By Eric Middleton, 1Rivet
Applications, websites, and mobile applications look and function far better when user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) experts work on them. But few companies have the project flow or capital to justify hiring full-time UI and UX staff.
Fortunately, there are four ways to create a beautiful, easy to use, highly functional products without a UI/UX team. You can:
Hire A UI/UX Consultant
When you have a critical problem or want the best because your app is what customers see first, going with a consultant is often the smartest, safest choice. Hiring a consulting firm isn’t likely to be the cheapest option, although it can be less costly than hiring full-time UI/UX employees and it’s certainly less risky than hiring a solo freelancer because you get a whole team of UI/UX pros.
The typical UI/UX 1Rivet serves has a customer portal or mobile app they want to be more efficient for internal or external users. We start most projects by having the client walk us through the app to understand how users interact with the product.
For a complex application, it can take many weeks to understand the business processes and user flows. By contrast, reskinning an existing simple app used only by employees would take far less time.
We might do focus groups to understand how folks currently use the product and what they wish the product would do (after we make changes, we repeat the focus groups to make sure the product responds to the needs raised by the users). For applications with thousands of internal users, such as call centers, we do a time study to look for ways to save clicks and time to increase efficiency.
The collected information flows to our back office in Valsad, India, where our UI and UX development team works collectively. They talk over the best way to lay out an application, what the most relevant information is to include on the screen, and what the user research revealed.
There’s a science to UI and UX, but it’s also an art. Every designer thinks differently which is why a team approach works so well. If you hire a single person you might get multiple ideas, but they still come from a single person. Starting with a basic layout with navigation and a color scheme, three of the designers will come up with unique and different designs for the screens, giving clients multiple options.
1Rivet charges $35 to $45 an hour for its UI/UX developers. You could spend $200 to $300 an hour to hire one of the big business consulting firms for a UI/UX project. Worker-for-hire websites will connect you with UI/UX designers who will do the job for as little as $5 right up to $150 an hour. Let’s look at that option next.
Hire A Freelancer From A Worker-For-Hire Website
On the surface, it’s the perfect solution. You can see ratings from former clients, how many engagements the freelancer has done, and possibly view their work. No new employees get added to the payroll and you pay only for the work you need.
Like dating websites, sometimes you make a great connection and a lasting relationship blossoms. Other times, you find out you’re one of many hookups, the picture doesn’t exactly match up with the person’s IRL, and you both walk away bitter about the experience.
The bottom line: It can be challenging to find someone you like, who’s available when you are, and who can meet your deadlines.
When the goal is to get internal UI and UX upgraded at some point, freelancers can work out nicely. But when there’s a firm deadline to meet, or external users, it’s risky to hire one person who could flake out, rather than a consulting firm with multiple team members.
A related option is to bring in someone to train your people to become UI/UX people. Great idea, but if this is your first attempt skip it because it’s like the first time you coded a new technology. It will work but the code is normally not the best it could be.
DIY UI And UX
Plenty of companies go with a Do It Yourself (DIY) plan, especially if they’re building an app for internal users. Assigning UI and UX to employees you’re already paying seems like it saves money, especially if staffers have the time and inclination to learn UI/UX.
As you look around for someone to take on those tasks, remember most developers aren’t great designers, just as most designers aren’t great developers. If you go this route, make sure you’re not asking someone to be something they’re not and don’t want to be.
Start by asking your marketing department for the company style guide. That lists your brand standards — things like fonts, colors, shading, box size, and calls to action. Carry those into the application. This is not the time to make a red, white, and blue application because you love the Patriots.
If you’re lucky, the marketing department will be so horrified at the idea of an amateur designer attempting to apply their brand guidelines they’ll offer to handle design. The good news: An in-house designer will know when to use a bar chart instead of a pie chart and can make your application pretty. The bad news: Unlikely they’ll know UX, so someone will still have to handle function.
UX may look easy, but it’s not. You can’t just shove everything on a screen and expect users to get it. Where does the home button go? What’s most relevant on this page? What does the user need to see? Internally, you can get away with hacking it. Externally, bad UX decisions can mean the difference between people downloading your app and using it versus immediately deleting it.
Hire UI And UX Staff
Hiring your own in-house UI and UX team is another option. UI and UX folks are typically creative people who thrive on tackling new challenges. Will you have enough projects to keep them busy and challenged for a full year? UI/UX take pretty specific skillsets, so it may be unrealistic to expect UI/UX staff to take on other IT tasks. Don’t have a full year’s work? Making the position temporary is another option, but that will make it harder to fill.
An entry-level U.S.-based UI employee will earn $85,000 a year in a Midwest market and up to $100,000 in a high-cost, coastal metro. An entry-level UX person will earn $67,000 in the Midwest up to $78,000 in coastal metros. Add about 20 to 25 percent to those salary levels to cover the cost of employee benefits.
Creating a part-time position can work out nicely. You might find a retired UI/UX person or one who’s currently staying home with kids. Either one might jump on the chance to work a couple hours a day or a couple days a week on a long-term basis.
About The Author
Eric Middleton is Managing Partner and CEO of 1Rivet with over 20 years of experience delivering complex systems and business integration programs and in-depth knowledge of program management, marketing and technology consulting experience.