I’ll confess. I thought I knew more but it turns out I don’t.

I’m working on a custom software development project of my own. It has a web app back end and a mobile front end initially planned for the iPhone. I’ve got a good handle on how it needs to work. I just need to lay out the screens and voila, I’m ready to get a quote.

This shouldn’t be too hard. I’m armed with Balsamiq and a decent knowledge of how people use software. After all, I manage custom software development projects every day and have the benefit of working with some of the most talented user experience designers I’ve ever met. I don’t need to pay someone to do this for me.

h2. Wireframing is easy – anybody can do it

I jumped in and started wireframing. If you’ve ever done this, you know how exciting it can be. Your vision starts showing up on the page. You tweak this field here and that icon there. You show it to some friends and they tell you how great it is. I experienced all that and felt good about what I accomplished.

There’s a part of my app about which I don’t have a ton of experience. I’m learning quickly but just can’t get up to speed fast enough. I went out and found someone who knows way more than me. As it happens, he’s also a user experience designer.

I started pulling together some wireframes of a particular feature and sent them to him. The goal was to communicate the data I need to collect. With that understanding, he would continue working on the area where I’m weak.

I was pretty proud of what I’d done.

Getting schooled is not as easy

As one of his standard “getting ready for design” exercises, my uber-experienced designer friend had spent a couple minutes doing a quick set of wireframes.

Remember how proud I was of my work? Once I saw his wireframes, I went from pretty proud to way less proud in about half a second. I should have known this would happen but, remember, I’ve got experience!

The truth is that I had done a decent job. But I hadn’t done a great job.

In just a few minutes, he did more and with much higher quality than I did in a couple hours. More importantly, his “decent” job was about a hundred times better than the best I’ll ever do.

Admitting you’re not as good as you think you are

Here’s why it matters.

I’m not working on this project because I have loads of spare time and need a hobby. I’m working on it because, if I’m successful, it has the ability to change people’s lives.

My observation is that successful people realize their limitations early on and aren’t afraid to admit someone else could do a better job. Bringing on someone smarter or more talented in a specific area doesn’t diminish them personally or professionally. Instead, it puts them on the path to achieving their goal instead of getting in the way of success.

What about the money

What about it? I’ve always heard the question “if you don’t have time to do it right, how will you have time to do it over?” I think it applies here except you have to replace time with money. If you don’t have the money to do it right, how will you have the money to do it over?

You absolutely have to pay attention to cost. At the same time, the right user experience makes users rave. Raving users lead to more raving users – and cashflow. If your user experience is bad – or these days, even just average – the money you spend to build it is going to be more like a bad gamble than an investment.

If you’re getting ready to pour limited funds into building a new idea, think really hard before you cut back on design because you can do it yourself.

Think about the apps you love to use. Almost every one of them was designed by a pro hired by a smart guy with an idea. Which one are you – the design pro or the smart guy with the idea?

Admitting someone else can do a better job of design will help make you successful and it just might save you money along the way.

Posted by Dave Bates on Feb 9th, 2011

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com