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Lessons learned from my first client project as a solo user-experience designer
There comes a time when you have to step out from under the wing of a trusted UX lead to take the torch and carry out a project on your own. It wasn’t just about being ready; it was what needed to be done and the belief of others in me.
Starting off with optimism
I came in with an open mind — learning not to allow my own biases or the biases of others to impede too much on the discovery and design phases of these engagements. Maybe I was (overly) optimistic.
For the sake of this write-up, our pseudo-manufacturer was a major pet feed distributor in Australia.
Our brief was to redevelop their website and to introduce a product finder to assist their end-consumers. We had a total of eight weeks to do our research, design the experience and develop the final output.
At a first glance, it looked like a straight-forward web redevelopment to fine-tune the experience and transfer content. But little did we know how complex the information and the strict desires were of end-consumers when it came to purchasing a single item for their beloved pets.
There was a good level of engagement from the start — clients were highly approachable and an openness to trust our process. From our first interaction, we continuously reminded them of the limited timeline at hand and to focus on what is achievable within this timeframe. They nodded and agreed.
As part of the kick-off, I outlined a sitemap of their current website to compare with a recommended sitemap. We looked into competitors (direct and indirect) too, and conducted interviews amongst stakeholders and end-consumers. From there - we pushed on with wireframes, information architecture and designs.
But… Slowly, our clients would request for additional features outside of the engagement scope or content during each design revision. With a quick moving sprint, did we fall into the trap of being reactive instead of responsive?
Prioritise the Sh*t Out of It
When it happened a third time, we discussed as a team the need to run another prioritising session amongst ourselves. Then, to be followed by a session with our clients. What initially looked like basic content on products and company, it became more apparent that there was a deeper level of complexity to the website and product finder.
End-consumer always come first
There were many amazing features to be had; an encyclopedia of knowledge to be shared — but neither of these direct benefitted the end-consumer at hand. To have our stakeholders present during user testing of our design prototype was priceless to align what needs to be done. It really is about the right thing at the right time for the right person.
Keep on swimming
At the end of it all, there were no major hiccups towards the project output. But, it did impact our budget, our timelines and potentially our impression as a team. However, our clients were very happy and a beautiful, engaging, and fully functional website emerged at the end of it all.
There were many lessons learnt throughout this project, all of which required a lot of internal reflection and external feedback. So, I summarised and highlighted my growing pains and growing gains…
- Present timeline and expectations from the beginning — Our clients initially nodded with agreement without fully comprehending the complexity of development and the associated time consumption. Fostering open communication from the start so people feel safe to ask ‘dumb questions’ and mitigate further confusion. Presenting visual representations or relatable figures for better understanding may even support further expectations.
- Missed opportunity with the sitemap — This should have been used as an added opportunity to prioritise segments of the website instead of unintentionally giving the false impression that the overall website can be completed within six weeks development.
- Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise — Prioritise user abilities from the get-go and keep front-of-mind these objectives amongst stakeholders and team members. (Due to missing information, this was comprehensively carried out towards the middle of the project, which placed some strains on team momentum.)
- Don’t rush through the process, take each step mindfully — Not the best excuse or reason, but due to project time constraints, I probably rushed through some of the processes too quickly without putting into place ‘guiding stars’ for my own processes too.
- Teamwork makes the dream work — I now have a deeper gratitude towards being a part of a team with diverse skill sets. I was able to ask silly questions to our business analyst, our project manager, and even our developers. Questions about capabilities, the best ways to move forward and any other obstacles foresaw through their own perspectives. Even running through workshops with the team and client was great by having such a mix of perspectives. It’s collaboration at its best.
- Personal feedback loop — With a supportive team, it was great to schedule one-on-one time after our retrospective meetings to gain personal insights into what I can do better to work best with them and their role as a UI/BA/PM/developer/tester. Not just for this project but for other projects and collaborations in the future.
- It always makes sense in hindsight — But now, I need to develop that into my foresight.
- There is so much to learn and do in experience design — This is just the tip of the iceberg. Keep it coming!
So if there was one lesson I learned from this experience…
Keep it simple, silly: Use simple language on project objectives, expectations and priorities to ensure everyone is on the same page, same line, same letter.
What lessons did you learn on your first solo project out in the ‘real’ world? 🤓
P.S. You assumed I would end this with the last part of the title sentence, didn’t you. 🙊