The UX timeline: How long does UX design take?

You may be at a point where you’re planning to start a new project or create a feature for an existing product. You understand the value of putting your end users first and want to invest in user experience at the beginning of your project lifecycle. One of your next questions might be, “How much time will this add to my project scope?”

Project Timeline Overview

Your UX timeline won’t look the same as the next guy’s; it depends on the number and size of features and development deadlines. But in most cases, implementing a user experience process adds about three months to the front end of your project.

Implementing a UX process adds about three months to the front end of a project timeline.Implementing a UX process adds about three months to the front end of a project timeline.

Of course, this is dependent upon your projected release date and the amount of time final development will take. In cases where business deadlines are inflexible, this timeframe can be condensed a bit.

UX Timeline

Let’s take a closer look at the UX process. What exactly is done in that three-month stretch?

The UX process includes strategy, research, design, prototype building, and usability testing. Typically, it takes three rounds of usability testing to fully validate solution concepts. Testing uncovers usability issues and gives opportunity to fix them before product development.The UX process includes strategy, research, design, prototype building, and usability testing. Typically, it takes three rounds of usability testing to fully validate solution concepts. Testing uncovers usability issues and gives opportunity to fix them before product development.

To kick off the process, strategy discussions take place: direction is decided, goals are set, and expectations are determined. The work begins with customer and industry research. This allows designers to make decisions based on who they are designing for and understand the industry this product will be serving. Following design, the concept is turned into a working prototype and tested with users outside the product team. After each round of testing, the results are analyzed and necessary adjustments are made. Typically, it takes three rounds of testing to fully validate solution concepts. Once the team is confident that it has solved for the users’ goals, a final design deliverable can be handed over to developers.

Why tack on three months to your project timeline?

Investing in UX at the beginning of your project’s life cycle does extend the initial project timeline, but as with any investment, you will reap its benefits later. User-focused, goal-oriented design ensures that your development team doesn’t waste effort on a product that doesn’t resonate with users.

Let’s compare a project timeline which includes a UX process to one without.

Implementing a UX process adds time upfront, but it produces a market-ready first release after which, you can focus on enhancements. Without UX design, it’s not uncommon for the first release to be met with subsequent cycles of redesign, redevelopment, and major re-releases.Implementing a UX process adds time upfront, but it produces a market-ready first release, after which, you can focus on enhancements. Without UX design, it’s not uncommon for the first release to be met with subsequent cycles of redesign, redevelopment, and major rereleases.

When product or service designers make users the basis for decisions, the result is an informed design deliverable. Because there are researched, tested, and documented reasons behind interfaces and interaction patterns, development teams have clarity around what they need to produce and why. Without a documented UX design, developers find themselves doing whatever they need to in order to make the system work. Often times, those solutions don’t align with the most efficient workflow for the end user. If you wait for the first release to uncover such usability issues, you put your customers in the middle of problem solving and, ultimately, provide a sub-par experience.

The result is a stressful post-release. The team finds itself in a cycle of constrained redesign and redevelopment. Once a framework has been established and introduced to the market, designers have less flexibility to make meaningful changes, and suddenly, it’s very hard to redeem the product.

To recap, plan on three months from start to design deliverable. Yes, you may have to plan for a little extra time upfront to implement in a UX strategy. But it truly is a strategic move. As the old adage goes: everything worth doing takes time.