining a UX fail as a flow problem, not just a bad UI or visual design. You could consider them UX anti-patterns.

Dead End

Designing a UX is designing for flow, and flow is, in most cases about moving forward to accomplish a goal. 6 Week Training does not want people to move forward.

6Week_Training_Start

6Week_Training_Create_Set

6Week_training_Add_More

6Week_Training_Dead_End

Um, what’s next? There is absolutely nothing to tap or swipe or long press after building the Super Set. All I can do is use the hard back button to return to the home page, or read “What is a Super Set”. This is a really easy fix in Windows, offer the Save button at the bottom of the screen (although the old floppy disk icon is a bit incongruous at this point), or just use the keyboard that offers the check/save button at the bottom, like LinkedIn.

Save_alarmLinkedIn_save

No Entry Beyond This Point

On a similar note, Film Closet (left) just shuts me down any time I tap on an icon. Okay, I get it, you want me to sign up to use these features. How about a quick link to Sign Up or just let me login here like eTrade (right) does?

FilmCloset_no_entryeTarde_signin_to_access

Forget Me Not

Audible invested time and resources to build badges and user stats into their mobile apps. I can only assume this attempt at gamification was to motivate more listening, more purchases, and increase customer loyalty. But, they neglected to tie the badges and stats into the users account.

But instead of inspiring my loyalty, they’re starting to alienate me. I’ve been a Audible member for 6 years and have bought and listened to hundreds of books. On my old iPod, I had earned almost all of the badges. But none of this is tied to my account, just to the device. So even although I am logged to this Windows app, and Audible knows who I am, I’ve got no badges!!

Audible_statsAudible_Badges

It is important when designing cross channel experiences to meet users expectations of interconnectivity and synchronization across devices. Kobo does a nice job of this with their Reading Life program.

kobo_readinglife

Might I Suggest?

In general, most of the Windows apps I’ve tried seem 2-3 years behind iOS and Android apps. A perfect example of this is the pervasive lack of auto suggest and dynamic search functionality.

Cocktails, which otherwise is one of the best Windows apps I’ve used, could offer a much nicer search experience by including auto suggest, especially since this app is likely be used while consuming alcohol (how do you spell mo-he-toe again? ). Economic Times is also missing auto suggest although every financial portfolio tool on Android and iOS provides auto suggest for stock look up.

CocktailFlow_no_autosuggestEconomicTimes_no_autosuggest

Amazon and eTrade have both integrated auto-suggest, but they are definitely in the minority.

Amazon_autosuggesteTrade_autosuggest

The Windows Store might be the worst offer. They have auto suggest but it must be connected to a database of something other than their apps. Check out some of the weird things I’ve encounter while conducting fairly normal searches.

Windows_Store_autosuggest_wth2Windows_Store_autosuggest_wth

But never fear, if you just ignore the odd suggestions and run a search anyway, you’ll get a seemingly unsorted list of (possible?) matches, with no way to sort by relevance, rating, etc.. Major UX fail.

Windows_Store_search_results1Windows_Store_search_results2

Tip: Always provide sort and filter options when returning a large list of results.

sort options_craigslist

filter options_ebay

Geo What?

One of my favorite aspects of mobile design is pondering the possibilities of using geolocation to open up new opportunities to make an application more relevant and useful. Yelp’s mobile app is better than their site because it knows where you are, and more importantly, what’s near you.

Domino’s has a pretty nice app for ordering pizza. But why do I have to type in my address? The app could at least guess my city, state and zip, and I’ll fill in the rest. Or just let me type the zip and infer the city and state (less typing on mobile, the better).

Dominos_addressDominos_Select_state

The Domino’s experience isn’t awful, just a little extra work, but the Craigs List app blew my mind. Look at all the steps I have to go through to set a location.

CraigsList_searchCraigsList_add_location

CraigsList_pick_regionCraigsList_pick_state

CraigsList_pick_city

Time Saver or Time Waster

I think every every recipe app on every OS has a time saving list feature. The concept is simple, you see a recipe you like, add it to your list. Take that list to the store, check off the items, and come home with everything you need to make the recipe. Epicurious has a nice list feature for reference.

wp_ss_20120901_0086wp_ss_20120901_0088

But I have never seen any quite as cumbersome and unhelpful as Bett Crocker’s list. This is why you should always do a competitive analysis before starting UX design, the whole list thing has already been figured out, and this is not the solution.

