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So You Want to Add User Experience to Your Project

04-14-21 Julie Young

Introducing UX to an IT organization or dev team can be a big adjustment. Learn some low-friction ways to incorporate UX while maximizing its business value.

Sometimes organizations come to us because they don’t have an established user experience practice and they need the kinds of insights that user experience provides. Or sometimes they want to develop a more user-centered approach to their team’s work. Introducing User Experience (UX) to an IT organization or a team of developers can be an adjustment both for the team and the organization. In this article, we’ll share some low-friction opportunities to incorporate UX while maximizing its value for the business.

When a UX consultant joins the team, they are displacing or disrupting the normal flow of things, even when they are warmly welcomed. Why is this?

Why Adding UX Disrupts Things

Maybe the product team has never had UX folks staffed on their projects. In that circumstance, some other team member was filling the UX role. Maybe a business analyst made mockups to help describe the requirements, or a project manager or developer was responsible for interpreting and communicating the business vision, or the customer success group gathered customer feedback. Adding a dedicated UX professional is naturally going to change up the roles and processes.

Or, let’s be honest, sometimes there was a past UX team that didn’t have the best relationship with the developers and product owners for a variety of reasons ranging from personality conflicts to organizational culture, and this diminished the influence of the role.

To be successful in these circumstances, the user experience role needs to gain the trust of the team and start contributing immediately. In our experience, the best way to gain trust and credibility is to have a clear strategy for when and how UX can contribute to the work. These early contributions should provide quick wins for the team and the business. At the same time, they should make everyone smarter by helping the team uncover research-backed insights for themselves.

Here are a few of our well-tested ways to incorporate user experience into projects.

Frictionless Times to Add User Experience into the Workflow

Introducing UX practices to an unfamiliar team can happen at any time in the project and still contribute business value, but you’ll get maximum value if you’re savvy about it. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Before a Project Starts

This is one of the more frictionless ways to add UX. Start with an amount of user research the project can bear. Often for Sparkbox, this means talking to the developers and stakeholders about what they know about the project. Then, we look at customer chat logs, survey results, web analytics, search logs, online reviews, user-generated content, and any other research that the organization already has.

Once we have a sense of the business goals and some initial ideas about the audience, we like to conduct user interviews or formative usability testing to get a sense of user behaviors, wants, and needs. This doesn’t need to be extensive if time or budget doesn’t allow. It could be talking to a few folks one-on-one or running a quick unmoderated usability test. It is better to be informed by the experiences of a few real users than by none at all. Depending on budget and schedules, invite the other team members to participate so they can also develop a better sense of the user.

Finally, always, always present your research findings back to the team. If you don’t have time or budget for polished personas and journey maps, that’s ok. But document, present, and discuss the findings. Share videos, audio, or direct quotes from users if you have them. This gives the rest of the team an awareness of your work, a better understanding of the users, and perhaps most importantly, the context and rationale on which future UX recommendations will be based. This is critical for building trust and credibility and also for creating a culture where the team considers the actual user in an informed way.

After a Project Has Started

It’s more challenging to add UX after a project has started. Perhaps requirements are already drafted, and the plan is set. It is perfectly acceptable to start by creating wireframes and relying on best practices.

At this phase of the project, the user experience needs to be open to iteration. Include the team and ask for ideas. Present a few different options and ask for your team’s input about the business and the customers. Once the team is on board with a concept, share it with stakeholders and incorporate their feedback. Get everyone involved because they have valuable insights and fresh ideas that should be heard.

At this point, we like to work in a usability test, either while it’s still in design or early in development so that it is still possible to make substantial changes if needed. Invite the team to watch usability testing or use video clips to explain issues. This builds the team’s empathy and buy-in. On the business side, a usability test enables you to uncover issues with the design or implementation early, saving wasted development time while improving the product. As a UX person, you can also gather user research during the usability test, asking users questions that can inform the next piece of design work.

At the End of a Project

Obviously, you wouldn’t have the UX team pop in to think up a new flow or UI at the end of the development phase. When UX is brought in at this point, it’s often because someone has concerns about usability or business value.

Here, we usually recommend usability testing what is live or ready to go live. Invite the team to brainstorm what to test. Ask what they would test and find out if they felt unsure about anything as they were developing it. Then invite them to join the sessions or watch the video recordings.

Once you’ve analyzed the usability test findings, share them with the team and discuss possible solutions to issues. When you include the team in problem-solving, they have ownership in the solutions. Also, the team will have a good sense of how much work the potential solution will take and can generate a range of ideas, from a quick or temporary fix to a long-term solution.

If you can’t run a usability test, you can use recording and heatmap tools like HotJar or Crazy Egg to identify issues with products or websites that are already in use. Include the team in the findings and problem-solving process just as you would with usability testing.

If You Do Just One Thing, Usability Test

In our experience, once the team has been involved in usability testing and has witnessed the results, they’ll want more usability testing. If you need to bring UX practices to a new team, or get higher-ups to understand the value of UX, definitely start with usability testing.

When you test high-value flows, you’ll find easy fixes in addition to those bigger issues. We’ve seen easy fixes, like changing the colors on a tab system or writing better notification messages, that generate huge ROI. For example, while usability testing an online shopping experience, we noticed that people’s expectation of what was included with the product didn’t match what they got—they had to buy another item that was sold separately. This one fix would not only eliminate customer complaints and reduce returns and refunds but would also result in the customer happily spending a few dollars more on our client’s website. This was easily solved with a slight adjustment to the product detail page and was well worth the cost. Sometimes, the team doesn’t notice the little issues like this because they don’t see the project with fresh eyes anymore. Or they’re not aware of how their actual audience uses the product.

You’ll also find that usability testing validates the team. Oftentimes, they’ve brought up some of these issues for months or years, but they were never prioritized. When a user points something out in a usability test, it is evidence, not an opinion.

And when you share video clips in your findings presentations, actually watching a user encounter something that is frustrating or inefficient builds empathy. It becomes a story that the executive can tell their team or their bosses when they need to get folks on board.

Growing the UX Practice

Once your team and stakeholders have developed an appreciation for the value UX brings, it is much easier to include it in projects and on teams. And from there, you can add more aspects of UX to your practice, like additional user research, more testing methods, or different design approaches. While it’s tempting to think you need to add UX like the big bang—all of it at once, a fully formed department—that isn’t the only way to get results. It’s possible to get significant value and build momentum toward a culture of user experience by strategically inserting UX where it can do the most good. If you’d like to talk about how you can grow UX at your organization, contact us.

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Katie Jennings

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