One of the things we get asked a lot in the early stages of project planning is “how long does UX design take?” This is a fair enough question because you will need to know exactly where UX fits into your project so that you can create a launch calendar.
When researching this answer ourselves, we have seen several different answers, the most common being 3 months, however, we wanted to take some time to show you why this might not be accurate.
We believe the answer to ‘how long does UX design take?’ is 3 to 5 months and here’s why…
You see, giving a definitive answer without understanding the parameters of an individual project isn’t easy. In this blog post, we want to take you through what we feel are the top considerations when making your timeline.
Considerations when asking “how long does UX design take?”
There are many things to consider before you launch into the UX design process and each of these will affect time.
1. Brand new design vs existing design
The very first consideration for your timeline is your project starting point.
A brand new design requires research from scratch on buyer personas. This includes a good look at understanding who the buyer is, how they think (including buyer objection hunting), what their pain points are and how your product needs to solve that for them. Then finally we need to look at how they will use the finished design.
By contrast, in an existing design, a lot of that early work has been done and so instead, you would start with an extensive audit, looking at personas, user flows and wireframes based on existing data.
2. Size of the website or SaaS design
Ultimately one of the biggest factors in the length of time UX design takes is scale.
Scale isn’t always immediately obvious, because it depends on complexity. For example, a micro SaaS design, something like a weekly planning or calendar app might only need to be a few screens long with basic functions. But if you want to tier the payment plans, to include team planning, meeting bookings or specialised templates, then you’ll be adding user account and feature complexities that take time to work through.
3. The extent of user testing
On existing systems, we often create user tests to retest elements or entire systems for feedback as part of the audit process. One of the tools we love to use for this is www.userbrain.com, which allows us to set specific tasks to learn how users are utilising different elements.
The time this takes depends on the extent of user testing and the results, especially if we need to rework features from scratch.
If we are working on a new project then testing is part of the design process (steps 3 and 4 of what we call the 5 steps for an effective digital design process).
4. The number and complexity of features in your website or SaaS design
The number of features and the complexity of each is another important factor to consider. Let’s look at a website project we built for Adventure Base.
With this project, we had several features to build out from individual destination guides with interactive maps to a comprehensive bespoke “build your own adventure” tool. There were a lot of man-hours in UX consideration and design to juggle all these moving parts.
Another point of complexity is how many other agencies or in-house teams are involved with the design. Developers are often a consideration. Their work combined with the UX development process can see a lot of moving parts created with a back-and-forth that adds time.
5. The number of different user accounts, their hierarchy of access or job function
Each level of access requires UX development to have your website or SaaS functions working seamlessly for improved efficiencies.
Let’s imagine you are a restaurant owner and you want to build a booking and management system (effectively an in-house SaaS product). How many types of user accounts do you think you will need? One, two, three?
Here’s what that SaaS might look like with a more detailed consideration.
- Business owner/super admin role – They will need to access business performance metrics, accounting functions and top-level data on each area of the system. They will also need access to the entirety of the system and the ability to add and revoke system access for other users.
- Restaurant Manager/special admin role – They will need access to update stock or table covers, sign off purchase orders and even manage accounting and marketing functions. On top of this, they will manage staff via the system (schedules, holiday cover and more) and also access front-of-house and kitchen admin pages.
- Waiting staff and Bar staff/front-of-house admin – Front-of-house staff will need access to the system to work table bookings, send orders to the kitchen and take payments. They may also need to create purchase orders for restocks on drinks.
- Kitchen staff/kitchen admin – They will need access to pick up food orders, upload menus, costings and make purchase requests.
- Then of course your restaurant may require supplier access for SEO, marketing or PR partners.
Each of these user levels requires its own research, design, realisation and user testing to make sure each staff member has a user flow that increases efficiency and capitalises on the power of the system you are building.
The point here is that with different access levels come different UX points of view to consider, meaning more development time is needed during the UX process.
6. Planning for edge cases
Understanding and planning for edge cases is also something to consider.
Edge Case – a problem or situation, especially in computer programming, that only happens at the highest or lowest end of a range of possible values or in extreme situations.
Or in other words, an edge case is usually a situation that exists outside of the ‘typical’ operating parameters of your system. These can be expected situations during the ideation stage, but equally, they can be unknowns that appear through user testing.
For example, let’s say we are designing an audio app for podcasts. Each podcast episode has a description. A known edge case would be making sure that the text is both concise and accessible for those with visual or cognitive impairments, across all devices. An unknown edge case (that is only highlighted during user testing) could be that users find it difficult to find new categories of topics to listen to.
When working with Clubs Complete, we encountered a whole range of edge cases that we had to address throughout the project’s design and development.
The more we consider when looking at UX edge cases the more time we need, but that isn’t a bad thing. Working through edge cases can considerably improve a product.
7. How much time is needed for prototyping
Planning time for prototyping allows us to create working prototypes for pages and individual elements so that wireframes and user flows are more comprehensive. User testing is much more focused as a result.
The more data and feedback you can gather at this stage means that you launch a significantly more successful version of your website or app.
Don’t forget that prototypes are also an opportunity for building confidence with existing investors, or seeking additional capital – making sure you have something that impresses your audience and answers their questions is a good thing!
8. Size of your UX team
Understandably the size of the team you have working on your UX design process is going to play a part in your time estimates. Remember bigger isn’t always better, instead, it’s about employing those who will make a positive and smarter investment.
Where the UX design process fits into your development process
To understand how long your design and build process takes you need to understand where UX fits into the overall design process.
A UX designer can enter into a new project quite early, in fact right from the planning stage and they will stay with you while your UI designer and development team come on board. The same is true for existing projects, a UX designer will be with you most of the way until you get the sign-off for the final launch build.
Why 3 to 5 months is a more realistic answer for how long UX design takes
Here at Strafe, our experience tells us that 3 to 5 months is a more realistic estimate and a reasonable minimum, taking into account the many projects we have worked on. Of course, there might be some variation on this, with smaller projects taking a little under, say 2 to 3 months and bigger projects a little over 4 to 6 months.
The importance is that a 3 to 5 month estimate allows for considerations on your starting point, project scale, user testing, feature and user account complexities, edge case exploration and important prototype time. If you have a large project whose UX design is finished in 3 months then you have to ask yourself if the resulting design is as good as it could be.
Looking for a UX design agency to turn your website or SaaS idea into an award-winning success? Look no further and drop your project details into our planner below!