a lesson in personas
ITZ-LLC is a systems and IT engineering consulting firm I co-founded with a friend in 2011 before I had found my passion for UX. Our mission? To redefine the standard of excellence for information technology, systems engineering, and security in the DC metro area. It was a lofty goal, but we had the work ethic to see labor into fruition. Several years later, we secured several contracts with the Navy including a partnership with Engility. In addition to engineering work, I was in charge of developing our brand and image, which included building a website, logo, social media platforms, and more.
Building a brand from scratch brought lessons in iterations which ultimately led to my realization in the value and need for UX in the present. This project page is not one of accomplishments, but an anthology of the many hurdles it took to prioritize the user first.
From panhandlers to the big leagues
ITZ-LLC Website | 2012
Recruiting at Virginia Tech
Before I was a UX designer, I identified myself as a front-end web developer. Before I was a front-end web developer, I identified as a marketing consultant. And even before all of that, I thought I was a graphic designer. (To learn more about my history, check out my article on identity.) Consequently, my approach to building a brand was scattered throughout the years.
When the very first ITZ-LLC website was made in 2012, all I wanted it to be was “cool” and parallel to the image my co-founder had. During this phase, my focus and priority was simply on launching a brand that had a strong core narrative. We made t-shirts and posters and prepared for our grand debut onto the market. Once our website was launched, we began advertising on craigslist, facebook, and other platforms offering basic IT services.
This would be the least successful iteration of our working history. Although we managed to find clients here and there, majority of them came through personal connections rather than our online reach. Something had to change. There was a clear disconnect in our image and our clients. We wanted to brand ourselves with a youthful swagger, but the majority of our revenue was coming from an older audience.
In order to prevent ourselves from losing any future business opportunities, I took the initiative to update our website. During this period of my life I became a self-proclaimed bootstrap guru. On the side I was building static websites for local businesses, and had the confidence to tear down and recreate the ITZ-LLC website and brand. The new website would be professional and modern. I studied other large websites including IBM, Lockheed Martin, and more; from this research, I set out to rebuild our website in a larger-scale with a tech-forward image. I designed business cards that copied the creativity of silicon valley start-ups, scheduled a photoshoot to provide more in-house visual components, and spent almost $500 in new branding initiatives and advertising.
The second release was set to be awesome- but nothing really came out of it. Although it made our image to be more credible, we were not making more money. Nothing much had changed. I took a brief hiatus, and began an internship position as a UX designer at my university. Although I had done some UX work in the past at my other internship at Altria as an IT analyst, I never had given it much more attention outside of the direction I was given. Suddenly something clicked once my internship came to a close- I never created personas for ITZ.
New logo and card idea
A poor UX reference point
User would need to click to view service details- only after a twirling animation
ITZ won a contract with the Navy, but there were problems that came with it. Rather than propelling us forward, my branding direction held us back. We were ready for another change- but this time, it would be done differently.
It took some time to convince my close friend and co-founder to rebuild the website again, but I had the confidence a UX-focused change would push us to greater heights. I began by holding a design session with my co-founder and some of our working employees who had more experience interacting with our clients in person. Using sharpees and a giant post-it drawing board, I visually mapped out both internal and external expectations. I directed us to revisit our mission statement and identity, surveyed reviews and feedback given to us by our clients, and made sure everyone in the room was both aware and involved in the purpose of the rebranding. By the end of the day with the help and involvement of my team, I was able to draw out and narrow down our personas to focus on where the real value lied - a good experience tailored for the user.
Over the period of a week, I updated our website once again- this time with a renewed focus on the end user’s needs, not ours. Through user feedback, testing, and persona guidance we made several key changes. Business cards were printed in a larger, more friendly font. I removed flashy animations from the website, made the font larger and more legible, and designed the experience to have less interactions (testing revealed complaints in having to click more for important information). Also, the website was now 100% compatible in Internet Explorer. Although my progress on the website was cut short once I began work at Deloitte Digital, revenue at ITZ-LLC has increased significantly along with a new partnership with Engility. With the earnings, the current CEO has already invested in the construction of the company’s first official office location in Maryland.