In this week’s “From the Ground Up” interview, we sit down with Abdul Suleiman, chief experience officer at UX 4Sight, an UpCity Certified Premium partner and one of the top user experience (UX) companies in the United States. Below we discuss how UX 4Sight grew out of a garage office in a car dealership, how they’ve managed to attract a number of Fortune 500 clients, and more!
Q: Tell us a little bit about UX 4Sight, how your company got started, and how you came into the UX space.
A: Absolutely. So UX 4Sight is a Chicago-based digital user experience agency and we specialize in solving business problems by designing more intuitive and profitable digital experiences. We do that by untangling really complex website and application experiences through a combination of user-centered design best practices and evidence-based research.
In other words, we don’t just shoot from the hip. We ground the actions we recommend for our designs so it’s more than “he said, she said,” more evidence-based.
As far as how we got started, this might sound like a joke. We founded our agency in 2009, literally, out of the garage side office of my brother’s car dealership. I didn’t want to take on more overhead than we can handle and preferred to grow more organically in that way.
Even then, we landed some interesting clients like Cook County Hospital in Chicago. When we first started our name wasn’t actually UX 4Sight: we were Cyber Boomerang (the idea behind the name was a digital feedback loop between design and customers like a boomerang coming back), but at the heart we were really about better UX, a better user experience.
For those readers/listeners that are not as familiar with user experience, I would describe it as the art and science of designing easy to use experiences to meet user expectations and business goals. As part of our philosophy of always reflecting on how to get better, we rebranded to UX 4Sight so there’d be no mistaking that we’re all about UX.
Companies come to us for UX because UX is our specialty. It’s not an afterthought. Organizations like IBM and Forrester have shown UX to be a real key differentiator and competitive advantage, but this requires UX authorities in the field that effectively leverage the right methods on client projects.
I’ve served as a UX consultant and instructor for over 40 Fortune 500 companies, including Disney, AT&T, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Ultimately, we found a need in the market for UX solutions that are implementable, visually compelling, and that leveraged the right UX methods to deliver better business KPIs. And that’s what we’ve been delivering.
Q: Wow! You’ve worked with some pretty exciting names. One of the things you mentioned is that you rebranded as UX 4Sight to really let people know that UX is your specialty, to make it front and center.
Can you tell us about the days before you rebranded? How did those early conversations go?
A: That’s a great question.
So, we had more customers that were not as familiar with UX and they were just about finding another web design company. Although we do web development, we don’t think of ourselves as a development company. We want to be known as the UX agency, and that’s because UX is our differentiator. That’s what our core comp is all about.
Although our prices are reasonable and we deliver a great deal of value in terms of our services and results, we’re not a company that cranks out cheap and underperforming websites. A lot of businesses from the early days were smaller businesses just looking for very cheap websites. And that’s not who we are.
Q: So, from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies, how did you make that switch? Can you tell us about how that transition looked? What did that experience teach you?
A: SMBs are definitely still part of our audience. We serve them, but we did want to also serve the larger businesses. Just like any targeting effort, we target different types of audiences. They have different preferences, wants, and needs, right? Very small businesses were more price sensitive in general; they didn’t know as much or appreciate strategy. The sensitivities are on the price, appreciating the importance of developing the right strategy, and being motivated to invest in that level of effort.
Q: Fair enough. So, you transitioned to open your business up to more opportunities, not to exclude others. One of the things that I think is really cool about your company, and it’s shown on your site is the fact that not only do you guys help clients build intuitive websites and applications, but you guys also do UX training.
How did the development of that service come about? Was that something that you knew you always wanted to do from the beginning or did that come out of project-based needs?
A: When we started off in 2009, we didn’t offer any training. We were just about the design and development of websites in an intuitive way. Later on, as we gained more experience in the industry, I started to get more experience in teaching. I taught for a number of companies including Disney, the University of Chicago, and for 5 years as an Adjunct Professor in DePaul University’s graduate school of Computing and Digital Media (CDM). As I taught more, teaching became a differentiator for us as a UX agency and then one of our standard capabilities.
It’s very hard to find an agency that does design, research, and training. The training’s really helpful because you start to see these best practices and you start to keep on top of them in the industry and bring them back into your client projects. For the students in those classes, they get to see concrete case studies and examples that are applied to their field of work. So, there’s much synergy between the design, research, and training.
Q: That’s a really interesting business model. I’ve seen a lot of companies investing in online training and courses.
A: We recognize that people have different learning styles. Some will prefer and learn much better in-person vs online and vice versa. So, we do both! We train online and in-person.
Q: Do you find that offering training is a vehicle for lead generation for the design side?
A: We do view it as somewhat of an opportunity to get some project type engagements, but it’s really about what the client wants. We’re not pushy salespeople. We like to be very respectful to our clients by giving them their space, but making sure they know about the available ways we can help them.
Q: Do you find that your reputation and your recommendability help you close more deals?
A: It’s super important, Jordan. Businesses want to be able to trust that a company will do good work for them. Their most precious resource for that is someone that they trust recommending a vendor that they trust. UpCity has carefully researched our work and reputation and recommended our UX agency as being among the best in Chicago and in the nation. Not only that, but UpCity has a solid reputation, so that partnership instills trust and confidence in our services. Clients love that.
Having that badge on our website goes a long way in getting clients across the finish line. There are definitely clients that come to mind that we didn’t have to do much selling for. There are a lot of times when on the call or in person, clients would rave about how they were exploring different sites and found us quoted on multiple lists.
Q: How did your partnership with UpCity begin in the first place? I think that’s an interesting story to tell.
A: Sure. We were looking at understanding other types of agencies and how they market themselves and also looking at very reputable sources or directories for user experience. UpCity was one of the only ones that really stood out. The UpCity site struck a balance between practicality and usability. It’s easy for customers to leave a review and your team verifies that review so we know it’s not some random person we’ve never worked with. It protects us as the agency from fake reviews and it helps potential customers feel confident that the reviews they are reading are real. So, we found UpCity to be a great partner to work with.
Abdul Suleiman is Chief Experience Officer of UX 4Sight, a digital user experience (UX) agency that specializes in making websites and software applications more intuitive, engaging, and profitable. He leverages UX research and best practices of how users interact with digital channels (i.e. websites, apps, mobile) to accelerate business growth.
As a consultant, Abdul has helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies including AT&T, Citi, and Merck to strategically gather, analyze, and apply evidence-based user research to make informed user-centered design decisions in their organizations. He has also delivered practical and budget conscious UX solutions for small and medium-sized businesses.
He has taught UX best practices as an adjunct professor in DePaul University’s graduate UX program and for prominent companies like Disney, Chase, and State Farm.
Abdul holds a Master of Science in Information from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His degree specialization encompasses User Experience and MBA coursework. He received his BA with honors from Loyola University Chicago.