Teams are eager to start solving the problems they perceived users have. Unfortunately, this is often a recipe for disaster since the problems developers or designers perceive as being important may be quite different than the real problems stakeholders face.
Every great design starts with the stakeholders, understanding the current processes and practices that define how they work, the interplay between stakeholders in an organization to achieve collective goals, and the barriers that exist in their systems of work. There are a variety of methods I use to understand people needs.
The result of this thorough analysis is a set of potential problems impacting stakeholders and the importance of these problems to our stakeholders and in the grand scheme of things.
Once the problem space is defined, it’s time to generate ideas that could potentially solve some these problems. This phase is the most enjoyable for me since it involves out of the box thinking: brainstorming ideas with everyone on the team from designers and developers to management and the stakeholders (i.e. clients) in the project and in private (brain-writing). This process is frenetic with the focus on coming up with as many ideas as possible, not worrying about fleshing out the details of an idea. Judgement is held since often the most innovative ideas initially start off as crazy concepts.
Once the dust has settled, it’s time to evaluate the ideas generated. The ideas generated during brainstorming get fleshed out in detail to make evaluation easier. Several criteria determine the feasibility of a proposed solution such as the how many identified problems it solves and the technical feasibility (i.e. development time, computing resources, etc.) of implementing the solution.
The primary purpose of planning is getting the execution of a experience strategy correct. I’ve witnessed eager companies skip this step and head straight for implementation. Unfortunately, the result are often underwhelming experiences delivered behind schedule and over budget. It’s not enough to have a god understanding of the problems stakeholders face and great ways to solve those issues. If the implementation fails, nothing else matters.
Working with product managers, developers, and other stakeholders I prioritize the aspects of the product that are critical for delivering an amazing user experience. An important step is planning are determining those factors that define to ensure these priorities are delivered to the user’s satisfaction. I’ll tailor the tools used depending on the specifics of the project (timeline, budget, what needs to be tested, etc.). In this phase of the UX strategy, the questions being asked change from why and what to how and when. I’ll also need to develop clear metrics to determine if the product is delivering the desired experience.
Once a high level strategy has been developed I’ll focus on operationalizing the plan by determining how to fit the user research needs into the timeline we have for the project. Equally important, I identify the relevant stakeholders I need to work with to effectively answer the design questions posed.
Implementation is where the rubber meets the road and all the insights gathered come to fruition. Any success experience consists of getting multiple components right: from the content that drives the conversation with the user, the pixel perfect designs that users use to achieve their goals effectively to the navigation architecture that makes it easy for people to find the tool they’re looking for.
Designers will have low fidelity paper prototypes ready before a single ounce of engineering effort is exerted since it’s infinitely easier to change a UI mockup than lines of code. Participants representative of the user groups we’re targeting are recruited to attempt to achieve every day goals they may have using those prototypes. Often, major usability issues are uncovered during the testing and result in designers iterating on the design until the design succeeds in testing. Once these paper prototypes have been iterated upon sufficiently it’s time to build out high fidelity mockups which represent what the final interaction will look like. These designs often require little (if any coding), and allow us to validate that the interaction is smooth, again following an iterative process. This process continues as the quality of the prototypes and eventually betas of the product are developed as it’s significantly cheaper to catch design issues early on in the development lifecycle. A similar process is used to identify the content that is most relevant for users and how to organize that content in a way that makes the right tools available at hand.
UX Strategy doesn’t end once a product has launched. There may be issues missed during early user testing due to not having a fully implemented system deployed that are now made apparent and should be addressed. At the same time tools like surveys and log analysis allow us to identifying these issues on a scale larger than any usability test we could design. Once the issues have been identified, we can generate solutions to tackle those design issues and use a tool like A/B testing to identify which tweaks address the underlying issues uncovered.