6 Things I Learned in 6 Years

It's hard to believe that July 2018 marks Slide UX's 6th anniversary! What started as a small freelance enterprise has grown into a thriving, fast-paced group of top-tier UX design and research consultants, tackling important user experience challenges for world-class brands.

Much of what has happened in the past 6 years, we could have never predicted. But the lessons learned along the way have been unforgettable, and I'm eager to share a few of them.

#1: Question the why.

Me, moderating a panel with An Event Apart presenters an an Austin IXDA session in 2012. You can't quite see my amazing yellow pants.

Me, moderating a panel with An Event Apart presenters an an Austin IXDA session in 2012. You can't quite see my amazing yellow pants.

In the early days, I wanted to prove myself - to clients, to prospects, to the industry, and even to myself. To me, that meant plugging knowledge gaps by investigating how others did things.

It wasn't always possible, and in the end, that was often for the better. Time taught me that falling in line with everyone else's approach isn't necessarily the best option.

Often, our carefully crafted “homegrown” methods outperform older “tried and true” approaches. We've evolved into a team that constantly roots out trouble spots and seeks better alternatives. We can leverage our relatively small size and fast pace to try new ways anytime they make sense for us. Our clients benefit from the efficiency gains, and we love getting to share what we've learned about the latest methods.

#2: Save people time.

UX principles run deep here at Slide UX. Though we've always been committed to a seamless customer experience, understanding what that means is an evolutionary process. Over time, we've formed some guidelines.

  • Anticipate questions, and provide answers proactively. When our research team noticed that clients would often reach out about the status of usability recruiting, we added a morning message during the recruiting period to save them a step.

  • Organize your work in a way that others can quickly understand. Keep your notes in a reliable spot. Structure them the same way. Label them coherently. Do the same with your design files or research recordings or contracts.

  • Keep it concise. The benchmark of a well written email is that it can be read in less than 1 minute, and that the recipient can answer, “sounds good.”

#3: Listen actively.

Working in a fast-paced consulting environment means lots of crash courses on interesting and unfamiliar client domains. To provide sound advice, we need a macro view of each clients' competitive space, their users, and what those users need. But at the start of our project, our clients are often consumed with the details of what they're trying to deliver. Active listening (and stay-on-our-toes question-asking) helps us grasp the big picture information, faster.

#4: Reflect, refine, and repeat.

As years of consulting started to accumulate, I'd sometimes stumble upon old work, and impress myself. Often, I'd find a totally forgotten work product - something that I'd really thought through at some point in time.

Why didn’t I hang onto this and turn it into a template for next time?
— Me, scratching my head after reinventing yet another wheel

As we began to scale, I needed examples of what I expected and how long a process should take, which is when we started our playbook.

Refined through post-project debriefs, our playbook represents our collective sense of “best practices” for the methods we use. Every project is a new opportunity to learn more and refine further. Because we all anticipate the discussions of how to improve next time, the team is now wired to look out for ways we can provide better work or client experiences.

#5: Be specific about who is doing what.

Have you ever left a discussion feeling inspired, but lost? Welcome to the challenge of working with Erin 1.0.

I'm big on trust; I want everyone to feel empowered. So my natural tendency is to shy away from dictating details. What grown-up likes to be micromanaged, right?

Well, as it turns out, there's a big difference between micromanagement and clarity. To the average American adult, total ambiguity doesn't feel empowering - it feels overwhelming. 

My big lesson? Be direct. Take the time to clarify the order of events. We can determine who is responsible for what without dictating the specific solution. I'm admittedly still working on this, but recognizing that need was a breakthrough for me.

#6: Measure what matters.

Brant and I in 2012, right after forming Slide UX. Our oldest son was just turning one.

Brant and I in 2012, right after forming Slide UX. Our oldest son was just turning one.

Creative agencies have a reputation for burning employees out with long hours and unrealistic expectations. On the contrary, Slide UX was founded so that we can do the work we love without sacrificing the things we valued - for us, that meant time with family.

As we've grown, we've found that when time is tracked, work/life balance can be monitored - just like profit or revenue. The active pursuit of balance enables Slide UX to attract and retain diverse talent. Our projects are made better by having a range of experienced team members who can provide quick, confident consultation to our clients and mentor more junior Sliders. In addition, our workplace banter is filled by the interesting hobbies and personal lives of our real, human team.

I couldn't be more grateful for the clients, Sliders, and supporters who have catapulted Slide UX into what we are today. So many of those reading this have personally made an impact on our organization. Thank you for that.

We don't know what the future holds, but we can only hope that the next 6 years will yield as much learning and fun as the past 6. Cheers to six years!