5 Tips for Hiring the Right UX Research and Design Firm

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Do these scenarios sound familiar?:

  • We’re getting complaints from the people who use our digital product. What do we do next?

  • Our product was built years ago. What changes should we make to stay competitive?

  • We’re building something completely new. We’ve made a lot of assumptions about how people will use our digital product. How do we reduce our risk but still remain on the cutting edge?

When it comes to improving your digital products, such as apps and websites, it’s hard to know where to turn for help. A graphic design firm? Marketing communications agency? Development shop? IT company?

All of these partners may contribute to the success of your digital product. However, if you’re asking one or more of the questions above, chances are you are looking for a firm that specializes in user experience (UX) research and design.

Here are five tips we have developed at Voice+Code after talking to hundreds of companies who either succeeded or failed in hiring the right UX firm.

1. Define business goals before selecting the UX firm.

One of the first questions a UX firm will ask you is to define your business goals. Because the UX firm’s recommended approach will be dependent on these goals, it’s nearly impossible to move forward without them.

When defining goals, ensure you are describing a business outcome as opposed to a deliverable. A business goal is to “increase sales by 20% in 2019.” A deliverable is a redesigned website. Organizations that focus on deliverables instead of business goals are a red flag to best-in-class UX firms. It says that you are more focused on the pixels and code than the strategy and process behind what makes a great user experience.

In fact, many UX firms will decline to work with organizations that place too much emphasis initially on the user interface or aesthetic deliverables, which often come at the expense of the user experience. It’s not arrogance. It’s simply that they don’t want to waste your money on an outcome that will not give your business results. That’s not to say the user interface (UI) design—what the user interacts with—is unimportant. It’s vitally important. But it’s the output of the UX process.

2. Make sure the UX firm is focused on the end user.

Different firms will have different approaches and methodologies, but the process always involves the end user. That’s because in addition to defining your business goals, you need to ensure that they align with your end users’ goals. Misaligned business and user goals mean you could launch a digital product that no one wants or features that are difficult to use.

Best-in-class UX firms conduct user research in the form of user interviews and observation of users interacting with your product or a competitors’ product. Users should consist of people who would actually use your product—not your organization’s board of directors or college students (unless, of course, these are target audiences).

In cases where your digital product already exists, UX firms will encourage your team to conduct user research as part of an initial assessment. This initial assessment helps evaluate the effectiveness of your current digital product, pinpointing areas that are already working well, as well as uncovering poor user experiences and unmet opportunities. It will help you establish a user experience benchmark, as well as save costs by keeping what is already effective and creating a strategy for fixing what isn’t. Most importantly, this assessment is based on research—not guessing.

3. Look for a firm with an iterative process.

Designs should be treated as experiments where the end user—not the designer or developer—determines effectiveness. Since you’ll always be working with a finite timeline and budget, it’s typically better to do a series of small user research studies, learning from and adapting your product with each study.

In fact, user research studies with as few as five users have been shown to uncover the majority of usability issues. When used in an iterative fashion, these small, nimble studies allow you to extract valuable insights about the people using your product, while enabling you to make incremental, but critical changes. When you don’t embrace this process, you run the risk of investing in expensive design and development resources for features no one will use or that are fundamentally flawed.

The iterative process extends beyond launching a new product or feature. Just like a digital product is constantly evolving, this iterative process is never over. Expect your UX research and design team to be involved in continuous user research where you are constantly in the process of improving your digital product. That’s how you stay competitive.

4. Engage with a firm that cares about ROI.

A good UX research and design firm will be concerned about demonstrating a return on investment for your digital products. They’ll help your team define user experience goals and metrics that are tied to achieving business goals.

User experience metrics are product-level metrics that go beyond typical vanity metrics such as page views, total number of registered users, or app downloads. Instead, they focus on user behaviors that are directly tied to the business goals you defined at the start of the project. Some of these metrics will be measured via your analytics tool and others will be quantitative or qualitative metrics measured periodically using other tools.

5. Seek a collaborative partner.

Best-in-class UX research and design partners want your team and your product to succeed. They know that when the whole team is not committed to a great user experience, the digital product—and the business—suffers. As a result, they are committed to educating your team on UX best practices, methodologies, and processes customized for your needs.

Look for UX research and design firms that empower design and development teams through education. Whether your business plans on forming a UX team or not, a UX firm with a strong background in education indicates the firm is dedicated to empowering your existing team.

Your digital products are one of the most important investments your company will make. They can either help you build a loyal brand following or create unhappy and vocal former customers. They can either help increase revenue or send it to your competitors. They can either keep customers focused on what new value you are bringing to the market or be the source of an increase in customer service calls. Quite simply, the money you invest in the right UX firm will pay dividends.

Our user-centered process also helps our clients demonstrate a return on investment. Learn more about our process or check our case studies to understand how we helped our clients anticipate customer needs, solve problems, and add value through their digital products.