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Ross A Hall
freelance UX designer and consultant

UX design on a budget: a guide for small business owners

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UX design on a budget: a guide for small business owners

“User Experience Design” is the hottest trend in business today. It’s about understanding how customers interact with your business, then designing websites, apps and processes that make that interaction as effective as possible. The end result, the theory goes, should be customers who spend more, buy more often and see your business as the place to go.

This is great and there are small businesses that are setting the pace as far as “UX Design” goes. For most, however, it can seem a little daunting. Budgets generally pass five figures and I’ve worked on some that have exceeded the million-pound mark. This is way out of reach for the average small business.

The question is how to invest in User Experience Design so you get at least some of the benefits without breaking the bank? Based on my work with small businesses over the past half dozen years or so I think there are six areas you should think about.

Set your expectations.

A lower budget means less is going to get done. Rather than try and find someone who can do everything at the price you want to pay, look for what can be done well within your budget. The former is likely to bring low quality and little benefit, while the latter can reap big rewards.

A small online retailer had a problem with people putting things in their basket but never buying them. Their first reaction was to redesign the entire website, which was outside their budget and they weren’t convinced it would fix their problem. My solution was to focus on finding their problem (it was a poor checkout experience), then work up a fix with their existing developer. It was easily inside their budget and increased sales meant my time was paid for in a few weeks.

Don’t confuse UX and “Web Design”.

They’re not the same thing. UX Design applies a broader brush than web design and often touches more than “just” the website. It can flow into web design though, providing the specifications, designs and flows that web developers will be expected to code for your site.

Post-sales calls were being generated by a poor website, was the belief of one small business. When I looked at what was happening I found the calls were due to the information sent with their order being presented differently to what it was online. Rather than rework the website we redesigned the information in the welcome packs, which was cheaper, quicker and easier.

Learn from others

UX Design on a budget usually means “borrowing” ideas from competitors or those outside your industry. Investing some time each week to read up on new case studies or opinion pieces will help you become more comfortable with the discipline. In turn, you’ll find it easier to make bolder decisions over time.

A marketing manager I worked with started taking an interest in UX and reading around the topic. Over a few months our relationship evolved as she became more confident and her requests for tactical help reduced. This saved her small company money and when she did invest it was in projects that had a bigger impact.

Keep trying new ideas

The User Experience isn’t a static thing. It continues to evolve as customers and your business grow. You should be able to test new ideas quickly, measure them and then roll-out the successful ones company-wide. Technology plays a part in this, but so too does process and attitude.

All the ideas we came up with but didn’t do were put on a whiteboard by one business owner. Each month he went through it and decided which ones to take on over the next four weeks, then made them happen. New ideas started coming from his staff, which also went onto the board and over time he evolved his approach so they were continually investing in improving.

Assume, assume, assume

There’s a saying that “Assume makes an ass of u and me”. In full UX design research and testing takes place to limit assumptions, but when you’re on a budget this is the part that most are willing to compromise on. Making assumptions is not necessarily a bad thing, provided they’re reasonable, clearly understood and you can test them.

While I was running a workshop with one small business it became clear all their “data” was assumptions. Rather than stop, we listed out all the assumptions we’d made, then tasked a member of staff with validating as many as they could by lunchtime. It allowed us to keep moving forwards, accepting we might have to review decisions.

Using Outside Help.

The earlier you are into User Experience design the more important it is to have some external help. Your budget might not stretch to having a UX Designer run your project, but there are creative ways you can tap into their knowledge without breaking the bank. Even something as simple as having someone run their expert eye over your ideas can bring huge value if it stops you from making a mistake, or provides new ideas you hadn’t thought of.

A services company didn’t want to hire “yet more expensive consultants” to do work for them, but it needed to solve problems it was having with new customers. My approach was to facilitate a week-long process where they identified their problems, generated ideas and even created a prototype of how they wanted their new customer experience. So they didn’t have to rely on another “expensive consultant” I mentored one of their team. It meant when the process was over they had someone who was confident enough they could repeat the exercise on their next problem.

Can you do UX Design on a budget?

Investing five and six figure sums in User Experience design isn’t realistic for most small businesses. If you want to see benefits from the discipline without breaking the bank you’re going to need to set the right expectations for what you can achieve based on your budget. With a little creative thinking, careful use of external expertise and sensible assumptions you can see some real benefits.

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