A common complaint from UX professionals is that they are involved too late in the project lifecycle. The stage when UX resources are involved will determine what they can do for the project, and in turn, the impact they can have. While it is best to involve UX from the beginning, in reality that does not always happen. How early is early enough, and how late is too late? Looking back, I have typically seen our team involved in one of five stages:

  1. The “putting lipstick on a pig” stageThe “twinkle in someone’s eye” stage
    UX involvement during the initial planning stages can help incorporate a User-Centered Design (UCD) process into the project. This will also ensure that appropriate UX activities for the project are identified, along with a multidisciplinary design team for a successful UCD implementation. The main principle behind UCD is that through active participation in an ongoing dialog with users, via a variety of activities, we can effectively prioritize a portfolio of site features and ongoing improvements based on a blend of business and user goals.User-centered design begins early in the project by segmenting users into distinct groups, prioritizing and studying the needs of the primary groups using research methods like observation, surveys, and interviews. Prioritized user and business requirements are then converted into scenarios and prototypes that can be used for validation with users and also serve as a guide for developers.
  2. The “last minute invite” stage
    Someone at the project kickoff may have asked about UX, resulting in a last minute invite. Though UX may be a little late to the party, involvement at this stage should still allow for most of the UCD activities mentioned above, except for some of the initial user research. This may not be much of an issue if some of the upfront activities like user segmentation and research have already been completed by other groups like marketing.
  3. The “picture = 1000 words” stage
    Requirements are being discussed and captured. Everyone has a vision in their heads of what it will look like. It may be too late for user research, but UX resources can help visualize the requirements through rapid prototyping, making it easier for users to reach a common vision instead of reading page after page of detailed requirements. They can also set UX standards and guidelines that will guide developers down the line.
  4. The “what’s the best way to do this” stage
    A team of developers start coding based on the requirements, but soon realize that they each have their own interpretation of the requirements. The project may have missed out on user research and the UX design, but UX resources can still work with developers to create a consistent user experience and incorporate usability best practices within the constraints that are inevitably introduced this late in the game. They can also involve users in review cycles, conduct usability reviews, and turn that feedback into a more usable solution.
  5. The “putting lipstick on a pig” stage
    The solution is built, but User Acceptance Testing reveals that users are having trouble using it, or find the “wow factor” missing. Enter the UX professional as a makeup artist trying to “make it look pretty”. They can conduct a heuristic review, possibly some usability tests, and work with the development team to make a few changes before launch. The bigger issues usually go on an enhancement list for a future phase.

User Experience resources can have the biggest impact if they are involved right from the early planning stages. However, as you’ve seen above, it’s never too late – any UX involvement is better than no involvement at all.

When have you typically seen UX involved?

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