29 Aug 2006

Why Hire a User Experience Architect before a Web Developer

29 Aug 2006
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When starting a web development project, there are many advantages to hiring a user experience architect first. The most important of these are:

  1. to ensure a usable product that matches the goals of your company
  2. to obtain a definitions guide which can protect against scope creep, synchronize efforts and protect against costly revisions
  3. to acquire accurate estimates for project development by providing detailed and unambiguous specifications

Ensure a usable product that matches the goals of your company and reduces support costs

By hiring a web developer first, the process of refining features to address the users’ and company’s goals can be missed entirely, giving less attention for the sake of feature development, and even postponement until integration of usability efforts is much more difficult and less effective. Unlike web developers, user experience architects specialize in evaluating user behavior and task analysis which is invaluable in creating sites with which people can feel accomplished and can enjoy interacting.

Although, a web developer will produce a functional solution, without the expertise of the user experience architect, the result may not be an effective solution; that is to say, it may work technically but your users may not be able to easily accomplish their tasks.

Beyond usability, user experience architects that have training and experience in marketing concepts, economics and statistics can ensure that the overall site architecture and feature base also supports your business goals. The right user experience architect will enhance and refine the site design plan to improve the magnitude of a return on investment from your development costs. The advantage of relying on the user experience architect instead of a web developer in executing this important planning is a combination of dedicated proficiency and the unbiased objective of providing the optimal solution which meets your needs – under-delivering or omitting needed features will not inflate profit margins.

One case study in which user experience architecture preceding design proved exceedingly successful is that of McAfee, which was able to cut support calls by 90% upon product release primarily because they started the user experience design before they began production (the number 1 stated learning lesson). By ensuring that the plan effectively met the goals of the engagement, once the developers were incorporated, the project’s probability of success was greatly heightened. In this way, we should approach each problem from an experience design standpoint first to answer ‘what needs to be achieved,’ ‘how can it be achieved,’ and ‘what should the result look like.’

Obtain a definitions guide which can protect against scope creep, synchronize efforts and protect against costly revisions

A user experience architect provides detailed definitions for a final web site’s functionality and interface which takes the guesswork out of the development process and expedites the production phase. Along with a streamlined transition from design to development, the site architecture and functional specification documents can reduce the number of revisions that may be needed within the entire production phase. Furthermore, the page schematics, site architecture and functional requirements serve as documented evidence of the agreements for engagement, directing development and limiting unnecessary feature development.

Imagine that you are building your house, would you approach the building constructor first before getting an architect and blueprints? Imagine what the result would be if you instructed the constructor to do all the planning and building. Moreover, think about what would happen if you told the contractor to start building until you got an architect to ensure that the house was properly designed. The foundations of any construction are extremely important and thus design should always precede development. In the same way that a traditional architect is needed to plan a building’s construction, the user experience architect is needed to design for the construction of a web site.

The work that a developer does without the guidelines of a strategic user experience plan can often end up being discarded. By setting guidelines at the outset and examining these possible changes before development begins, costly revisions such as these can be minimized. Refining paper definitions to incorporate new directions and considerations requires less cost and time commitments with greater flexibility for changing technology platforms and system infrastructure.

Acquire accurate estimates for project development by providing detailed and unambiguous specifications

When seeking bids on your project from multiple development vendors, user experience definition documents can ensure that the cost estimates are accurately tailored to your specific vision and needs. For instance, asking for a mailing web application could be interpreted as a sophisticated, full featured web mail such as Gmail or as a simple web mail (circa 1980’s) that allows for sending and deleting messages. In such an example one vendor may quote twice as much as another, but the final deliverables are miles apart.

By employing a user experience architect, you can obtain fleshed out site definitions which minimize erroneous interpretations of features and site interactions.

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