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I'm a one-person UX team in a small, non-profit organization. In fact, I'm also the only developer (front end only).

Our company's website will be completely re-done by this summer. We're in the final steps of selecting a web agency to complete this huge project and then we'll start. When I say re-done, I mean a complete evolution of our web strategy and brand, design, information, services, etc. Whereas our current website serves as a supplemental info-only entity right now, by the summer it will be the hub of our business.

Obviously one person cannot do something like by his/herself. Since I'm the only person that works on design/dev/UX in my company, I'm really struggling to see how I can positively contribute to this project when the web agency will do the discovery phase, the design phase, the dev phase, testing, etc, etc.These are skills I want to learn and practice-I've only been doing UX about 3 years-and I feel that this would be a great opportunity. Except it doesn't feel like it.

I've talked to my boss a bit about it, and she assures both of us that we're going to be insanely busy with this project, and at some points that will be true. The agency isn't our company, doesn't know the business like we do and can't read our minds. But still, I feel like I'll just be a person that says "yea, that design looks good" or "well, can you move that box over there? It looks better" or "that flow doesn't make sense for our users; re-think it".

So, have any of you been in a similar situation? How can I build my skills and contribute to the project? Do you have ideas of what I may do? Should I look for other opportunities elsewhere?

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3 Answers 3

You really answer this yourself, half-ways:

(agency) ... doesn't know the business like we do and can't read our minds. But still, I feel like I'll just be a person that says "yea, that design looks good" or "well, can you move that box over there? It looks better" or "that flow doesn't make sense for our users; re-think it".

This is where you come in and do your very valuable work. I'm a consultant myself and in some of the projects I've worked in we had no "speaking partner". Sure we had managers who signed the contract and paid the invoices we sent them, but not someone we could talk to in our everyday job. Being the one taking care of those questions is very valuable for the company and the agency.

You could do this in a laid-back position like you tell us in the sentences above. Or you have the opportunity to work proactive. Instead of saying "that flow doesn't make sense for our users; re-think it", you could draw the workflow on a white-board, having a workshop with the agency and taking control over the situation. What I wouldn't give for having a customer who told me what they really wanted. You have that opportunity at your doorstep. Grab it before anyone else does.

Imagine yourself in a position of a project owner, or even sponsor. With three years of knowledge in UX you will participate with the agency at your UX-level. You will not be considered a junior in knowledge, and combined with your organisation knowledge, you will be the one having the best presents at next christmas.

Specifically the agency would like to have your guidence in (1) labeling. Do you call that a X or do you call it Y in your organisation. You know the ontology of your company and can make fast replys on labelling question. You will also know the content, which means that you have the knowledge of which pieces of information fit together in larger chunks and which doesn't. In a sence you will be building the (2) hierarchical navigation structure of you brand new website. You could possibly provide the agency with search analytics making a (3) thesaurus of synonyms, which will greatly improve search experience. You could build it yourself, or leave it to the agency.

This is so much more than:

"well, can you move that box over there? It looks better".

It's:

"the information in this box is related to the surrounding conted, and is better placed in the related information section to the right of the page. This way our intended audience will find the related content. While your at it, could you make the visited "read more..." link in a different color so our user know they've been on that page before".

Wouldn't you like to be that person?

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+1(0). You seem to be typing the answers I have in my head today :-) –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 12:07
    
@MarjanVenema Thanks! I just had to write it. I'd love to be in that golden position mark is in! –  Benny Skogberg Jan 3 at 12:23
    
Yeah, it is a golden position when you get to think about the big picture and don't have to deal with the nitty gritty of "execution" (creating the mock ups etc.) –  Marjan Venema Jan 3 at 12:30
    
Thank you both for your kind words; I guess I never thought about it from the viewpoint you suggest, @BennySkogberg. I'll keep that UX strategy viewpoint in mind as the project progesses. But then that raises another question: what do I have to show for it when the project is over? What may I be able to add to my portfolio? –  Mark Bubel Jan 3 at 16:45
    
@MarkBubel Your astonishing accomplishment is best viewd on www.<theExternalWebSiteYourManaging>.com. You where User Experience lead and all of the elements on this website has your trademark from site objectives to the surface (jjg.net). That's what you "put into" your portfolio. My own portfolio (responsive and online of course) just contains text and links to my projects. And I haven't got a job I applied for since 1999, still I changed job four times since then. :-) –  Benny Skogberg Jan 3 at 18:33

Simple answer is own the UX strategy. Use the external agency as your 'doers'. Own the big stuff and let them focus on colours, box locations etc.

As you are internal you will have a better understanding of the company and it's needs. A good UX is when the user needs and the business leads overlap.

It does sound like you're not really UX that much anyway, so perhaps it's a good time to take the focus away from interface design and implementation and instead get into core UX (IA/Content Strategy/User Research etc). UI is a small part of UX.

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Thanks - I do think I need to really consider what part of UX I want to keep doing in the future; hopefully this project will make it clearer –  Mark Bubel Jan 3 at 16:46

It sounds like you are questioning whether you want to work on a project in this type of a role, and you are concerned about building your skills while working on this type of a project. These are valid concerns, especially if your passion is to be the person who works through the concepts at the nitty gritty level.

I've also gone through a process in the last 9 months of working on a project with an off shore development vendor, serving as the internal UX representative for our company. They weren't strong on design. I had to step in and re-work a lot of their work because of the quality. Because of the project timeline, I was forced to work more than one 12 hour day making up for their lack of skills. You will get a lot of experience from a heuristic standpoint, of looking at other people's work and providing UX and business insight. You will definitely encounter issues with the work that is presented on a large scale project like this. If you have any say in the project definition and timeline, my advice would be to work in some internally focused time blocks so you have time to work through any larger UX issues that the agency isn't executing well enough.

On one hand your skills will get strong with working with an external agency. On the other hand, you might become thirsty for more hands-on work which I think is what you are referring to when you mention building your "skills". This has been somewhat of a concern for me on the project that I mentioned - especially a long term project - but if the agency is collaborative, perhaps you will be able to work with them in a design workshop setting on some of the larger concerns, especially if they are geographically local. I didn't have the luxury of collaboration since we worked with an offshore company. But I did collaborate by providing alternative solutions, at which point they picked up the torch and ran with the general concepts I created to build out the rest of the application.

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Great points. Thank you for your comments. The agency we'll work with is less than an hour away, so I'm sure we'll do at least an introductory workshop together. –  Mark Bubel Jan 3 at 16:48

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