Design Deadlines and the Cost of Bad UX

By Laura Griebenow

February 14, 2017

Time and cost are undeniable factors in design projects. There’s even a classic cost-quality-speed paradigm that most designers are familiar with:

Fast + Cheap = Low-quality Project
Fast + Good = Expensive Project
Good + Cheap = Slow Project

There’s some reasonable logic at work in this set of equations, but they also present a false choice, because there’s clearly another, better approach. What if a project is priced right and given enough time to allow for the best design results?

Money Can’t Buy You Time

Even if you’ve got a big budget to work with, paying more for a tight design deadline doesn’t necessarily result in high-quality design.

No combination of money and design talent can guarantee the best results if the timeline is unrealistic. We’ve seen design projects that were forced to move much too quickly through design and execution, and the logic behind functionality—in fact, the entire design outcome—was always going to be subpar, regardless of the budget.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I recently read a Fast Company article about how the collaboration software company, Slack, completely removed deadlines for designing a new, much-requested feature.

Sure, having lengthy or removed deadlines may not be viable in every situation. But In Slack’s eyes, it was better to spend two years smoothing out the kinks and deliver a great solution, than to upset their user base with a rushed and faulty experience. Clearly they recognize the long-term value of good UX and the potential cost of getting it wrong.

Where Does the Time Go?

There’s no two ways around it: Good design takes time.

For one thing, the logistics of testing hypotheses and iterating solutions can only be accelerated so much. When deadlines are too tight, user research is often the first thing to be sacrificed, which means important details and desirability may be missed or overlooked.

To be certain, designers are capable of solving design challenges quickly. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Thoughtfulness is a crucial element of successful design, and it can’t be rushed. It needs time to brew and be tested. At its best, design is a careful practice of uncovering user needs, understanding product or service viability, and thinking through the options and details of user experience, visual design and execution.

Now with that said, too much time can be too much of a good thing. Design projects also can fail if too much time is allowed. If a whole design team is allowed to spin interminably, for instance, there’s risk of eating up a budget without getting anything out the door.

At Azul Seven, we like to release ideas into the wild for people to use as soon as possible. For us that typically means prototyping the solution early with a focus on iteration. Alternatively, it may mean launching a minimum viable design (maybe even in Beta) with plans to following through quickly with added features or fixes to unforeseen issues. But this choice should be strategic, rather than forced.

Unforeseen Costs to Undervaluing Design

The rapid growth of the design industry is a good thing, but it has also developed a negative, commoditizing effect on UX design.

At some point in the growth trajectory, clients began asking designers and developers for more work to be done at a quicker pace and for less money. Naturally, this pressure drives down quality, and savvy digital customers (with thousands of apps at their fingertips) know the difference.

Diverting budget to flashy advertising may get a product or service noticed, but if the experience fails to meet user expectations, those users don’t stick around. The cost in this instance is clichéd, but true: You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Failing to retain customers is a big problem for a business. But, if you want to understand just how extreme the costs of bad design can really be, I encourage you to read “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.” Fortunately, the stakes aren’t usually life and death, but this article demonstrates why prioritizing user experience and human-centered design is central to what we do at Azul Seven, especially with our healthcare clients.

Ideals vs. Realities

I get it. Sometimes project teams have little control over how much time and funding is available for design.

Restricting either element creates the need for prioritization. There can be benefits to gradually enhancing the functionalities of a new digital product or service over time. But even then, it’s important to recognize that setting realistic launch priorities becomes the first big design challenge.

If you launch with too little functionality, the product may not provide enough value to keep users engaged. But if you get the functionality right, and run out of time or money for quality execution, you may still lose user trust.

My point is, there aren’t any shortcuts. Products launched with adequate time and budget applied to the design and user experience are just better prepared to succeed in the long term.
If you want to discuss time and budget for a design project, contact us.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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