Mistakes: Lack of Defined Scope (Part I)

21 Dec

Yes, that was more than a couple of days: the nastiest cold short of flu season knocked me out for about a week. If any freelance UX folk have suggestions on how to incorporate the unexpected into project timelines, please let me know in the comments.

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Today I’m going to talk about the first of what I’m sure will be many errors that come with becoming a UX professional. In interviews, you’re taught to spin these as “learning experiences”, as if we’re all too delicate to admit to screwing up. (Gen X/Y, “everyone gets a trophy”, anyone?)  It’s actually kind of glorious to write and print in public “Yes, I messed up royally”.

The mistake I’m talking about today is a failure to establish a finite scope at the start of the project. One of my weaknesses, in any type of project, is the tendency to want to be comprehensive. I LOVE research, and (B)ig (I)deas, and it’s hard at times to accept that the assignment in question is not as weighty and meaningful, and that given the context, a small project can be as valuable as a big one. But then, of course, you get to the point where a deadline is looming and there’s not enough on paper. It’s a particular problem when the project has a really long timeline. This is not unpredictable, and it’s a common type of error for me, but like a cold, exposure to one error seems to have no effect on my resistance to its cousin :).

As I mentioned, this is a known problem, and over time I’ve learned to offset it by 1.) setting a series of hard stops for research, first draft, second draft, and citations, 2.) questioning the client or professor extensively to understand exactly what the project requires and then working from that outline, or 3.) picking a topic that’s so boring that I want to complete it as efficiently as possible. But as a not-for-profit job that I volunteered to do with no set deliverables and minimal requirements, the “Small Packages” project fell right into the gaps between those strategies.

With three to four weeks left on the project, I’m actually in pretty good shape in terms of submit-level material, in the form of wireframes, site maps, and user statistics. But the two pieces of the project that I expected to flow nicely into one another (the demographics and the website layout) are becoming more disparate.  Essentially, they’re dealing with two different user bases.

The demographics, collected from social media and YouTube statistics, are both shallower and more complicated than I ever expected. An earlier post spoke about the likely fans of this type of show, and to some extent the stats bear that out. But the redundancy of fans under multiple avatars means there aren’t enough data points to draw strong conclusions. Moreover, the relationship between those statistics and the behavior of those users cannot be extrapolated without surveys and testing, antithetical to the relationship this company wants with its fans. Oy.

The website layout has been easier to grapple with. The site has remained mostly static since I began work. However, without fitting into one of the rough demographic groups that make up the site’s main users (personas would require more access to data than this project has scope for), records of my own interactions with the site are not adequate indications of how the typical user experiences it. I do see a lot of simple opportunities to enhance the site’s playfulness, in a way that would be fun and appropriate to the company’s “brand values”. But I realized that would involve bringing in a different viewership, the kind that would be interested but not automatically gravitate to this show without being beckoned, and I get the sense that’s not where the company wants to go right now.

I have visions from “Project Runway” when the bodice and the skirt are both beautiful but they do not go together, and the designer (usually) has to ditch one half to preserve the whole.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll have figured out how to combine the two.

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