BC_list_1BC_list_2BC_list_3BC_list_4BC_list_5BC_list_6BC_list_7BC_list_8BC_list_9
BC_list_10

Am I Done Yet?

Short sign up forms have better conversion that long ones, and the shorter the better for mobile. Betty Crocker hasn’t optimized their mobile forms yet, it is the same four step process from the web site, just adjusted for a smaller form factor (well, the first three pages are, looks like they forgot about the confirmation screen?).

BettyCrocker_SignUp1BettyCrocker_SignUp2

BettyCrocker_SignUp3BettyCrocker_SignUp4

However, I found Fancy’s Sign Up to be equally inefficient. I had to enter my name: Theresa Neil, my user name: theresaneil, and my email theresaneil  @ gmail com.  At least I didn’t have to enter my password twice.

Fancy_3times

They’re Taking Me Away

Funny, FitBit feels the need to inform me that they are going to take me to Sign Up. This makes me wonder if they are going to interrupt my flow every time I tap a button, popping up a message stating the obvious.

FitBitFitBit_message

FitBit_Web_signup

This redirect to the browser is disruptive and kludgey. At least Betty Crocker wrapped their form so we can remain in the app to register.

Tip: Rerouting prospective customers out of the app they just downloaded is a crappy first time experience. Take the time to create an in-app registration experience.

Stay posted for the rest of the series where we’ll look at UX Fails from BlackBerry, Android, and iOS.

UXApprenticeUX Apprentice is a joint project with the great folks at Balsamiq. Last year they asked me to create a resource for their millions of users who are not UX practitioners. As you’ve probably noticed, everybody uses Balsamiq now days to mockup products: developers, product owners, entrepreneurs, marketing teams, etc.

UX Apprentice is for you. We knew you didn’t have time to read the hundreds of books out there, and might not know which ones to start with even if you did have the time. So we wrote a little story, or study, of UX in practice, and added some theory and additional resources along the way.

If you have any questions or feedback you’d like to share, please let me know so we can improve this site over time.

Hiring Top UX Talent

March 9, 2013 — 3 Comments

Every company I’ve spoke with in the past 6m-1yr has mentioned that they just can’t find, much less hire, top UX talent. As one of the aforementioned “talents”, I’d like to share some advice to help companies with their recruiting efforts.

Hiring Do’s

1. Bone up on the terminology

I know there are a bunch of acronyms in the field, UX, UI, UCD, IA, IX, XD, etc.. but you wouldn’t think of just posting an add for a “Developer”, you’d take the time to specify that you want an experienced Java Developer with JSP, Spring, Soap and MVC experience. 

2. Understand the space

UX isn’t graphic design and it isn’t web design and it isn’t (just) making wireframes. An experienced UX practitioner will guide you from research to product launch. They should be part of your strategy team, not brought in at the tail end of the design phase to tidy up the wireframes. 

If you are hiring a consultant, they should want to be part of your team through  launch (and afterwards too). UX isn’t about a hand-off, it is a cornerstone of your project’s success.

3. Skip posting on the generic job boards 

Every qualified (and unqualified) designer I know is too busy to be pouring over the job boards. Reach out to leaders in the UX field and ask for recommendations. Try the UX groups on LinkedIn or the industry specific associations like the UXPA. 

4. Pursue the best fit

Since it is already a tight market, might as well shoot for the stars. If you have a big data visualization project, seek out a UX designer who is passionate about data visualization (like me). Research those designers and try to win one for your project. 

I am more likely to work with a company who takes the time to look at my portfolio before calling, just like they would expect me research their company if I was pursuing them. 

5. Request a portfolio

A UX designers portfolio might not be flashy like a creative director’s will be, but it should showcase their process and deliverables in the context of a projects success. 

6. Do due diligence

I have been suckered in by a gorgeous portfolio more times than I would like to admit, only to find out later the person was only tangentially involved in the project. I have now learned to ask these questions:

  • What role did you play in this project?
  • How long were you involved (2 of the 6 months, start to finish, still working on it)? 
  • Who else was on your team?
  • What process did you use? 
  • Can I contact your creative director, team member, manager, client, etc… for a recommendation?

7. Know the nuances

If you are creating enterprise applications, a UX designer with web site experience probably isn’t a good fit. Look for someone with enterprise and BtoB experience. Conversely if you are working on a mobile app based on community building an enterprise UX designer won’t have the background of experience you need.

