UX Design Process: Choosing and Scaling Methods

Current Process Trends

Everywhere you look there is a new and improved process for making a better user experience. There’s Lean UX, Design Thinking, Playbooks, Human Centered Design, and many many more. If you go way-way back, not a whole lot has changed from the early days of Nielsen/Norman, Hackos and Redish, or Mayhew.

The phases are all still essentially the same:

  1. Ask questions, do research, and develop a theory (you may know this as Discover or Inspiration). Oh and maybe do a little planning.
  2. Try some things out (Define or Ideation).
    a. Show some people.
  3. Pick one or two and flesh them out (Develop).
    a. Show some people.
  4. Hand it off to development (Deliver or Implement).
    a. Show lots of people and start all over again.

The big emphasis though is SHOW SOME PEOPLE. And then refine.

Iteration, and involving real users of course, is the key to a truly user-focused design.

Figure 1 Lean UX from the Interaction Design Foundation

Diverging and Converging

Many of the most popular current processes structure iterations into phases of “diverge” and “converge”. This allows you to explore and gather as much input as possible, then narrow it down to something you can work on easily. Each time you talk to users or test a prototype, you diverge. When you refine based on the information you gathered, you converge.

The “double diamond” from the Design Council summarizes a few variations such as the Design Thinking model.

Figure 2 designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/design-process-what-double-diamond

The IDEO model is very similar but illustrates that even as you diverge for the second time by gathering input, the scope is narrower. You already have focused in on a particular area, and are gathering information on just that (not everything).

Figure 3 ideo.org/approach

We are focusing on this general set of steps, which cover the basics of design processes really well.

Scale for Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Not all projects are created equally. Sometimes processes are assumed to be prescriptive. Every step has to be followed exactly. Newer processes take this into consideration more, and the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has become common. When a project is constricted by resources or has a narrow scope, we should still look at each factor of the design, and each phase of the process. We just don’t have to pull out every tool in the toolbox. Look at what method or tool will provide the most value to accomplish the goal.

Figure 4 MVP from jussipasanen.com/tag/mvp/

Henrik Kniberg’s illustration puts it another way. Instead of focusing on one part of the product (wheels) focus on the simplest form of transportation. The same goes for process. If you have a small project, or short timeline, you don’t have to develop all new personas and workflows. Start with something that already exists, and focus on exploring the problem rather than the whole picture.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Design — Balancing Risk to Gain Reward

Discovery

This phase is focused on digging into the “problem” to be solved. A problem can be solved by identifying a new way to accomplish a task, or by refining an existing solution. Your purpose is to find out what users really want and need in order to identify requirements. You are trying to look at the breadth of the project.

Lean UX results in a hypothesis at the end of this phase that summarizes the intent of an initial research phase, whatever it is called. The hypothesis follows a format:

We believe that <feature> is essential for <demographic> users. This will achieve <goal>. We will have demonstrated this when we can measure <goal> <metric>.

METHODS

  • Brainstorm
  • User Interviews
  • Subject Matter Expert Interviews
  • Competitive Benchmarking
  • Observation of Users
  • Literature and Study Reviews

DELIVERABLES

  • User Stories
  • Personas
  • User Flows and Use Cases
  • Hypothesis

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Design Team
  • Business Analyst
  • Product Manager

Define / Ideation

In the definition or ideation phases, you are analyzing all the information you gathered in the first phase. This is the first time “converge” comes into play. Sift through all the information with your team to figure out what really stands out. Ask what surprised you and your teammates. This will help you to see things through the eyes of your users and really understand the problem.

METHODS

  • Design Sessions
  • Sketching
  • Reviews
  • User Testing

DELIVERABLES

  • Sketches
  • Wireframes
  • Content Hierarchy

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Design Team
  • Product Manager
  • Subject Matter Experts

Develop / Implementation

Diverging in this phase is about establishing the depth of your product. You’ll take the best one or two concepts from the define or ideate phase and flesh out all the details, pieces and parts. And then test with users, as well as reviewing with stakeholders, to select the best solution for your users.

METHODS

  • Prototyping
  • Reviews
  • User Testing

DELIVERABLES

  • High Fidelity Prototypes
  • Content / Text Strings
  • Annotations
  • Graphic Assets

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Design Team
  • Product Manager
  • Subject Matter Experts
  • Development Team

Deliver

In this final phase, you’ve converged on the final solution and are ready to hand off your fully defined design to your development team. You’ll work with them to ensure that the specifications are clear, understood, and implemented as you’ve intended.

METHODS

  • Quality Control Testing
  • Validation Testing

DELIVERABLES

  • Fully Functional Software

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Design Team
  • Development Team

Conclusion

Whatever design process your team adopts, iterate, iterate, iterate. Use all resources at your disposal, including stakeholders, data, and users. And finally, even when time and resources are limited, scale your process instead of skipping steps. If you are interested in learning more about a particular process or methodology, here are a few of our favorite resources.

What process do you prefer? Let us know!

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