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I've recently joined a smaller local software company. Our primary customer is the local government and we're beginning to develop a software to manage their meeting and event rooms. One reason for this is because employees kept complaining that the older software was difficult to use and required significant time investment before a new employee could use the software.

This basically screamed "We had a UX issue!" at me, and yet when I asked my project lead about UX design, he seemed rather bewildered. The gist of his response was "What for?". I got into a longer discussion with him, explaining why I believe that UX seems to be important to the customer, but he claimed that getting a working prototype out to the customer was more important, and if UX became an issue later, we could always fix it later. When I told him that we are that later fix for someone else's UX screw up, he didn't really give me a response.

I feel like this project is heading towards a disaster already. What can I do to convince my project lead that UX design should be taken seriously? Or am I possibly completely overreacting?


To give some clarification about "bad UX", both in the previous program and in the current prototype. The previous program, I've only used for a short time during a demonstration. It was basically "consistently inconsistent". Labels for the same actions are different, buttons appear in random locations, colors are used inconsistently and if something doesn't work as expected, the program gives no response and just expects you to know what to do. I've attempted to perform a simple task like book an appointment in a room, and failed horrendously. The amount of steps required is out of this world.

Our current prototype suffers from what I call "programmer UI". Programmers made some functions and then add in buttons to launch these functions. The entire UI is extremely barebones and basically requires knowledge of how the program works internally, just to be able to use it.

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    Can you stage a demo for the project lead where they themselves fail ? Create some use cases that are poorly implemented and ask them to go through it. Even better: ask the project lead's boss to "test drive" it .
    – Hilmar
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:43
  • @Hilmar I assume something like this is going to happen when we present the prototype to the customer. I just feel like that could leave a bad impression.
    – Eren
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:50
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    Can you clarify in which position you'r in and what are your duties regarding this project?
    – iLuvLogix
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:38
  • "The entire UI is extremely barebones and basically requires knowledge of how the program works internally, just to be able to use it." -> tooltips, help-texts, user-manual, and demos might shed some light to the poor users that are subjected to work with the software, but I fully agree that in the end of the day a solid, intuitive UX should be considered by your team-lead..
    – iLuvLogix
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:45
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    re: " I assume something like this is going to happen when we present the prototype" ... then wait for that moment and offer a solution. Sadly, rewards for pointing out preventable problems are few and far between. Fixing "emergencies", on the other hand, is appreciated.
    – Pete W
    Aug 20, 2021 at 23:56

4 Answers 4

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Consider that it may be intentional.

My Dad used to work for one of the large corporate tech integrators (think IBM/Accenture/CGI) and when it came to government, the idea was to build as much as possible according to what they asked for (not what was needed) and then keep charging to rework it.

Because how governments are structured with long purchase timelines, strong contract language, and a strong need for the software that often goes well beyond whether or not it is profitable (i.e. completing it is a legal or operational requirement), they will pay all that extra. Because of this, keeping the client happy is considered a far smaller priority. A CEO can just wave his hand and terminate you that day, at least according to the terms of the contract if the work you are doing is useless. Government does not work that way.

The goal with many companies doing government work is not to solve the problem, but figure out a way to keep billing. That was why my last job existed. The government had a product that needed continuous work so I got to opt out of contracting hell and have in-house developers do it instead.

I kind of wonder if the intent is to first bill for all the development and then bill for all the redevelopment. This is not uncommon.

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    Even if the OP's company is not trying to "milk" their government client, it might be that they are working for a "box-ticker" on the client side who just wants to see that every item in the specification is met to the letter. This issue extends well beyond software and integration services. (I work for municipal clients in environmental infrastructure.)
    – Theodore
    Aug 20, 2021 at 17:05
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    @Theodore I am a former municipal software engineer. Seen lots of that too. Aug 20, 2021 at 17:27
  • "The goal with many companies doing government work is not to solve the problem, but figure out a way to keep billing" Sadly that's a common strategy. I say sadly because on one hand it does create unreasonbale costs on the state's budget and therefore tax-payer's money that could have been used better/more efficient elsewhere (i.E. social or education) - and on the other hand it lowers the bar of the executing companies/teams/individuals and leaves, as in this case, a stale taste in the lower ranks that actually feel motivated to strive for better results..
    – iLuvLogix
    Aug 23, 2021 at 12:23
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The primary concern for most companies is making money, so management, the question comes down to: will hiring a UX designer make us more money?

Hiring staff comes with significant costs (and can take weeks or months), so you need to present a case for why this is the right thing to do for the business.

I don't know where you're based, and how much a (good) UX designer costs. Let's pull a figure out of the air and say £30k/year. In which case, you need to justify why hiring them will lead to increasing revenue by at least £30k/year. Think about things like:

  • Is the client going to pay more for a product with better UX?
  • Will they reject it if the UX is bad?
  • Will delivering something with a shoddy UX harm the company's reputation, or make it less likely that they win future work?
  • Is it going to cost more to redesign and rework things later?
  • Will it make the end product easier to sell to other clients?
  • Will having a dedicated UX designer free up your developers to do other work?

And if you can't do so, then you're going to have a very hard time convincing management they should hire one.

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    Excellent questions! And one last question, along the same lines, will the person representing the local government even approve invoices that include the hours of a UX designer on them? Aug 22, 2021 at 18:28
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De ja vu. I have been in the exact same position. I have worked for small software companies doing work for local (as well as state and federal) governments.

More than likely your small company bid on the contract against other companies. Bidding means they said they can do the work for as little money as possible, yet still make just enough to profit. If the user interface/experience was not specifically discussed, then it is not to be considered. Any work above and beyond what is in the statement of work cuts into profit at best or at worst, costs the company money.

This is just the nature of this type of business in this environment. Cost cutting is lauded, while going the extra mile is not. I have seen this time and time again in many of these small software companies vying for government contracts. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with it. Its just that its not an environment I personally enjoy working in. I remember working at a small GIS company very early in my career. Another employee, who I worked with previously at a larger software company, went to the president and explained how we could drastically reduce the amount of development time and effort per project and save money overall. We were shocked when he said no, as it would take away from development of current projects. The reality was, the company would bid so low to get contracts, that there was no budget to innovate. This also meant if a project was lost, there was no money to reallocate employees to other projects till a new one was found. This very thing happened, where a competitor undercut the company and they lost a project they had for years and ended up laying off half their employees.

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In a small company there might just not be room/budget to have a full-time specialist for every discipline. However you seem to have some pretty outspoken ideas about what is wrong with the interface of the product and how to fix it yourself. So why not take some initiative and propose these things? So you might become the part-time UX-person.

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    I think this makes sense in the longer term but not when the lead's response is "what is UX?". Doing work that is not your speciality, not appreciated as being critical by the lead but is actually critical is a good recipe for tonnes of work only to be thrown under the bus if the end result is not perfect. I would let the fires burn a bit more before stepping in and avoid a "i told you so" attitude when things do start burning. Aug 20, 2021 at 17:18
  • "However you seem to have some pretty outspoken ideas about what is wrong with the interface of the product and how to fix it yourself." Even for UX designers, this is not so easy. This is why they'll often generate 20 different mockups of different ideas that they'll test users on. Being able to show all the work they've done and all the ideas they've considered and tested, before they even disclose their results, is precisely how they're able to convince management to follow their advice. This is a full time job in and of itself. And as a developer, the OP probably has other work to do. Aug 22, 2021 at 18:39

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