If you’re a regular on the Far Reach blog, you already know that we talk a lot about budgeting for your custom software development projects—how we estimate projects, budgeting for contingencies, and why costs change. In this post, we’ll be digging into another important budget component: user experience (UX) design.
While common wisdom tells us to place a lot of importance on UX and allocate a significant chunk of time and budget to it, that’s not always absolutely necessary. In fact, there are projects where UX can take the least amount of time and the smallest part of the budget—without compromising the success of the project.
Let’s take a look at the types of software where UX doesn’t need to be the focal point. We’ll explain why it’s OK to focus on other areas of your application and how we create UX that doesn’t break the bank.
UX on a Budget—When UX Doesn’t Need to Be the Center of Attention
As you’ve undoubtedly heard us say before, there’s no one-size-fits-all in software development. Some applications need robust UX that involves in-depth research, user testing, wireframes, custom designs, and more. Other systems can be focused more on functionality and simplicity to support a company’s business goals.
At Far Reach, we have created a lot of custom software that’s used in-house, by our clients' internal teams, where the focus of the platform is more on utility, and less on design. When software is used internally, you can focus on developing new functionalities, new automations, and new workflows that make your team’s work easier.
Granted, this doesn’t mean the system should be difficult to use or that the user interface (UI) should look like that of a ’90s website. The user experience still needs to be easy and not require mental struggle on the part of the user. But internal-facing systems certainly offer opportunities to do more of a baseline UX, leaving more advanced efforts for customer-facing platforms and highly-used, more complex internal systems.
There are plenty of situations where you need to invest more in UX research, design, and development. Again, systems that are customer-facing, like a software as a service (SaaS) platform—where users pay a subscription fee and learn to use the system on their own—need to be easy to learn, navigate, and use. If users sign up and have trouble using the system, they’ll leave, and take your potential revenue with them while leaving your brand compromised.
Sometime systems intended strictly for internal use warrant more in-depth UX as well. The level of UX that's appropriate for a given system depends on things like:
- How many people use the system
- How complex the workflows are
- How much risk a poor user experience will introduce to the company or its customers
At a minimum, it's important to perform a cost-benefit analysis up front to help you determine the best approach to UX.
How We Simplify UX
While we almost always do some level of UX design, when investing a large chunk of a project’s budget on UX doesn’t make sense, we’ll tell you. In turn, we’ll tell you if your custom software project should set aside more budget for UX.
Advanced UX is not our expertise—custom software development is. We’ve invested in tools that help us spin up projects quickly with basic UI and UX functionality built in out-of-the-box that we can tweak and refine as necessary. One of our go-to tools is a framework called ASP.NET Boilerplate, which lets us create the skeleton of a system essentially from a template and then build on top of that and reuse elements of our code library.
Without going into too much technical detail, we chose this framework because:
- It meets our quality standards
- It’s a .NET framework
- It’s an open-source platform, which makes it easy to build on top of
- It makes code reusability very easy, which saves money and development time
- It’s supported and updated by Microsoft
If it sounds like this approach comes with design compromises, not to worry. Within Boilerplate, we can still customize everything. The benefits are in the things we don’t have to do from scratch, such as:
- User management processes, including MFA (multi-factor authentication)
- Brand new CSS stylesheets
- Testing. With this approach, the users (your internal team, usually) are brought in early on and the UX is built upon their feedback.
- Maintenance and overhauling: since the application is for internal use, there is no need to overhaul your entire UX every time a new design trend pops up. You’ll be saving money in the short and long run.
Instead, we can spend time on building the right tools and getting the most helpful UX things right:
- Button labels
- Field names
- Branding and colors
- Help text
- Usability on tablets and phones
- Data visualization
As your users—whether internal, external, or both—learn the system, ideas for UX improvements will come to the forefront. In custom software, there will always be something to add, remove, or tweak—you want to focus on what brings the most value. That’s why we advise our clients to start with an MVP (minimum viable product), launch the highest-priority features, get feedback from users, and start seeing the benefits as soon as possible.
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Each custom software system looks different—that’s why it’s custom—and will have different UX needs. If you have a software idea, reach out to us and we’ll discuss the possibilities.