Design needs to be more than ‘pretty.” In fact, the aesthetic feelings you and your superiors have about a company’s portfolio should not factor into your evaluation of vendors, unless to eliminate the vendors whose applications are clearly unprofessional or have mistakes.
First, it’s important to expand your own definition of user experience beyond just their experience with the digital product. User experience focuses on people, thinks beyond digital solutions, and is how technology creates a holistic experience that ties all the points that a user comes in contact with together to improve employee performance. UX is not wireframes, an interface, usability experience, or technology alone. The term has evolved and now considers the holistic experience around a software product, as well as the brand and environment. In addition, user experience design and experience design are melding together since artifacts and their environments are becoming increasingly integrated. The user experience involves the offline as well as the online experience and spans over digital, physical, and service-based interactions.
These interactions need to be driven by data and a focus on the user. Try to understand how they made the design decisions that they made, instead of just assuming they used “best practice,” which is too vague of a justification for crucial design decisions. For example, the application is to provide remote operations monitoring of performance for a field workforce. When an asset is underperforming, a triangle with an exclamation mark appears next to the label of the asset. Why that shape? The key answer you are looking for here is that the iconography was already understood and in use by the end-users. This shows not only is the design team coordinating with a research team, but also that the designers make their decisions based on user needs, rather than their own judgment of what is aesthetically pleasing.
A key factor in the user-centered design process is the understanding of user needs. Think about the diverse set of users who will rely on the product you are considering creating. What will the different wants and needs of those users be? For example, you are creating a product to deploy all of your sales materials to channel sales reps. The marketing coordinator persona, responsible for updating the documents, needs to be able to easily delete older versions and replace with the most recent versions, as well to view the document usage by different sales reps in order to adjust the messaging. The channel sales rep, on the other hand, wants to be able to group documents into sets and tag their own documents for easy searching. The channel sales rep manager also wants to view the analytics and activity of the sales reps, along with dashboards of sales rep usage of documents based on experience and stage in the sales funnel to ensure all sales reps are using the materials properly. It’s important to ask the design team to look through their portfolio and see what kind of personas are driving the interactions. Find a small detail in their application and ask them to explain.
The next step is to ask about data, and how that factors into the design decisions. Think back to the Business KPIs section. How is the progress on meeting those factoring into each interaction? At each stage of design, is the progress toward meeting those goals being adequately measured? One practice to watch out for: designers who are improvised researchers. Research and design are very distinct practices that, while they work closely together, do require different backgrounds and specialties. When you request the background and duties of each member of the proposed design team, make sure that their duties are separate from those of the research team. The designers should communicate with you and your stakeholders, but doing field research, unless they have received specific training and a background (at least a graduate degree in psychology), then they are not qualified to conduct research.
Questions to include in the RFP for design:
- Please provide a resume, background and duties of the head of design and at least three senior members of the team. How much experience does the team have in your industry?
- Provide a walk through of the design process from start to finish for a mobile app. Look out for how many touchpoints the team will have with you and how frequently user feedback is incorporated into the project.
- Submit a portfolio of your work.
- For one project in the work, please submit the user personas that informed the creation of the interactions. Look for details in the persona that translated to the app.
- Explain how the personas needed specific changes that were incorporated into the final product. Find out how the team iterates on the initial concept and includes the personas into each stage of the process.
- How does design factor into the ROI of your projects? Are they thinking about the overall return on the project? Or are they just thinking “pretty?”
- How does your team design differently for a tablet vs. a phone vs. a watch? How do the interactions change for each medium? How well are they able to understand the design and user constraints for each medium? The screens are smaller, which is obvious, but user needs also change.
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