The beginning of The Nerdery’s UX process can feel strange and unfamiliar to clients who have previously engaged in projects with similar vendors. Why? Because we ask a lot of questions. Questions that dig into the roots of the company; operations, reasons behind decisions, internal systems and tools, long-term goals. Although, these topics may seem unrelated to the project at hand, they are the foundation and initial step in applying our holistic approach to a design project. Afterall, design is about everything. The Nerdery UX department has validated over time that its success is based on understanding its partners’ business (and their users). It is essential to develop this understanding because project success is reliant on taking into account the whole of the business.
When solving a UX problem holistically, the designer is looking for the sweet spot of success. In simple terms, the sweet spot is the solution in which business goals and user needs overlap. At a high level, failure to find the sweet spot exists in two main forms, genius design and admin affliction.
The risk in immediately jumping into a project without finding the sweet spot is that the solution only focuses on business goals and does not consider the end-user in the design process. This disconnect in the process is what we typically refer to as genius-design. Genius design is when a designer or engineer focuses on the business and existing design patterns, but users are not incorporated into the design process. A lack of user research and understanding quickly causes a project to be in high risk of missing user needs altogether, creating a product with no users and therefore no revenue. Note: Genius design is a well covered topic by previous Nerdery UX blog posts. For more information about the risks of ignoring your users, please refer to The Science of UX.
Projects are at risk of failure from the internal side even if user needs are well defined. A project that does not properly define a set of focused business goals and outline how the design will affect business operations is something I like to call “admin affliction.” Outcomes that result in admin affliction have negative effects on the company and can take a variety of forms, but ultimately end in project failure. It is more than knowing about goals, it is about having a holistic view of the company to take all its aspects into account.
All stakeholders should be aware of the potential risks in overlooking the important questions that arise during the discovery process. To mitigate admin affliction, our UX team believes strongly in engaging project stakeholders to define the company, its needs, and operations. For the remainder of this article, we will be focusing on a few of the risks and forms of admin affliction that can arise from the lack of communication and clarity between any design vendor and their clients.
Admin Affliction through Internal Tools and Systems
Your company uses a variety of tools and systems to accomplish everyday tasks. These systems and their functions have impact on the design and development of your digital project and vice versa. While the systems may never touch, it is important for us to identify what other tools accomplish to avoid duplicity and maintenance.
To illustrate, let’s use a hypothetical. During our project engagement with Company A, we have identified the client login as a major area for sales rep and client engagement. The design opportunity addresses the company’s goal to augment the client relationship.
It turns out that Company A has spent years creating a custom CRM that logs detailed information about the interactions each sales rep has with their client – each purchase and each opportunity. Imagine the project comes to completion without the opportunity to look at and ask questions about the CRM. The project is at great risk of creating more work and maintenance internally, and duplicating functionality that already exists in the robust tool used by the company. Do you really want your employees cursing the day the website caused them to maintain data in two places?
Admin Affliction through Internal Processes
Whether or not you are aware of internal process within your company, they exist for almost everything. They’re not always good, but they exist. Say, for example, you want to publish content to your website. Who writes it? Who approves it? Who puts it up there? Or what happens when a customer places an order over the phone? Is it entered into a system? Who fulfills the order? How do you know it has been fulfilled?
When doing a redesign, it is important to investigate the processes that exist internally that the system may touch or change. Imagine that your project involves changing your current IT services system. In this scenario, target users of the design would be employees of your company. Logically, one would research the issues and needs of the employees, but something that may be forgotten is how the change will affect how the IT employees will receive and fulfill these requests. They, no doubt, have developed a process around internal systems, from custom ticket-tracking fields in call-support software, to documentation and training materials. By investigating that process, we can accommodate their needs and maintain efficiencies while addressing pain-points on their side of the system. Conversely, by ignoring processes on the IT side, a redesign of the service system may result in a mass amount of IT requests that aren’t actionable because a key piece of information was not collected.
Admin Affliction through Company Culture & Branding
During stakeholder interviews and project kickoffs, we often ask about a company’s origin story, culture, values and their vision for the future. While this may seem odd, imagine if we went through the entire project without understanding how a company sees itself. The outcome would potentially be a solution that doesn’t represent who they are. Suddenly, their website might feel like a limb of the company that doesn’t belong to them!
Additionally, if we didn’t know how the company wants to grow, we could potentially be suggesting a platform or design that cuts an opportunity off at the knees causing the need to start from scratch when the company is ready to level-up.
While this is just a short list of the types of admin affliction that can occur in any digital project, they illustrate a key point. Design is about users, but it also has a whole lot to do with a company. If we don’t understand who the stakeholders are, what the company does and where the business is going, we are setting the company up for failure. Fortunately, The Nerdery’s UX discovery process is designed to mitigate the risks that arise as a result of admin affliction. My teachers always told me that smart kids ask questions and that’s what we do (until we’re blue in the face) to set a project up for success.