Defining Your UX Process
The beginning of any product design process is an exciting time. However, the high expectations placed on the impact of design can evoke feelings of anxiety for designers.
Have you ever…
- experienced creative roadblocks?
- felt stress over having a product experience rest on your ability to fuse strategy, creativity, and logic?
- stared at a blank screen unsure of where to start?
Did you answer yes to any or all of these? You’re not alone. It’s happened to all designers one point or another.
It’s important to acknowledge that daunting feelings of uncertainty can pop up at multiple points throughout the design lifecycle. Uncertainty, however, can be mitigated through preparedness and defining your own UX design process. Establishing and executing this process will guide you through the necessary steps of taking any product from conception to prototype, regardless of scale. Preparedness, research, collaboration, and feedback are key components to the process, and key to creative breakthroughs and product innovation.
STEP 1: DISCOVERY
The goal of a Discovery session is to uncover the goals, aspirations, and intentions for the product at large. When working with a client, brand, or product, there is inevitably the ‘big idea’, the solution that the product will provide.
What is critical to remember, is that the first step of the design process is not immediately offering plausible solutions, but it is to define and align on the specific problem that needs to be solved for both the business and the users. Repeatedly ask (among other key questions), “What problem(s) is this product trying to solve?” Once there is alignment, the session can then help establish high-level features, functionality, and overall product strategy that should be implemented for the launch of the MVP (minimum viable product).
Useful questions to consider in a Discovery Session:
- What problem are we solving for your target user group?
- What is the specific business problem that needs to be solved through product design?
- What is the intended growth strategy for this product?
- How are their needs currently satisfied?
- What are their habits?
- What motivates them?
- What is their current user journey to mitigate this problem?
- What could their journey look like with the implementation of this solution?
Stakeholder insights to these questions will help structure your research, outline product requirements, and define use cases.
STEP 2: RESEARCH AND VALIDATE
Simply put, research is necessary, regardless of the product, because you (the designer) are not the end user, and therefore, must be diligent in employing proper research methods to validate the problem and define exactly who your end users will be.
To truly understand the people you’re designing for, you are required to employ empathy to understand your users’ needs, motivations, and pain points. To accomplish this, it’s recommended to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research through user interviews, surveys, industry research, and competitive analysis. This research will also serve in defending your design decisions once the wireframing begins.
Once the bulk of the research and analysis has been completed, distill your findings and flesh out multiple user personas. Build your personas to showcase your target users as real people, who have unique backgrounds, behaviours, values, goals, expectations, and needs.
If you are tasked with designing a more complex and technical product that involves significant levels of user interactions, make sure you don’t overlook the necessary usability research to ensure your design aligns with industry best practices.
Your research analysis and user personas will help solidify the initial problem set, deepen your understanding of your intended user base, and focus your approach to solution building.
STEP 3: EXTERNAL INSPIRATION
Prior to beginning the next set of deliverables, organize a whiteboarding session and map out as many ideas relating to user scenario’s, user journeys, and feature implementation. It will be beneficial to include not only your design team in this exercise, but also product managers, content strategists, marketers, and engineers and any other outside colleagues that are available. A multitude of perspectives will push the limits of your own ideation. Try group exercises such as card sorting, or “what if” or “how might we” scenario writing to get the group comfortable sharing inputs. Don’t hesitate to consider ideas ranging from basic functionality and page mapping through to “blue sky” ideas. This style of idea generation will encourage out of the box thinking and will help your team contribute purposeful feedback.
Work with your Product Manager throughout the brainstorming sessions and after, to ensure the scope of the MVP is clearly laid out, and establish what features can be placed into the backlog for future iterations.
STEP 4: USER STORIES, SITE MAPS AND CUSTOMER JOURNEYS
Using your insights, research, and personas, it’s now time to begin to build the foundation of the product. Establish user stories using the simple formula of “As a (user type) I want to (action) so that I can (goal).”
Once several user stories have been created for each of your personas, build out the product’s site or app map, user flows, and the ideal user journey, evoking empathy in order to map out the decision making process at every juncture in the user experience. Once there is alignment on these key components from the stakeholders, it’s time to start sketching and put mouse to artboard!
STEP 5: DESIGNING WIREFRAMES
Wireframing is where information architecture, functionality, taxonomy, and usability will be defined. Use your primary work (including your research, personas, site map, and user flows) to ensure consistency is maintained as you design the site architecture, content structure, user flows and interactions. Referencing your preliminary work will guide you to design a high performing site that functions in a way that yields the intended results.
Continue to check in and ask yourself:
- Will the product design provide benefit, relief, and joy for our end user?”
- Am I designing with a clear expectation of what I want the user to do on each screen and throughout the whole experience?
- Am I designing with the intention to ensure that the business’s end-goal is achieved on each screen and throughout the whole experience?
If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track!
As you progress through designing the layout, hierarchy, and functionality, ask for feedback! (Pro Tip: Ask for it sooner than you think or believe you require it!) Even if your wireframes aren’t completely polished and the details aren’t pixel perfect, share your designs. Ask for your wireframes to be reviewed critically, be open and accepting to feedback, and don’t be afraid to defend your decisions that align with your research. Design reviews will hone your vision and help you to iterate quickly and efficiently.
STEP 6: EVALUATE AND ITERATE
Tools such as Invision or Framer will transform your artboards into active prototypes, giving you the opportunity to showcase product features, animations, and test your design with your intended user group for immediate feedback. The test phase is critical to the process, as it allows you to observe user behaviour in real time, and analyse insights pertaining to functionality and usability to better understand if the design has achieved its intended performance indicators. If external user testing isn’t accessible, test amongst your design team and fellow colleagues to gain immediate feedback.
Once the test phase has been completed and insights collected, necessary iterations can be implemented (and re-tested) and the next phase of the design life cycle can begin.
There is no firm endpoint to the UX design process. Each step of the process is important, as the insights drawn from each step will ultimately inform your final design decisions.
The more efficiently you execute your design process, the greater the opportunity exists to identify product opportunities and quickly overcome any design indecision or uncertainty. Ultimately the end goal is to use the process to design an empathy-driven, research-backed, functionally sound, and well-tested prototype that impresses both the client and end users. Establishing a solid process will help you push the product past boundaries of what was initially imagined and thought possible.
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