As a designer, one of the first questions you are often asked is, “What’s your design process?”
In the beginning of my design career, I used to believe that if I couldn’t answer that question, I would never be considered a good designer.
So I read article after article about how to build an outstanding and robust design process. I talked to other designers about their own process and what they’ve done to improve it and make it more efficient. I did everything and anything I could to have a flawless design process I could count on.
But after years of designing, I’ve learned that focusing on the perfect process is a complete waste of time. No process is flawless. And, good processes do not necessarily equate to good design.
Every project and designer is different. There are too many constraints (time, resources, skills, technology) to be able to rely on a single design process for every project. The best design approach is flexible and can adapt to the constraints of a project at any given time.
Successful designers understand that they’re going to need a toolset that is as diverse as the projects they work on because no project is the same and the design tools needed to work within project constraints may differ. They are able to choose the right tools at the right time and modify their tools if necessary to achieve the project goals.
Building a Design Strategy
When given any design problem, first come up with a strategy for the problem, the context, and the goals for the project. The strategy keeps your design focused. You can constantly refer back to your strategy to ensure your efforts are on track and your ideas support the product goals.
Below are essential elements of every design strategy.
Before you do anything else, clearly define the problem you are trying to solve. This may seem obvious, but many designers start jumping to possible solutions without fully understanding the problem.
When you start with solutions, you end up defining the problem based on those solutions, rather than the actual needs associated with the problem. And you’ll most likely overlook factors that should be addressed for the most effective solution.
It’s always a pain when you have to backtrack in the middle of a project because you forgot to think about a specific use case or requirement. So, it’s better to take the time, in the beginning, to think deeply about all the different aspects of the problem.
In order to understand the problem, you first need to define it. One method I learned from my design courses at Stanford, is to create a Point-Of-View (POV) statement, which is a structured way to help express the problem you want to solve.
User + Need + Insight[User] – needs to – [Verb] – [Insight (such that/ because/ although/ surprisingly)]
Example: [A mother with young children] needs to [feed her kids nutritious meals] [even though her children are picky eaters and hate vegetables.]
The next step in defining the problem is to use your POV statement to create a list of several How-Might-We questions. A well articulated POV statement will naturally lead to these questions.
Example: How might we help mothers succeed in getting their children to eat vegetables?
Defining the problem in this way makes it easy to clearly define conditions for success without defining the path to get there.
When defining your problem, you’re going to need to think about the user(s) involved.
Personas are a great tool to help align your strategy to a specific user group. It gives you a glimpse into your users’ goals, motivations, and behaviors. Ideally, personas are based on real data to avoid any assumptions and give you the most accurate representation of the users. If no data is available, you can base your personas on your own ideas for different user types. While your personas may not be 100% accurate, they’ll help narrow the target audience and scope.
You must also identify the business goals. Good design converts, and for any business, the priority is to make money.
With every product, users have basic expectations. It is very important to determine all basic expectations because missing a single one can cause extreme frustration for users. Several missed expectations and users will start using a competitor’s product.
People don’t talk about products that meet basic expectations. People only talk about products that miss or exceed expectations. So meeting basic expectations only results in neutral satisfaction for the user. Once all basic expectations are satisfied, think of ways you can delight the user to create a positive experience they want to share with others.
In every stage of development, focus on your strategic goals, not the means of accomplishing them. The more you increase features and complexity, the more you degrade the overall user experience. When designing a product, the most important thing you can do is say no to almost all feature ideas. Just because you can add a feature, doesn’t mean you should. Carefully think about how each feature will improve the vision for the end user experience.
When considering adding a feature, be sure to ask what problem the feature is solving and why your user needs that feature. Always make sure the additional features won’t cause a shift in your strategy. And as a rule of thumb, keep it simple; only design things that are absolutely necessary to meet user needs.
With that said, it is also important to consider when to simplify. For the first version of a product, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to test several feature ideas and see which features users tend to use. You may be surprised, and if you simplify in the beginning, you could miss out on what users truly want.
Just remember to look at user data, keep an eye on feature usage, and prune out unnecessary/distracting features with each product iteration.
Bringing it all together
The strategy is the foundation for the entire user experience. It must motivate all design decisions. Never overlook developing a solid strategy and keep it in mind throughout the entire design process. Your strategy can make or break your design goals.
Successful designers do not focus on the perfect design process – they focus on solving problems and building great products. Don’t let a design process hold you back from designing the best solution. Master fundamental UX tools and practices, and be able to apply them when needed.