Most digital product makers agree that great UX is a ‘must have’—an essential part of a successful product. It is also, however, one of the first things sacrificed while hacking together an MVP or prototype.

This begs the question—if starting without is fine, but finishing without is bad—then when is the right time to involve a UX designer? At what stage will the rewards outweigh the additional cost? The answer, of course, depends on your situation. Here are some key considerations when looking for a UX designer.

How complex is your product??

If you have an incredibly complex back-end, or most of the magic is in the technology itself, then a huge part of validation may simply be ‘getting it working’. In this case a designer can most likely come in later and reorganize—as long as everything is still malleable. If, on the other hand, a core part of your USP is reducing user friction—it will be best to involve a designer as soon as possible. Here’s why…

The later you involve a UX designer, the less effective they will be.

How design works

A common misconception is that digital design is all about the finishing touches, like icing a cake, or painting a room. To follow this example, if you wanted to create an extraordinary room in a house, you’d want to use everything at your disposal. Adjust the size of the room, the height of the ceiling, where the lighting is placed and perhaps where the windows and doors are set. Note, all of these elements, while contributing to the emotional experience, are actually themselves structural. It’s a lot easier to change and edit them before the house has been built. Otherwise, chances are, all your designer will be doing is deciding on the colour of the walls.

The exact same applies in the digital world. The later you involve a UX designer, the less effective they will be. Sure, it’s faster to deconstruct and reassemble digital products than physical ones. But is that really what you want to do? Discarding chunks of work can be extremely demotivating for teams, not to mention the obvious sunk costs.

Full time vs external

Ok, so ideally the sooner the better. But what about the cost? Freelance or full-time? Junior or senior? Having a junior UXer involved as soon as possible is a good start—but then they might not have the vision required to catch all structural issues. Hiring a senior designer would be ideal, but of course this is often out of budget for most early-stage startups.

What about an external senior that could lay the foundations right, so that your own junior could then maintain and develop? Someone to establish all the required design precedents, and define them in a design doc. Sounds pretty good to us...

Our pitch

The importance of good foundations is why SlowLettuce targets early-stage startups. Making great foundations accessible is why we created LaunchPad—our flagship service. It covers all the steps and skill sets to move you from initial concept to final design. There’s no longer any need to compromise. Get the power of an experienced design team without the dreaded overhead of a full-time hire. With the right foundations, scaling is a breeze.

Jeremy Lefèbre