Good UX is hard to appreciate because when it’s doing its job, you don’t notice it. Bad UX, on the other hand, we all notice.
The pop up that blocks your text on a mobile device with an X too small to click on with your finger – that’s bad UX. The ads that take so long to load on a website that it slows down your ability to see the stuff you really navigated there for – also bad UX. The website that makes it nearly impossible to figure out how to contact their customer service team because the contact information is buried three links in – more bad UX.
Bad UX can drive people away from your website or product. It can make them curse in frustration and complain about you on social media. Or, more likely, it can simply ensure your customers never figure out how to use your product to its full potential, ensuring they don’t see its value.
Why Good UX Matters
Good UX, on the other hand, can drive them to click where you want them to, make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for, and leave them feeling satisfied without ever noticing the work you put into getting them there.
Consumers expect an intuitive user experience that makes navigating your website or using your product easy, and if you don’t provide it, they will go elsewhere. Hiring a good UX consultant or firm can be the difference between providing customers with what they need and driving them away. But UX is a relatively new industry and finding good people is hard.
Put a little effort in and follow the steps below, and you should be able to find a UX agency that will help you achieve the results you (and your customers) need.
1. Know what you want.
You don’t need to know the specifics (that’s part of what a good UX firm will help you figure out), but you do need to have some clearly defined goals for what you want to get out of a UX project.
To be prepared as you start your search, do some research into what UX is all about. If you know at least the basics and how to talk about them, you’ll be better prepared to talk to a design firm about what you want and need, and better equipped to recognize whether or not their responses seem knowledgeable.
2. Ask around.
A referral from someone you know is one of the strongest indicators that a business is trustworthy, especially if the person making the recommendation has worked with them directly. Before you turn to other sources, talk to friends, family members, and professional contacts to see if anyone can point you in the right direction.
In particular, talk to web designers, product designers, and other business owners since they’re most likely to have some familiarity with UX and the professionals doing it within your community. The advice of people you know could produce solid recommendations or at least give you a heads up on firms to avoid. Take down any names that seem promising and move on to the next steps.
3. Search online.
Now do the thing we all do automatically whenever we need new information: Google it. Search for “ux firm” or “ux consultant” + the name of your city to see the list of options nearby.
You can search on LinkedIn as well. There you can limit the results to professionals you have some connection with and those in your area.
From the results you get in your searches, either create a list of firms to research further, or add to the list you started when you were collecting referrals. This doesn’t need to be an especially long list, but having a few firms to consider when starting out gives you some room for comparison as you narrow your search down to the best one for you.
4. Look at examples of their work.
The first example of a UX firm’s work that you’ll have an easy time finding is their website. If they’re skilled at designing good user experiences, you should find their website easy to use and have no trouble finding the information you need there.
They should also include some samples of their work, so you can peruse the projects they’ve completed before.
At this stage, you may find yourself weeding out some UX firms from your list that don’t have work you’re very impressed with. For whoever’s left, it’s time to get in touch.
5. Talk to them about their process.
Set up meetings with each of the firms still on your list to discuss what you’re looking for and how they do business. In your discussion, ask them about their typical process for a UX project. Their answer will give you the chance to look for the kind of red flags that you want to avoid and confirm that they have a solid plan for how to do UX effectively.
They should ask you about your goals and what you want to get from the project and they should bring up important parts of the process like wireframing, content development, and user testing.
If the meeting goes well and you like what you hear, keep them on the shortlist before you make a final decision.
6. Get quotes.
Now to what will probably be your least favorite step: figuring out the financial side of things. If you have a clear budget going in, some UX firms can work with you to create a plan that will work within the budget available to you. Otherwise, the firms you meet with should follow up with a customized quote based on the project you discussed.
If the number that comes up is beyond what you can handle, the firm may be willing to work with you to tweak the project so it better fits a budget you’re comfortable with. But as with most things, paying more can potentially result in higher quality since it gives the UX company more room to take their time and use more resources.
7. Talk to references.
Finally, for the UX consultants you’ve confirmed that you like and can afford, ask if they can give you the contact information for references. Talking to someone that’s worked with them before will give you a head’s up to what you can expect.
Have some questions prepared that will make it easier for them to provide you with clear insights, like how the UX team handled unforeseen challenges that came up during the project or whether they managed to stay within budget.
Once you’ve completed all seven steps, you should have enough information to make an informed decision. Once you move forward with the UX firm of your choice, make time to work with them as they go. UX isn’t the kind of thing you can just hand off. They’ll do the work they’re skilled at, but you still have a job to do making sure that their designs fit with what you’re looking for.
UX projects can take some serious time and be a significant financial investment, but they’re likely to pay off in more customers and, at least as importantly, happier customers.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.