UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1261 June 25, 2014

The Eight Most Common Mistakes Made on UX Design Projects

I’ve worked in the UX discipline for over a decade now, and have been on a number of projects both large and small. One of the skills I've picked up in that time is pattern recognition, which helps me create personas and to identify trends to design for. It also helps me notice when certain things keep happening, namely mistakes that occur over and over again on almost every design engagement. These mistakes can derail a project and, at the very least, make work more difficult than it needs to be.

Here are the eight most common mistakes designers make (in no particular order):

1. Under-Communicating

Whenever a design team “goes dark” for too long the client starts to get antsy. Keeping key stakeholders in the dark will result in anxiety and frustration. So make sure you provide “check-ins” on a regular basis to let them know how things are going and preview designs whenever possible.

2. Over-Communicating

Having daily stand-ups with the client may make sense for some projects, but not design. This often leads clients to think they can micro-manage design work at the pixel level, which is not constructive and leads to a frustrated team and stakeholders who end up focusing on the wrong things (details instead of “big picture” stuff).

How much communication is needed? Feel the client out, and do something that is obvious in hindsight: ask. That will allow you to align your schedule and approach to their expectations.

3. Over-Documenting

UX designers need to document how a design works, so the developers can understand what should be done to make the designs a reality. But design documentation are a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. The design team should document at the appropriate level to support development and testing, not write a novel.

Document at the appropriate level to support development and testing, don't write a novel

How much is enough? Again, communication is key: talk to the users of this documentation to understand their expectations. And, of course, find out what the client’s expectations are to make sure you hit that mark.

4. Under-Documenting

You can’t just sketch out the design on a back of a napkin and hand it to a developer or a stakeholder. You have to detail screen states, control behaviors, and map out the experience. Insufficient detail results in gaps in the experience and development and deployment issues.

5. Following the Same Process for Every Client

You’ll notice that a lot of the mistakes I have cited so far involved design teams being inflexible—there’s a reason for that. No matter what IDEO or Frog will tell you, there is no single “perfect” design process. You have to look at the context of the project, the timelines, and the expectations and adjust as needed. Optimally you want to have some key activities that take place on every project, but you have to “time-box” some of the design sprints and work. It’s all about being agile and flexible about your approach.

6. Not Doing Enough (or any) Research

One of the key activities referred to above is user research: you need to talk to end users (or potential end users) to understand their needs and inform the design. If you don’t have enough time, you need to make time—it’s that important. It gives you the context and understanding you need to do good work, because you have someone you are designing for.

7. Not Using Analytics and Legacy Data

“I don’t need marketing research or analytics, I’m going to talk to users!” User research is important, but you also need to leverage any details the client has to inform your understanding about the business “space” the design is intended for. Data can help you gain understanding and potentially trigger insights and ideas. But people who think they don’t need that type of information are often exhibiting what is possibly the worse mistake a designer can make:

8: Being Arrogant

I’ve worked with several “know it all” design types with egos the size of a small planetoid. Arrogance blinds you to empathy and understanding, and this usually results in angry stakeholders and frustrated team members. UX design is vitally important but we’re not curing cancer. Arrogant designers need to have some perspective.

 

Image of arrogant bro courtesy Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Joseph Dickerson is a writer, technologist, and user experience architect who specializes in "next-gen" experiences and products. A designer of multiple mobile and Internet applications, he has worked to make technology easier and better for users for over a decade. The author of several books, including a primer on user experience design, Experience Matters, Dickerson is a regular contributor to many websites as well as editor of This Week in UX, This Week in Geek and The Twin Peaks Gazette. He recently completed his second book on UX, UX 101.

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Comments

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The problem with UX is that there is a ton of ex webdesigners who just added "UX" to their repertoire, without knowledge of research, understanding and empathy about users. They just don a "im now a user" hat, and therefore i know what these users wants...

Thats not really UX beneficial.

for me, its mainly Cognitive user behaviour science , pedagogy and perception science, and then a very small splash of traditional graphical media psychology/design.

What do they do, how do they learn to use the product, how do they perceive the affordances, and lastly what does the design convey in the emotionall, contextual, experience related field.

 

...and how can i improve it =).

 

userunderstanding is the key..both in terms of usability, userfriendlyness and accessability.

 

( early morning thoughts..)

'

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As a consultant in the past, I've worked on teams that have had NO documentation. Their mentality was along the lines of, "We're just here to build it, not write about it."

Needless to say when things went wrong and there were problems, there were no documents for anyone to fall back on.

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One of the biggest mistakes in UX design projects is defining what UX is, both to clients and employees. Too many companies and agencies either require or provide 'UX designs' but in reality require GUI. Many times both do not have an idea what UX requires in terms of budget, expertise and time hence why most projects either fail or don't achieve the goals they where trying to fix in the first place.
When the day UX will be defined and people will understand that it's not a job title then it will be much easier to include it has a vital part in projects timelines and budgeting.

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Good points here Joseph.

Another thing to consider could be not pushing back hard enough against "design by committee" type scenarios...especially in larger companies working on high-visibility projects. And that of course ties into your first point about undercommunicating since in those situations it's very important to be close to your product manager so you can communicate the frustration and have the PM mediate feedback accordingly.

The PM could be your best friend when it comes to preventing designers from turning into errand boys for HIPPOs (Highest Paid Person's Opinion).

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Good one!! Most of the time, an UX/Visual designer follows the adopted best style and template, which they have so far to a particular client. Sometime they refer the best work for other customers also. What they are lacking is, end user or target user group. I completely agree with you, that each design has to be a fresh and more towards target user.

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Good article, Joseph. Your post makes a great argument for a liaison. Business angst can kill a great designer. It takes a special person to be able to play in both realms. Hopefully, a design team will be under the management of such a person.