UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 521 April 23, 2010

Doing More With Less Time

As much as we want all projects to have exhaustive requirements gathering, user research, and UX design phases, the reality is that UX professionals are often asked to accomplish a lot with very little time or resources. This means we frequently have to get creative about how we can focus and speed up our work to deliver strong results within the constraints we’re given.

I’d like to share an example of a recent project I had to design an online dashboard that would manage land and investment properties across the world. By maintaining focus on a strong, close working relationship with my client, we were able to get rapid results that the client and I were both happy with.

As is the case with most projects, resources were tight and time was limited. From prior focus groups, the project was handed to me with some meeting notes, various images and logos, and wireframes. But the overall process, client expectations, and user needs were still very unclear.

Establish Trust

The first objective in any project, large or small, is to establish trust between the designer and the client. Having trust in one another allowed both of us to work more efficiently together. As time is always an issue in any project, it is imperative to make this a priority as early as possible. Sometimes this may come naturally and the trust is already there due to a referral or recommendation. No matter how it gets made, it needs to always be there. Trust is the foundation of efficiency, and without it friction and miscommunication will continuously slow progress.

Build Relationships

Next, I set up a time to meet with the client in person. This not only helps to improve the working relationship with the client and fosters trust, but also removes possible communication inefficiencies. It also lets the client have notes or related documents ready at hand, and to easily discuss ideas with co-workers. Though it may seem trivial, I find it important to pay attention to the physical dynamics of my interaction with a client. For instance, if we're sitting together at the same side of the table or desk, we're working together, whereas if we're at opposite ends of a conference table, it creates more of a distant dynamic, both literally and figuratively. Doing so will also give both of you an equal level of respect and open up communication.

Gather Results

From this initial meeting I was able to put together a detailed explanation of the results they expected and had a better idea of how the results would be used. I then took this data and worked through personas and workflows using research my client already had available. These personas and workflows are fairly easy to create, and they ensure an end-user focus from the very start of the project. Once these were finished, it became very clear to me what the user needs now were and how to create an experience that would come naturally to them.

Share The Process

I brought some blank wireframe templates to the client and directly worked with them to get their vision for the functionality of each page. With their help and input, I was quickly able to determine what was needed and where it would go. I usually don’t recommend wireframing like this directly with clients unless absolutely necessary, but sometimes the circumstance determines the initiative. And in this case, because of the trusting, comfortable, collaborative relationship we’d established, the client was an invaluable resource in getting done quickly, and the results represented consensus and a shared vision. Once the wireframes were drawn up, it was time to begin creating a digital layout.

Wireframes
Wireframe sketching with the client can greatly improve the speed of a project.

During a Q&A session with the client, they mentioned that users would be looking intently at the product’s interface for long periods of time as they studied various charts and property details. This feedback led me to use gentle shades of blue and gray for the framework and various pastels for the graphs and other information-driven elements to keep the experience fresh and unwearying.

Product prototype
The finished prototype as displayed in Firefox 3.7.

Bring The Code To The Client

Next came the high-fidelity prototypes with all interactions and formatting in place. It’s important to let the client see a high-fidelity representation of their product as early as possible, and to see it as users will see it. It’s also important to showcase the overall functionality of the application: What does this button do on hover? How does a chart behave when options are updated on the page? How does this look in other browsers? How does the text render in the browser? These are all very important issues and can be difficult to address through a Photoshop file, or Word or OmniGraffle document.

Wrapping Up

After the prototypes are polished, the development stage could begin quickly as most of the groundwork had already been laid in the prototyping phase. The prototype felt like the “real deal” to the client, and represented strong consensus since the client was closely involved in its creation.


The most important ways to speed up your process relies on trust, collaborating closely, and helping the client have better confidence in the outcome by using prototypes. Doing these things, you might just be lucky enough to zip to a quick, successful conclusion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Jared Lewandowski currently lives in Utah. In 1997, he began his career as a graphic designer in central Nebraska. Over the last 14 years, he's built many successful medical and financial websites and web applications, as well as presented on accessibility and usability to large and small businesses around the United States. He is now a Senior User Experience Manager for Rain.

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Comments

19
17

Thanks for the writeup Jared.

I agree with your thoughts and Jacob's comments about "sharing the process." It seems that often as designers we want our customers to just go away while we work up their dream solution. The problem with this is that we often forget that our clients are still the experts, no matter how much we think we learned in our initial project briefing with them, they still have all the knowledge.

Along with "sharing the process" you might expand that to make sure that they are integrally involved in the process. Almost every project I've been on that has failed has been because the client checks out, or ceases to be as involved as they were in the beginning of the project. When you share the process, you also share the result and everyone ends up happier.

15
17

A great article - really useful ideas here. I personally think sharing the process is a really a big part of this. It's so important to get clients involved, and give them an understanding of what's going on, and why things are the way they are. Very well said.

Thanks!

16
15

I have found that in establishing relationships with the client, having an informal meeting is the way to go. What typically works for me is that we go to restaurants that are not formal. This helps relax the client so that we can sketch out designs after chatting and light eating (maybe 1 beer). Of course we are not talking about fast food joints, however that's worked before at the clients request.

Yes, table napkins still make a good medium. Albeit the iPad will do better. :)

13
17

Yes, I totally second the idea of an early close collaboration and rapid prototyping.

However, some clients perceive quick sketching as something crude... Many are sooo used of wasting their time with Powerpoint presentations! It is the designer's task to emphasize the reasoning behind this working agility... and keep up the tempo with the subsequent wireframing/design.

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I almost always try and involve the client from the get go. And in all honesty, clients tend to have some great insights (even though they might not be 'web savvy'). Plus, the 'trust building' process is key to working like this - (Are you on actually on the same wave-length with the client).

Now, I have to say I'm talking about clients that are actually interested in what they are trying to achieve.

Cheers for sharing your thoughts.

Valon.

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I love the idea of working on prototypes with clients. I'm not sure I've ever worked with a client where this would be possible though.

Do clients need to have a good grasp of web trends etc for this to work or in your experience, is being there to explain your thought process good enough for them?

It's certainly something I want to try in the future

19
16

It's amazing how often clients will enjoy learning about the design process and are quite impressed with amount of work that goes into it. This is some great feedback... Thanks for your comments and good luck!