Several months ago I had the pleasure of meeting with a founder of a NYC startup in one of my ohours sessions. This happens quite a bit, as NYC has an amazing startup scene with a good majority of these startups looking for UX help. A lot of times startups (due to the nature of their business) are not sure when to engage UX. They know that they want to have UX as a part of their business, but their budgets are tight and they aren’t sure of the best way to allocate that budget for UX in order to receive the biggest return on their investment. As UX professionals, we have been trained to tell people that UX should be involved from the very beginning and stay on until the very end, and although I agree, the simple fact is that the cost benefit analysis for startups doesn’t allow for this. So when startups come to me asking for advice on when to include UX, what I end up walking them through is a process for figuring out how much they can do on their own before they bring in someone with my background and expertise. This is usually extremely helpful to them as it helps them to insert UX into their product but also keeps their budgets in line. It is also helpful in changing their thinking from their current state into that of design thinking.
The problem that we see with startups not knowing the “right” time to bring UX into the fold is, simply, that they bring UX in at the wrong time. Most times this means bringing UX thinking in too late, and at a point where we can’t do any user analysis or problem analysis and are expected to just make the interface more usable. Or, they may bring us in at an awkward time in the process flow where they expect us to solve a problem that is ill defined, and then refuse to listen to our reasoning and solutioning due to schedule conflicts. Whatever the case, UX is not properly understood which causes frustration on our end, and waste of funding on the startup’s end. It also can cause even further misunderstanding of UX and its value.
The first step in attempting to solve this issue of when to bring UX into the startup fold is for the startup to figure out how much about UX it really wants to learn. Some founders do not have time to learn much at all, while other clients of mine have done a great job of figuring out the ins and outs of our UX work. Either way, I think that in order for founders to be successful, they need to show some attempt (however small) to figure out what UX can contribute to their bottom line. As a UX consultant, I know that this is part of my sell, and it is a service and narrative that I provide, however I would recommend that startup founders at least start to orient their mind to what UX really is. The biggest step that a founder can take is to begin to open up their mind to moving UX and Design beyond the interface. I read this great post the other day, What is Design Thinking and Why Do Entrepreneurs Need to Care?, that reminded me of how non-UX folks can start to change their points of view. Doing so, even at a small level, is a useful start.
Next, once founders have changed their thinking, it’s about figuring out how much they want to and can take on themselves. This always depends on budget, but there are many “low hanging fruit” that startup founders can find just by understanding design thinking and UX principles at a high level. If one is less inclined to learn UX they better have a bigger budget so they can bring us in early on and keep us there throughout the process. If one wants to learn more or lacks the funding to bring a UXer on, they can pick up a good deal of this low hanging fruit on their own. I usually suggest that startups call me when it gets to a point where they are no longer able to clearly define the problem, understand their user, and improve the experience. This is the point where higher UX thinking and expertise will help to catapult their business.
The outcome of following these steps is not only that startups will begin to save money and time by bringing UX in at the right time, but they will also have a better understanding of UX and this will lead to more successful products. By taking the time to change one’s thinking in order to institute design thinking one successfully takes the first step in understanding how UX can help a business. Once they know where UX fits in, they can strategically use it to improve the experience of their product while maintaining a solid budget. Until then UX is just a buzzword, or a phantom that one expects to come in and solve all of their problems… magically, on time, within budget, etc. Well, I hate to say this, but what we do isn’t magic (ok maybe a little of it it), it involves thinking, knowledge and process that aims to take the experience for a user from zero…. to hero!