Process Mistakes That Designers Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Pre-launch client headaches and last-minute development communication woes don’t have to happen. Here are some of the most common and avoidable situations designers encounter, with potential solutions. Feel free to comment at the bottom if you have more tips. Caveat: In very large teams, some of these duties might fall to the project manager or team lead. Let’s get to it!

Not getting buy in from all decision-makers

You (et al.) are about to push researched, user-tested, quality-assured software when Bob, the client’s bosses boss, comes out of the woodwork. Bob isn’t happy with the overall direction of the project. He feels undercut and out of the loop. Let’s not do this to Bob.

Part of the reason why these folks decided on an outside designer is because internally there aren’t enough resources, the right resources, or clarity in using said resources. Don’t assume that because you have a few folks who make decisions in the room that you are being inclusive to everyone with skin in the game. 




Not establishing/not refocusing onto the critical path

Your job as the designer (or project manager) is not only to gather everyone in charge of making project decisions, but to clarify the critical path.* This is the essential thing that needs to happen or the project will fall short. Make sure your clients understand and have validated that critical path, otherwise you are designing a half-baked idea. Depending on what you’ve been hired to do, defining that critical path may be a part of the workload. Just make sure that you and the client understand that.

*The if-all-else-fails-this-is-the-most-important-thing-we-need-done.



Not getting people involved

After everyone has agreed and documented the critical path, it’s time to get to work! Give everyone a screen printout (mobile or web) and ask people to draw the screen they envision to begin the process. Some parties may be resistant to this, but reassure everyone that the review of sketches will focus on the positive and it is not about “making it pretty.”

Focusing on anything but the positive

Focus on things that work–and ignore everything else. After everyone has a copy of all the sketches, each person should get a packet of gold stars to mark all effective pieces of the UI. Then rinse and repeat. After a few rounds of review, you’ll notice that folks’ sketches start to converge; this is design gold. As the designer you will then take that converged design and put it into a low-fidelity mock-up. Since the group came to this as a whole, the next review of your low-fidelity work is more of a checkpoint than a critique.





Climbing down a rabbit hole

OK, so the kickoff meetings (2 full days) were great, and it can be tempting to voyage out to your happy place and design away. Make sure that your client has a lens into the design work, with frequent checkpoints. It takes a little extra time, but presentations of your work and the thought process behind each little bit go a long way. When you package your work nicely and explain your decisions, you leave the client feeling assured that they are getting an effective work product.

No user testing

So much bad design can be avoided. Put your client in charge of sourcing user testers. They may be resistant at first because this seems like more work. Explain to your client that she knows the target audience better than anyone else. This is a great way to keep your client involved and also to validate (or invalidate) your designs. It is much less expensive to make a mistake when something is low-fidelity than when it’s post-production.




Asking for the wrong feedback

Never ask, “Do you like it?” Your designs are not about your client liking blue over orange. Your designs should reflect what resonates with your target audience and you should be able to prove it with user testing and user research.


Obviously, sometimes budget and time prohibit post-launch analytics, but ideally you carve out time and money from the get-go to ensure success. Google Analytics and Crazy Egg help you track what is working and what isn’t regardless of your involvement in the future. You owe it to your clients to empower them to make smart design decisions down the road.

Hoarding UX knowledge and practices

Lastly, taking clients through the journey of designing good user experiences is like teaching them how to fish. The more competent the client feels in understanding the end user, the more good UX will exist in the world. Remember, clients know their customers better than anyone else; they just may need a hand in asking them the right questions.

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