There are also specific roles in the UX field, like UX researcher. This is a vital role, but don’t expect your researcher to be a top notch mobile designer too (and vise versa). I have built our my team to have complimentary skills and we pair up based on the product space, and specific project needs.

8. Take a test drive

If the candidate doesn’t have a case study in their portfolio  take a small problem that you may have already solved and ask the candidate how he would approach it as the UX designer.*

*I am not suggesting you try to get free design work as part of the interviewing process, just test the designer like you would test a programmer. 

Hiring Don’ts

And now what not to do

1. Use a recruiter that has no idea what UX is

I have dozens of examples of being contacted by a recruiter who is hiring for a high level position but doesn’t know what UX is. They either think it is something to do with development or graphic design. Hard to have a conversation with this person…

2. Use a recruiter at all

Just got an email yesterday from a company that I would love to work with, but the recruiter suggested I would be great for their UX design as a “junior designer”. Seriously? Conversation over before it even started.

3. Offer 1/2 the going rate

A major hardware company called me a couple of months ago about a UX director role. They are “re-imagining” their whole user experience from soup to nuts. I was intrigued until we discussed the $$. They were paying 1/3  of the going rate. 

4. Think the ‘X’ in UX stands for seXy

So you’ve followed all these pointers and have top talent on the phone or across the table, don’t blow it by telling them you want to design a “sexy” app. The X stands for Experience, and the U for Users. 

The only way to blow your users socks off is to talk with them , get in their heads, and craft an experience that improves their life. Unless you are in the adult entertainment business or fashion, your users are not looking for “sexy”, they  are just desperately hoping for something that makes their life easier or more enjoyable. 

5. Want to start tomorrow

Again, every qualified (and unqualified) designer I know is booked, so please, please PLAN AHEAD. Bare minimum the candidate will need two weeks to wrap up their current project, more if they are leading it. 

But even more importantly, unreasonable timelines are a red flag for any project. I am forever perplexed by companies that call me and want me to start “yesterday”. It typically means the whole project is going to be run poorly and subject to knee jerk decisions during critical phases.

Wrap Up

My recommendations are similar to many other lists already out there, just scoped to the field of UX and my own personal experiences. And remember tip #3, I’d be happy to refer you to designers who might be a good fit for your projects, so reach out to me.

Android users can now pay with PayPal at Starbucks.

I’m really excited to see this product come to life. We worked with PayPal on the early concepts for mobile payments at Starbucks.

Early ideas required Starbucks customers to open the PayPal application on their iPhone to pay. This Android experience is more natural, allowing customers to simply refill their Starbucks card with PayPal, within the Starbucks mobile app.

Just wrapped up a conference in Stockholm yesterday, DevSum12. Imagine my surprise to be on the front page of Sweden’s biggest Technical Magazine this morning.

Either my talk was riveting, or Computer Sweden needed more pictures of women in technology (or maybe both). Take a look at the talk and let me know your thoughts.

As soon as I have the links to the other speakers presentations, I will share those as well, including a great beginners talk on Node.js. I’m going to use Steve Sanderson’s sample files to get started with a little project of my own.

We just wrapped up last day of the IA Summit 2012 in lovely New Orleans. I have enjoyed wonderful food, drinks, company and speakers including Stephen Anderson, Josh Clark, Chris Risdon, Greg Nudelman, Nadine Schaeffer and Dan Brown.

But one of the talks on Saturday, a panel called Taking the Plunge: Diving into Indie UX, left me gaping. The first section focused on design and design process and how it would be different if you are acting as an independent operator vs working within an agency or organization. I was shocked to hear the 4 panelists don’t collaborate with other designers or work with mentors because, as one said “I’m a good designer, I don’t need help“. Other comments about 16 hour days, spending 20-40% of time on non-billable tasks, deals taking 18 months to close, and not having repeat clients illustrated the wrong way to approach indie work, not a sure path to success.

I’ve been an ‘indie’ for about 7 years, but I’m no expert. I came to the session hoping to learn how other independent designers handle important issues like process, pricing, managing clients, finding the right clients. Instead I am alarmed that there may be a whole group of people out there posing as UX designers who don’t know their ass from a tea kettle and another set of professional, dedicated designers who could be very successful working independently now scared to try it.

