Estimating something that is very variable in time can be super challenging. Since UX is not a fixed and linear process you tend to iterate over multiple designs over time. So how do you estimate a User eXperience (UX) project? And what should you say to a potential client of yours that ask “how much will it cost”?
Define common ballpark estimates for typical UX activities
Ideally, base these estimates on historical data. As an example, here are some typical activities that I have:
- Kickoff meeting — 2 hours
- User interviews — 1.5 to 2 hours per interview
- Go through and structure notes from interview — 0.5 days
- Create personas: 0.5 to 1 days
- Create user journey map: 1 to 2 days
- Competition analysis: 1 day
- Impact map: 1 day
- Create mockup: 1 days per unique view (original version + 2 revisions included)
- Create prototype: 1 day
- Usability testing: 2 hours per usability test
- Summarize learnings from usability test: 0.5 days
When you do this, break down the activities in as granular / fine details as you can.
For instance, don’t group all interviews + analyse interviews + create personas as one activity. Put them all as separate activities and estimate each and every single one of them. This way you get more precise estimates.
Clarify expectations in the UX estimates
Clarify any expectations in the estimates too. If you need anything from the clients to meet the estimate, state this.
As an example: “To perform user interviews I need help from you to identify and access the potential users of your product”.
Make sure your UX estimates are realistic
If it’s the first time you do an activity, double and triple your original estimates.
Between (and within) projects, do not forget to also plan for:
- Coffee / tea breaks :)
- Other unforeseen time away from work
- Project management aspects
- Answering e-mails / discussion with client
Meaning, it’s good to make sure you have some extra time to think both between projects and within a project. That doesn’t mean you should charge for this time.
But! If you spend time working on the project you should for sure charge for it — either based on price per hour, or based on value, depending on the type of project and the client’s budget. I recommend catering for at least 20% “overhead time” (not directly contributing to the UX activities such as creating a persona for instance).
Set a fixed amount of revisions for iterative aspects of the UX process
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. You do NOT want to end up doing 20 revisions of the same mockup and being super stressed, trying to meet unrealistic deadlines…
Instead, clarify in either the project plan or the estimates on how many revisions that are included for iterative type of UX work (e.g. original mockup + 2 additional revisions).
Use a UX calculator to tweak the details of the estimate and related cost
The UX Recipe calculator is a great tool that lets you add:
- Your price / hour
- Amount of hours each activity will take
Use this to define the overall cost for the project and which activities that are included.
Make sure to get a sign-off of the overall estimate from the client. Usually you should do this more formally as part of an overall UX Project plan.
Plot the whole UX project into a timeline
Now that you know:
- The estimates for all activities
- Any breaks, time off, vacation etc you need along the way
Plot the whole UX project into a timeline.
Make sure you consider lead time if needed and dependencies.
For instance, certain UX activities cannot start until you have completed another. You need to do user interviews before you finish creating your personas…
An example lead time could be waiting for feedback from the client. Again this is another thing you should cover in the client expectations that you have.
If needed, clarify the scope of the UX project
If you are unsure of the scope of the project you need to go back and discuss this with the client. I usually present 3 options up-front, for instance:
- A user research-focused / strategic type of UX project
- An interaction & visual design-focused type of UX project
- The full UX process
Another way to present 3 options to the client could be:
- Most value for your money (cheapest option)
- Option somewhat in-between cheapest and most-expensive option :)
- Most value overall (most expensive option)
I usually recommend option 3 to give the most value to the client.
I may also consider how to position the options strategically and price-wise, to make sure there are enough clear differences in both price and value. This makes the client’s life easier.
Help the client understand what they actually need, not what they think they want.
Follow up UX estimates over time
After the project, do a small post-mortem / retrospective. Original estimates — realistic or not? If not, why? Too optimistic or too pessimistic? How can you improve the estimates during the next project?
If you notice that estimates start slipping and things take longer than expected, make sure to inform the client as soon as possible! This is important to be able to maintain a good dialog with your client.
I hope you found this article valuable! How do you estimate UX projects? Feel free to write a comment below and I’ll get back to you.