How I slowly started UX at a small company

I have been in my current role for almost 2 years, my first design job since the UX immersive. It took a lot of patience, with constant distractions taking my eye off the prize of doing full-on UX. Finally we are doing user research. I though it would be nice to break it down and reflect.

Starting Small with a Thoughtful Process

I realized that while designing for users was great, what the company first needed was to reduce code and design debt. There were an overwhelming amount of requests, and they all were stamped “ASAP”. As requests came in , I could see that we sometimes fulfilled client requests without looking at them from a Product or UX perspective. Just by being curious about what was going on around me, I found an opportunity to deeply understand all client requests.

I started to walk clients through requests in detail, sometimes we ending up with something very different solution from the original request. Other times, we ended up not doing anything, knowing we wouldn’t solve the root cause of the problem.

I built trust with the executives that I could provide value on even the simplest requests. Then I presented a UX maturity plan, showing how we could grow as an organization to be more design centric, we are at the last stage now.

Two Beasts: Usability & Accessibility

Once I got that process in place, I started to tackle bigger redesigns. I remember walking by seeing this ugly long form, and asking “when are we going to redesign it?” I got my wish and started small by introducing best practices for form validation, allowing users to register for programs easier.

For the next projects, I introduced usability testing to the process. The clients were really happy with the usability testing and it helped make a lot of important design decisions.

I got really good at writing functional specifications to create consensus between developers, account managers and the client. I had one project manager in particular that I butted heads with, she made me great at thinking of functional specs in much more detail.

I also learned accessibility from a design and code perspective: QA found my sites to be very usable with a screen reader. Furthermore, a major client gave us a quality award, for designing and building a high quality re-design (I did the HTML and UX for that one).

Document Like You are Gone Tomorrow

In order to make sure my work did not disappear when I leave, I created public documentation in Confluence for all front end, accessibility and design work. This documentation could be used for other projects to speed up the process. I publicly documented the status of every project in detail. I am not in it for job security, I want to make a difference.

Reducing Technical & Design Debt

We are on the second part of reducing technical debt by creating a pattern library. I got buy in from the major stakeholders and we are going to make a pattern library that is re-usable and accessible but also one that can be customized if a client requires it. The pattern library will become the standard for all platforms moving forward and this requires efforts from tech and product.

User Research

Finally…the last stage of the UX maturity plan. It’s been 2 years, clients are asking for UX. We have become the experts on the experience of our product. My boss has been so supportive this whole time, knowing that we need to be focused and prioritize.

We have prepared a full research study with a screen survey and interviews. We are almost there to real contextual data. We will put analytics together with the user research to tell a story, to tell us what to build. There’s no other way.

In summary

I’ve learned so much and gave my all and am eager to work on a bigger design team to learn from those smarter than me. I started thinking I would suddenly have a full UX design process within months, and it took almost 2 years. But I found allies at the company who supported me greatly.