Like I said, I am not an expert, but I have been successful, more so that I would have ever imagined. I have a group of 10 other ‘indies’ who work with me, many outstanding client relationships, a broad & deep portfolio in the space I’m interested in. If you measure success with dollar signs, I matched my salary from my previous Director of UX position in the first year and it has steadily increased each year. I like what I do and I hope to be in this field as it evolves over the next 7 years.

So I don’t know if this is the right way to dive into indie work, but I think it is a more balanced and professional approach than what I heard Saturday:

1. Clock your 10k

Malcolm Gladwell and other writers have noted the correlation between 10,000 hours of experience in a field and expert status. So you’ll need a bare minimum of 5 years designing before you have the skills, experience and exposure to go out on your own. But a normal desk job doesn’t get you 10k in 5 years. A full-time job + side projects might though- see #2. And making a web site in high school doesn’t mean at 20, you now have 5 years experience under your belt. I’m talking about design work in a professional environment, hopefully one where you work like a dog to learn everything you can about this field- see #3.

2. Ease into it

Keep your day job, and if you have the passion and time, pick up a side project for the evenings and weekend. This will help you learn important info about yourself that you’ll need to know before taking the full time indie plunge. How are you at:

  • estimating
  • managing timelines
  • setting client expectations
  • selecting and screening projects and clients
  • taking criticism
  • following through
  • scheduling meetings
  • saying ‘no’ (this was one of the good things Donna Spencer noted in the talk)
  • working from home
  • working remotely
  • dealing with all the bs that comes with working from home
  • negotiating your rate
  • handling the bookkeeping

.
It might become readily apparent that you will thrive in this role or that there are some areas where you’ll need more experience or support.

3. Do anything to work with the best

Anthony Bourdain, author of ‘Kitchen Confidential’, has a newer book, ‘Medium Raw’. In this book he has a chapter titled “So you wanna be a chef”. He bluntly explains that if you are old (in restaurants that means over 30), fat, or have any health problems, to stay away. After this chapter designed to open your eyes about the real physical demands of cooking, he says if you do decide to go to culinary school, and manage to graduate, do everything in your power to work for the best. Whore yourself out to the best restaurants in Europe, just for the experience. Even if they don’t pay you, even if you sleep on someone’s floor for a year, it is worth it just for the experience.

Same thing applies in our field, but I’ll spare you all the cussing Bourdain uses to make my point. Go work with the best UX designer or agency that will take you. Intern for free, or volunteer to work on side projects just to get the chance to collaborate with experienced and talented people.
I was super lucky in this regard. In my first year as a designer, I helped hire my future boss, mentor, friend and co-author, Bill Scott. I spent 4 years learning from one of the best UI designers and developers in the U.S.

4. Don’t degrade or disgrace this budding industry

UX is an emerging field. Many companies know they need UX help but don’t know exactly what that will entail. If you have clocked your 10k, worked with the best, and successfully delivered a number of side projects on time, on budget, and the designs you made were well received by the end users (in testing and production), you may be ready to help these companies.

If you haven’t clocked your 10k, haven’t successfully delivered multiple projects on time, on budget, and received positive user feedback (in testing and production), and haven’t worked with the best, you likely do NOT know what you are doing well enough to represent our industry on your own. Go back and get the experience you will need to help your clients be successful. Because, ultimately, this isn’t about you making fat stacks while working in your pajamas, it is about making your client’s projects successful.

5. Get your ducks in a row

Legal

You need some type of legal entity. I’m not lawyer or accountant, so I won’t advise you as to what type. I have a LLC, and so do most the designers I collaborate with (who are in the US).

You will need a standard MNDA, a consulting agreement, and a SOW template. And you’ll need a lawyer to review contracts before you sign them. I am serious, pay the extra money to make sure you are covered, you’ll sleep better at night.

Software and hardware

You need a time tracking system, invoicing system and file sharing system. You need a personal computer, and preferably a back up computer. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but you need a secure backup of your work.

Financial security

You’ll need 3-12 months of living expenses in the bank. Trust me, you don’t want to be in the position where you have to take any job that comes along because you’re broke. Having some financial security gives you the freedom (and time) to screen prospective clients carefully and only accept projects that are closely aligned with your expertise and interest.

Public presence

You do not need a fancy office, amazing web site, logo, or business cards.

