From the Design Team

Apr 29, 2019

Ode to the Local Business Owner

By Autumn Mariano

Recently, Underbelly had the opportunity to team up with Kristen Lavelett and the fine folks at Local First, Utah’s leading independent business alliance. They were looking for experts to offer classes on ‘Website User Experience’ to independent business owners in our community. Underbelly has always been a fan of the work Local First does, so we jumped at the chance to contribute. We stand behind their mission to serve locally owned businesses, and are always looking for ways to get more involved in the cool stuff that’s happening around us.

Jeff, another UX designer here at Underbelly, and I were tasked with creating course content for the lecture portion of the workshop. Typically when we speak in public or share knowledge online, we’re talking to people within our own industry. This workshop put us in front of an entirely different audience. Compiling the years of knowledge between the two of us and distilling it down to content that would be relevant, useful, and accessible for people outside of design and tech fields was a challenge that we were excited to tackle.

Success to us was not only providing quick fixes for the UX on their existing websites; we wanted to teach best practices that the business owners could apply to every iteration of their website for years to come. We aimed to teach methods they could continue to use on their own to evaluate their current website experience and identify the areas that need improvement.

Our course content was three-fold. First, we introduced tools to help business owners relate to their customers and view the site from the user’s point of view. This way they could critically evaluate what content and functionality would be most important to feature on their website. Second, we shared a few best practices regarding the information architecture, visuals, and performance of their website. Finally, we worked with Blair Brown, the Director of Church & State to give individual feedback on each attendee’s website so they could have a personalized list of items to take action on.

The classes were small and informal — just the way we like it. This gave us an opportunity to talk individually with each attendee, learn about their business and jam on the specific problems they were trying to solve. Huddled around a conference room table, we were able to help each business owner really dig in and think about their customer’s journey and needs, evaluate their current online experience as well as chart a path forward to an improved website.

Although the goal of the workshop was to arm the business owners with some fundamental UX knowledge, I also gained insight from the opportunity to teach. Applying these UX concepts to smaller, local businesses made me realize just how versatile these methods really are. Although the execution may change a bit, the principles behind things like understanding the user journey or research and validation work at any scale. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to provide the best experience for the individual customer. We need to be empathetic to their specific needs and struggles. That core idea doesn’t change whether you’re a business with fifty customers, or fifty thousand.

Being able to work closely with all of the attendees reaffirmed something I pretty much already knew. Small, independent business owners really are top shelf. They’re involved in absolutely every aspect of their business, working all hours of the day to keep their ambitions afloat. Being employed by an independent business myself, I relate to their drive and passion. I see Underbelly’s hustle reflected in each of these owners’ endeavors. It was encouraging to see that on top of everything else these folks had on their plate, they were still willing to take time out of their busy day to learn how they can better serve their customers online.

My own personal love affair with Salt Lake City has only grown to be more passionate the more involved in the community I become. More and more, I get to encounter the idealistic, hard-working people who share Underbelly’s commitment to building up our community. We’re grateful to have met so many of them through this workshop, and we are especially looking forward to seeing all of the positive strides that our newfound friends will make in using the web to grow their businesses.

If you’re an independent business owner yourself or know someone who could benefit from our course content, have at it!