You Can’t Cut Corners When Looking To Make A Mark
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

You Can’t Cut Corners When Looking To Make A Mark

Whether conscious or accidental, cutting corners encourages actions out of view, and we can’t be keeping secrets from each other if we are to reach a project’s vision.

As a broad concept, cutting corners is taking a quick route to an endpoint, rather than taking the original (longer) route to get to the right destination.

For instance, my DIY is more the former. It is passable (at least it is to me) but if I pay a specialist to do it I expect them to get to the right place (function, quality, style, leave a good impression, and I want to recommend them to my friends).

Experience UX is paid to deliver our work at a high quality. For any commercial company, they are paid money to do something. Someone else is parting with their money to achieve an end goal. By running a business, by taking money to deliver something, we must take responsibility to do the right job to get to what was agreed, if not a little bit more.

In our world of user research, it can be easy for the untrained eye to interpret findings to suit a given argument.

This can happen when, in a usability test, a participant says something significant from, say, a marketing perspective. If you work in marketing, in this example you can leave the day remembering that one point and then use the ‘evidence’ to determine a decision tomorrow.

Our job, what we are paid for, is to ensure we report back the true intention of the finding, based on our observation of user behaviour across a project, even if that perplexes someone on our client team. The truth must prevail, and we mustn’t cut a corner to appease a conversation.

What Customers Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them, Right?

If you are hiding something, or you haven’t considered the full customer experience, to represent true market value, it creates an unstable place.

Sometimes this happens when elements of a product delivery do not fit the journey a customer expects. For instance, have you ever bought organic meat only to find the packaging isn’t recyclable? It’s jarring and feels wrong as a customer who buys organic meat.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtstall shocked many of us when he informed us that take away coffee cups aren’t actually recyclable. Most of them still are not, but we still buy them and dispose in recycling. I feel the big coffee houses should take responsibility for that user behaviour and act accordingly. Not by telling us to put our cups in the general trash, or to tell us to use our own cups, but to make the cups recyclable.

My point is that the overarching customer experience, which is always bigger than the product or service in itself, has a jarring moment that should be eradicated. So even if customers or society are not demanding change, perhaps companies should be demanding a change of themselves, for the good of their overall customer experience.

Swayed By (Or Forced To Use) The Short Cut

Taking the short cut is tempting. When it comes to the world of usability testing and user research, the biggest short cut is… not doing any.

I appreciate budgets can be restricted, but many companies now introduce more testing into their project plans. What happens is that other aspects of digital take up more and more of the budget until testing becomes something to implement later. Much to the exasperation of the client-side UX teams, they are often left delivering UX without sufficient research and testing.

A common mistake, and an oft unrealised corner cut, is to not research properly. I will always advocate any testing over no testing. However, if you don’t recruit and introduce participants accordingly, if you ask the wrong questions, if you focus more on what participants say not on what they do, you will end up with evidence that isn’t accurate.

My advice is to invest in your UX team, get them trained, let them run their testing and research project properly, give them time to consider their findings.

Finally, it is easy to be swayed by cheaper, quicker, cooler looking methods. With so many digital tools available, including unmoderated testing, card sorting, online surveys, heat mapping, they can be mistaken for doing the same job and get wrapped up under one UX banner. I appreciate budget control, but taking the time to consider the tools and, often, investing in more than one method through a project can achieve better results.

Transparency Has A Huge Role 

If you must cut a corner, be transparent about it. Short cuts can be ok as it can save time, money and energy, but cutting corners will often mean cutting quality.

What is the impact and is your stakeholder willing to accept it? It is possible to make deviations as long as you explain, and the project owner agrees. But don’t take a short cut or cut a corner for your own gain or without communicating the shift.

This leans into the Project Management Triangle. This represents ‘Scope, Time, Cost’ – you can prioritise two but you can’t have all three. For example, if you want a high-quality scope with quick delivery, there is a higher cost associated with it. If the pressure is on, as deadlines loom, suddenly all three are required. But something must give.

If we are transparent and explain the Scope and/or Time are at risk, it isn’t necessarily a comfortable conversation, but it is an important conversation to have.

What I learnt in my years as a project manager, is that deadlines can often be moved to save the quality and keep within budget. But it requires a big conversation. 

You’ve Got To ’Trust The Process’

When in the throes of a project, and things get difficult, it can be tempting to remove the difficulty and build a quicker bridge to reach the next step. It can be tempting to ignore all that we have learned and make reactive decisions.

Recently, my family and I went to see the sunrise. We planned to get to Hengistbury Head (near me in Dorset, UK) in time to watch the sun peep over the horizon. We checked the weather app for the sunrise time and agreed to a process for the morning.

Everything was going to plan until we got in the car and started driving. The sky was getting light. The apps must be wrong! Maybe the sunrise time meant when the sun is fully in the sky, not when the sun begins to rise.

We made a diversion to Boscombe pier to jump on the beach so the kids could see the sunrise. However, you can’t see the sunrise from Boscombe Beach because Hengistbury Head, our original destination, is in the way. Not only that, having parked the car and ran down to the beach, I remembered that the sky gets light before the sun peeps over the horizon. I’ve known that since I was a boy!

We ran back to the car, drove to Hengistbury Head, got to our original focal point for 06:50. Ten minutes later, the sun was in the sky. It was a stunning orange-red. But we missed it peeping over the horizon. Had we not reacted, had we kept our cool, had we trusted the process we’d meticulously planned the day before we’d have seen it.

Trust the process. At the moment under stress, we panic and, unwittingly, cut a corner that results in a (just about) passable endpoint.

Projects are complex when there are many people and parties involved. They can sometimes feel they are going well and then some form of research throws in a new perspective where we question what has gone before. Conversations then take place as to what to do next, should we revisit some previous aspect? Should we reshape the next steps to cater to this perceived curveball? Self-doubt can set in. It can be easy to be swayed to others’ processes, so we have to remember there is always a bigger project at play.

We must work a way to shape our work, to fit within the bigger project management realm. We trust the process because it works. If we don’t, we’ll undoubtedly cut a corner, and that isn’t good enough. 

Strong Relationships

If you are passionate about what you do and genuinely care for the output, then you take care to get the brief right and to review that brief with your stakeholder as you progress and learn more.

It all comes down to having strong relationships with clients (internal or external) and those spending their budget with you. When this feels comfortable, open, and flows, the insecurity of considering cutting corners doesn’t come into the equation and headspace.

Cutting corners represents living a life out of sight, we all have to work together and help each other.

You want your stakeholder/client to look good, and you want to look good, we can only do that with respectful and transparent dialogue. It can be achieved.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

Let’s Chat

Got a question? We’re here to listen and help you and your organisation become more user-centric. Talk to us about how usability testing and user research can help you. Contact us today.

01202 293652