[Case Study] A Design Firm That's Innovating in UX and Business

Alina Prelicz-ZawadzkaThe Rectangles is a digital design company that is innovative in many ways. First off, they created the User Centered Design Canvas, a powerful tool for analyzing product/market fit, value proposition, brand strategy, and more in a single document.

Even more interesting from a business perspective, last year they converted entirely to a subscription-based pricing model for their services.

I was very fortunate to correspond with Alina Prelicz-Zawadzka, co-founder of The Rectangles (and wireframing fan), about these innovations, their unique approach, and some advice from her years of experience.

Q&A with Alina Prelicz-Zawadzka of The Rectangles

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

I’m a psychologist and a co-founder of The Rectangles, a UX design company and consultancy. We work with online businesses providing them with incremental UX design improvements in a subscription model.

Tell me about the subscription model your company uses. How does it benefit customers?

Several years in the industry have taught us that UX design works best when it’s an iterative and ongoing process. And the subscription model suits this perfectly. We help companies improve their UX products incrementally - which is the most practical approach from the business point of view as it’s so cost-effective and safe. My company works with online businesses that either cannot afford or don’t want to hire a full in-house UX design team that continually works on product improvements.

Several years in the industry have taught us that UX design works best when it’s an iterative and ongoing process.

Our unique methodology ensures steady product growth for our clients. With incremental data-driven improvements we provide predictable and safe UX changes to the products, incorporating companies’ legacies into their product strategies.

What else sets you apart from other UX agencies? What are the keys to your success?

UX design is a field that requires combining different skills - from user research and data analysis through UI and graphic design to testing and business competencies. I think different backgrounds - psychology, design, communication and management are just a few - have equipped us with a set of different but complementary skills that allow us to act as a full-stack UX extension of our clients' in-house teams.

Based on our knowledge and experience we create our own frameworks and procedures that make our work more efficient and help us provide value to our clients month by month.

One of Alina's mobile app projects.

What’s more, our work is underpinned by a sound knowledge of business principles and practice (my husband Leszek, the co-founder of The Rectangles, and I are both entrepreneurs with experience in running other eCommerce, software and creative businesses). Thanks to this we can better understand our clients' business goals and combine them with their users' needs, which we think is crucial in devising a long-term product strategy.

What are some challenges you’ve faced or mistakes you’ve made along the way, and how did you recover and/or learn from them?

The challenge for me, and probably the entire UX industry, is to get the non-UXers out there to understand the importance of user experience.

The challenge for me, and probably the entire UX industry, is to get the non-UXers out there to understand the importance of user experience. We all know that outside of the UX community there are a lot of stereotypes, such as "UX = UI". And I think that in order to change this we need to do more than just write articles about it.

I work very closely with our clients, listening to their stories, finding out about their needs and discussing their UX as an integral part of the whole product strategy. I always strive to educate our clients about the importance of user experience. I want them to understand that developing UX is such an important part of their business development.

One of our last projects as a common agency was to completely redesign a quite big ecommerce that was prospering just fine enough. After nearly 2 months of analysis, wireframing, and design our client was afraid of implementing such a big change, although it was his goal from the very beginning.

Now we know this is not the way UX should be done - it’s wrong from the users and business perspective. So I think that the biggest mistake was not switching to the subscription business model sooner and letting cases like the one above happen.

How does your training as a psychologist help you in your design work?

Thanks to my background I have a better understanding of the dimensions which may differentiate one target group from the other as well as the core principles that, according to cognitive and social psychology, drive human actions and decisions. I also know how to conduct different types of research, which for sure is helping me in my UX design work, but to tell you the truth, this is something anyone can learn.

Being UX designers, we need to be aware that everyone is different.

What is, from my experience, the most useful thing my studies have taught me is to avoid overgeneralization. Of course using stereotypes is easier and quicker, but being UX designers, I believe, we need to be aware that everyone is different. And despite all the similarities we need to get to know our users and never stop learning more about them.

For companies with limited resources, what’s the best return on investment in terms of improving UX?

Improving UX for online products is and should be an ongoing process. An important thing to remember is that even small UX quick-wins can make a difference, so expensive, time-consuming and risky scenarios are not the only available option.

Even small UX quick-wins can make a difference.

The goal for every UX improvement is to increase users' motivation towards using a product and strengthen their loyalty. Aligning the product with actual user needs, responding to their requirements, ensuring high usability, and simply making the entire experience positive is paramount to building a long-term user-business relationship.

Startups put lots of time and resources into acquiring new users, but positive user experience can help to increase the life time value of an existing user, so, it simply pays off to pay more attention to UX.

One of Alina's web app projects.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq?

It was 2011 when I started using Balsamiq. As a business-oriented psychologist I worked as a consultant advising companies about their relations with customers and employees. But it wasn't long before I realized that my psychological background was a great asset in user experience design. The shift in my career was unavoidable as putting my knowledge into practice for the benefit of users and business owners has fascinated me from the very beginning.

Being able to share ideas quickly and present them visually is a very important part of the creative process and teamwork.

Balsamiq was one of the first tools I started using when I decided to practice UX design. During my studies I learnt that being able to share ideas quickly and present them visually is a very important part of the creative process and teamwork. Since UX design for me means both - creative process and teamwork - Balsamiq seems like a perfect choice, especially for the ideation stage.

Now I use the tool mainly for wireframing UX solutions during brainstorms and feedback sessions with my team. I’m also currently teaching UX design at the University of Wroclaw and present Balsamiq to my students every year. I always like to highlight that anyone can become a UX designer as long as they can adopt the user-centered design frame of mind - this is far more important than being a tech-savvy or having artistic talents.

What other tools do you use for your job that you like? Why?

There are lots of tools I like to use, but my favorites are pen and paper (or marker and whiteboard). I really can’t imagine an internal brainstorm or a client meeting without them!

For me UX equals teamwork so here’s some advice: keep a notepad close at hand to quickly jot down and share your ideas with teammates.

Where do you look for inspiration? Are there some websites or designers you follow?

What inspires me most are entrepreneurial stories. When reading a biography book or article, I discover plenty of ideas that are useful for me as a business owner and sometimes UX designer, too. I find stories about all kinds of businesses - from big name enterprises to small startups - extremely motivating and eye-opening.


Thank you so much for sharing, Alina! We wish you continued success!

Do you have a story to share about the awesome things you do with Balsamiq? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!


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