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Community UX Design Research on a Budget

Written by Molly Talbert | on January 24, 2017 at 8:30 AM
Online Community UX Design on a Budget

The look, feel and usability of your community, and online presence as a whole, can make a huge difference in terms of engagement. But what if you don’t have the budget to really dive in, research and optimize your site’s user experience (UX)?

Small organizations are used to figuring out creative workarounds to problems that larger organizations don’t think twice about, like how to manage a community without a full time community manager or maintain a corporate site.Designing from scratch - or revamping your online presence - is a lot of work, but you can do a good job on a shoestring budget. As most small organizations know, a little elbow grease and creativity can go a long way.

So, if you want to make sure your community site has the best user experience for your members, but can’t break the bank doing so, try out these tips:

1. What skills does your team have?

What are your team members interested in? Do any of them have a specific skill - like Photoshop - that they don’t normally use at work? Make sure you know what hidden skills everyone on your team may have - and how much time they’d be willing to give for the community.

Once you’ve done an audit of your team and know what skills your team members have - and what they’re willing to contribute - what gaps do you have? Now you have a better idea of what you could hire a freelancer for. Or, depending on the skill and your interest, you could look into free trainings or see if an organization like General Assembly has a quick course to bring you up to speed.

2. Start small

Once you know what skills you have access to, you’ll have a better idea of what you can actually accomplish.

At the end of your audit, you might learn that you don’t have access to as many skills - or the kind of skills - you hoped for. But remember: it’s ok to start small. As you work on tweaking your community site you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work.

Wonder where to start? Here are a few good places you can easily begin work on:

  • Simplify the website layout to reduce confusion
  • Create graphics to call out events
  • Ensure your website is accessible to people with visual impairments
  • Make sure fonts are readable

Maybe you’ll decide it’s worth it to hire a freelancer with a specific skill, like a graphic designer, or you’ll learn that it’s fine to go without. You may be surprised by how big a difference your small changes will make.

3. Free design tools

Just because an online tool is free, doesn’t mean it’s bad. These days, there are so many high quality design tools that are either free or on a freemium model (free at first and then you pay for upgrades). Whether they’re general tools to help you stay on track, or specific for graphic design help, be sure to research what tools are out there.

Airtable and Canva are two favorites at Higher Logic.

4. Get outside

Do you ever have an awesome idea and then, once you explain it to someone, realize it’s actually not awesome at all?

That’s why some people recommend “Guerrilla Usability Testing” - a tactic that requires you to get out of your office and talk to people with fresh perspective.

It’s easy to get stuck in your thinking, especially if you work in a small team or organization. So get outside - talk to people who have never heard of your community or have no idea of your project. What do they think of the changes you’ve made, or the plans you have?

Ask your friends what they think or the person sitting next to you on the airplane. Do you ever work at a coffee shop or the library? As the person sitting next to you if they have a moment. No matter what, their reaction will be invaluable - it either confirms you’re on the right track, or they’ll see something you had no idea was there.

5. Ask your members

As helpful as strangers are (surprisingly enough), it’s always good to circle back around and check in with your members. But be careful about how you ask and who you ask - if you’re not careful, you might end up with way more advice than you want.

You could go about getting member feedback two ways.

First, send out surveys to take your membership’s temperature. Second, speak to your community MVPs - these are the members who are most engaged. They’re valuable not only because they’re active participants themselves, but because they also have inside knowledge that you’re not privy to.

Once you have feedback - listen to it. If people have trouble posting resources to the library, see what steps you can smooth out. If someone says they would go to more webinars, but never know when they’re happening, consider adding webinar announcements to your banner images.

Original research explains the impact online communities have on businesses.

Topics: Community Management, Marketing

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