You do need a concise overview of your services and how you will work with your clients to provide value. I drafted a UX process years ago to help set client expectations about my role as a UX consultant, the deliverables, and what I expect from them during an engagement. Every client’s UX needs are different, so we don’t always follow this approach, but it is a good tool for the initial discussions. If you are going to freelance, you need a process or at least some case studies of projects you have been involved in.

You need a current portfolio. Be honest. Clearly call out what your role for each project was and who else you collaborated with. I would also recommend having a professional blog and authoring original content. Once you get used to writing, contribute to reputable UX blogs, like UX Booth, UX Magazine, UX Matters, etc..

References

Not all clients ask for them, but they should. Be able to provide references, preferably from pleased clients and colleagues. Again, if you clocked 10k, eased into this and worked with the best, this shouldn’t be hard to come up with. I had the luck of the lifetime when I left Sabre with a portfolio with dozens of desktop, web and mobile applications and their gold star recommendation.

6. Build a trusted team of collaborators

So I already mentioned that I was appalled that the panelists didn’t work with other designers, not even mentors. But as I thought about this more, I realized this is simple arrogance, not ignorance. UX encompasses a broad array of disciplines. A typical UX project we’re involved in includes:

  • market research
  • stakeholder interviews
  • business strategy sessions
  • user research
  • information architecture design
  • interaction design
  • content development
  • user validation/testing
  • prototyping
  • development collaboration
  • project management
  • visual design

And some projects require even more specialty work like video production.

I’m certainly not qualified to handle all of these roles myself, nor have I met any single UX person who is. Before I built my team of UX experts, I connected with fellow consultants who specialized in the areas I was weakest (ie. user research, testing, visual design, and prototyping). I knew which ones I could collaborate with who could be trusted to provide high quality work on time and on budget.

7. Provide a stellar Client Experience

Here’s an area I am still working on. After designing all these years, I forget that our clients don’t live and breath UX. They are new to the process, the terminology, the principles and the deliverables. They are looking to us for guidance to make their project successful.

One of the things we try to do, but should probably make a mandatory step in our process, is an on-site kick off meeting. We elaborate on our process, meet the stakeholders, then start looking at the business objectives for the project.

Once we’re up and running, we have standing design sessions, 1-2 days a week depending on the pace of the project. We also use Basecamp or myBalsamiq for file sharing and collaboration. Basecamp isn’t the perfect app for consulting, but the calendar does allow you to enter events and milestones. We’ve found that providing a really light weight project plan combined with standing weekly meetings, and the message board in Basecamp cuts down on random client emails at mid-night, or panicked calls asking when they can see the next version.

Don’t go crazy with the SaaS though, notes on Google docs, assets in DropBox, messages in Basecamp, project plans in Gantter, etc… just confuse clients. You’ll spend more time resetting passwords than getting design work done. Try to find one tool that is good enough, and stick with it, for their sake.

All in all, be professional

  • Leave a reasonable amount of time to complete your work, don’t knock it out at 3am, or in a 16 hour day
  • Respond to messages in a timely manner
  • Treat clients’ questions and feedback with respect, you are the design expert, but they are the subject matter experts
  • Educate them on UX methodology as appropriate during the project- note this is different than evangelizing UX

8. Get clients, not projects

This was the most troubling part of the talk, none of the panelists had significant repeat customers. They didn’t even talk about building client relationships. I have found the key to consulting is building client relationships, meaning, instead of taking 20 disparate projects a year, we have a half dozen clients that we work with on multiple projects.

The panelists spoke of 16 hour days (at the same time saying they bill by the hour which made me cringe) and how “you’ll burn out quick” like this. What I find to be most draining is ramping up on numerous small projects back to back. That is why client relationships are so valuable; it is easier to ramp up on projects within the same company, even if the work is for a different organizational unit. And we’re providing a great value to our repeat clients by reducing the number of hours need in the discovery cycle, since we already have some understanding of their industry and customers.

In summary

You can’t become an ‘indie’ UX designer until you have proven yourself as a ‘successful’ UX designer and have the portfolio and references to back you up.

I’d love to hear more tips from other successful independent designers; I’m sure there are many topics I’ve overlooked here, so chime in with your own experiences.

I don’t know where I’m getting the free time to click through Slideshare over the past week, but here’s another presentation I enjoyed. I think they did an excellent job highlighting how a product’s interface (not just copy) can influence our behaviors.