My Design Process
When facing a new design challenge, I use the following process to guide my thinking.
It starts with a problem.
I think of design as a tool for problem solving. Problems may be simple or complex, trivial or meaningful but they always have an impact on real human people. Design is a means of addressing those problems in ways that satisfy, motivate, or even delight users.
Related: Simon Sinek's TED Talk: Start With Why—one of my favorites.
Step 1: Research and Pre-Work
Once I understand the problem at hand, I do some due diligence to make sure I understand the issue and industry. This can vary widely depending on the project. What does the current state look like? What are competitors doing? What are trends in the industry? What is the overall climate of the market? Is this similar to any past work I have done?
Where appropriate, I may perform deeper research through surveys, interviews, or structured user observations. Or, those activities may become viable after Visioning and Ideation when we have a deeper understand of the business problem.
Step 2: Visioning and Ideation
When working with clients, I find it is beneficial to perform an on-site brainstorming session—a Visioning Session—with the relevant users and stakeholders. This allows the team to get all of their ideas and opinions out on the table, and align quickly on priorities. After the in-person session is complete, ideation continues as the team has time to process all of the input
The steps of this on-site Visioning Session are as follows:
In the spirit of user-centered design, I always start these sessions with a persona development exercise to understand who we are building for. Who are they? What are their high-level goals? What challenges do they have? Are they comfortable with technology? In what context will they use this solution? How do they feel about it?
After learning who the users are, we want to get tactical and understand what it is they aim to accomplish in the context of the problem at hand. In some cases, this will be a set of tasks they want to perform; in others, it will be information they want to consume. As much as possible, I push clients with "why." Asking why helps us get to the root of the issue so that our solution addresses that genuine root, rather than some systematic side effect that the client thinks is the true problem.
User Flow and Early Sketching
During the visioning session, I try to take the time to do a little bit of on-the-fly sketching and organization of thoughts with clients so they begin to see how the process produces results. Organizing the User Goals into logical groupings can help establish a draft user flow. Picking one of the User Goals or a node from the User Flow affords a great starting point for a dashboard or a flow that we can begin thinking about.
Step 3: Wireframe Creation, Iteration, and Prototyping
After analyzing the problem, gathering input from users, and assembling a draft user flow, it's time to begin wireframes. I usually gut-check my ideas with super rough sketches. I find that if I make my sketches "too pretty" I can get attached to the idea, which can prevent me from stepping back and looking at the design in a different way.
The key to wireframes is quick iteration and constant feedback. I like to encourage clients to keep open minds about viewing rough sketches and incomplete work because it helps us get to the right design so much faster.
I am also a big proponent of pulling wireframes into Invision for prototyping as early as possible. See tools in context makes all the difference in assessing nuanced interactions.