When I first started out in the UX field I encountered a strange phenomenon I came to think of as time travel.
Not in the pure sense of course, there was no Doctor Who involved and the Morlocks didn’t put in an appearance. What I’m referring to is time travel in a project UX sense.
Let me give you an example. A customer contacts us, with a site about to launch. The project is done, the website is built, and it’s about to hit market. Suddenly the voices of concern have notched up a bit, and usability testing has been suggested. The money has been spent, the site has been built, but we test anyway. We find a whole heap of issues, and the customer has to launch whilst trying to fix a few of them to reduce the damage. Life moves on. It’s always a little sad when this happens, but on we go.
Now this is where the time travel creeps in. Generally the customer will say something like “Oh, I guess I should have involved you guys earlier, right?” To which we nod our heads sagely and say yes. Next time they call, they are asking us to user test during the development phase, so there is plenty of time to make changes. This time they find the issues and fix them – after all, there’s time – but it’s still not cheap, and the customer says again “Ah, I guess you guys should come along even earlier, right?”
And so it goes.
We call it the maturity curve. Less UX-mature customers would involve us near the end of projects, and then as they matured they would begin to involve us sooner and sooner. First involvement was post or just pre-launch, second involvement mid development, third involvement early in development, fourth might be right back at the start (though some customers took far longer to learn this).
The reason for that maturity was simple – they were aiming for the sweet spot.
Maturity over time, with UX savings to be made
The graph above shows a very simple mapping of dollar savings over time, for UX involvement. At the start of a project the potential savings for UX are huge – you head off huge chunks of wasted time and cost, by avoiding developing the wrong thing. As the project progresses you can still find the problems, but they become increasingly costly to fix, with the savings therefore reduced. At the end of a project, the cost savings can be negligible since the budget is already spent.
Shows how customers evolve over time, from late involvement to increasingly earlier involvement
This image tells the story of maturity; first engagements were often very late in the project, sometimes even post launch. But as the client saw the value of involving UX, the engagement would ‘time-travel’ back along the projects, to increasingly earlier stages. And with each move towards the beginning of the project, the client generally sees a much higher return on investment – especially when you measure that investment (as you should) by including savings (effort, time, cost) but also measuring the improvement in the end product.
Which leads us to the sweet spot.
The sweet spot for UX engagement; early is best, in the first one third of the project timeline
You obtain your best value from a UX engagement when you engage in the sweet spot. The first third of a project is where the biggest impact can be made, and the biggest savings delivered. It’s at this stage that you can head off the major design flaws, that you can uncover the hidden user need that will deliver real value in the project. It’s at this stage that you save the most development time (and cost) by prototyping the concept and testing that with users.
That doesn’t mean this is the only time to engage – UX delivers value all through the project timeline, as long as it’s judicially applied and well structured. But if you’ve got limited UX budget, then this is the spot to spend it.
And if you’re not sure which activities to spend it on – stay tuned. We’ll be writing about that in our next piece.