The Power of Post-It’s and Cue Cards

I am currently working with a client who does not have a large budget for User Experience. This isn’t a new situation as organizations are still learning about the value of UX. I am hopeful this will be one day change.

So how do a smaller budget affect what we are capable of doing? It doesn’t. It just changes how we look at the problems and how much time we have to focus on potential problems. User Research, for example, still happened but in a shorter period of time. Could we gather more information? Of course but we were able to get enough data to get the ball rolling.

The biggest challenge we had to address was with the sitemap and wireframes. My typical workflow involves using tools such as UXPin, Invision or Sketch to build out what we need. With certain clients and, in particular, situations, these tools are great. It allows us to get a working prototype in front of our customers so that they can visualize how it will work.

The downside to this approach? It takes time and with each review changes get made. Recently we had a project that got delayed due to all the revisions. While delayed projects usually result in frustration, in this particular situation, it was good. The delays and changes allowed our team to figure out some logistical concerns. The concerns would have resulted in bigger delays and blown budgets during development.

For our current client, who didn’t have a big budget, this approach wouldn’t work. We needed to find a way to mimic a similar outcome without the traditional tools. How could we wireframe, sitemap and test without a working prototype?

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Enter Post-It Notes

I’ve been reading “Undercover User Experience Design” written by  Cennydd Bowles and James Box.  This book, filled with excellent information, provided my first insight. During workshops, the smart idea is to get clients to organize their own sitemap.

Each page would get represented on a Post-It note. The client would then place the Post-It notes based on where they feel the pages belong. I loved this idea and got to work.

The client’s site had a navigational structure that was all over the map. I had a difficult time finding content and so I made this my first test. I took Post-It notes and wrote out every single page. Once done, I proceeded to approach people around the office to try out the post-it note approach.

I had each coworker structure the pages based on where they felt information belonged. It didn’t take long to see certain patterns emerge. By the time 10 people had finished the test, there was a clear picture on how to group the content.

The total time it took to set up, run and review? Less than an hour.

Cue cards are my new best friend

The next challenge I had to deal with was wireframes. How could I design a layout without actually using the design tools I am familiar with? Once again I turned to pen and paper.

I had two directions I could go in. I could either use Post-It notes again or find another something else. My first instinct was to go with Post-It notes. I had enjoyed how the first test had gone but there was one thing that kept bothering me. Since I didn’t have much wall space, everything was getting done on tables. I watched as people tried to slide the Post-It notes around on the table to limited success.

I decided since the wireframe would have content shifting, to use cue cards instead. The cue cards could be easy to move for people during tests and also had more room to write on.

I proceeded to write out each section of the site as required. Each card would include the title of the section (i.e. Header) and include a description of what would sit inside the section.

To determine the sections I used a combination of:

  • User research
  • Client requests
  • Results from the previous sitemap test

I laid out the sections so that I felt they made the most sense. I then proceeded to test it. It was important to know that the content structure made sense and was easy to use.

Testing went well; testers tweaked the layout, added extra notes and removed sections. It gave signs of what was working and what wasn’t.

The total time to set up, test and review? It was about an hour.

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Presenting to the Team

The next step was to present the findings and content to the accounts team. They represented the client and had the client’s best interests in mind. This was the next big test. The accounts team usually receives wireframes and sitemaps in the forms of PDF or live HTML.

As I laid out the cue cards, puzzled looks came over their faces. They thought they were getting traditional wireframes and were unsure of the cue cards. The confusion left the room as we got started. The cue cards were clear and concise. As with the earlier tests, extra notes got added and content got shifted.

The meeting ended earlier than expected.  With the wires and sitemap laid out in front of us, there was a clear picture of what required.

The whole process had been so smooth, we decided that the next step would be to present to the client. We felt that the client would appreciate the work done and have a stronger idea of what should be priorities.

All in all, the entire sitemap and wireframe process took less than two hours to complete. It was so useful that I plan on using Cue Cards and Post-It notes moving forward. Each project will have it’s own requires and this process won’t ever be the norm. I do believe that a combination of Pen and Paper are just as important to my process as the tools I’ve relied on in the past.

For this client, using pen and paper was crucial to generating valid results.

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