“Start broad, prioritize, then dive deep.
Constantly ask: is it 1. useful, 2. usable, and 3. enjoyable?”
UX Designers are the vision keepers. We’re the ones who are the glue that hold the product team together and make sure that the product vision is maintained. So, in order to do that, I need to get a feel for the big picture of what the company wants to achieve and do. The best asset I have when jumping into a new environment is asking the right questions– which guides me in prioritizing what needs attention first.
Key Questions: What problem are we solving? What are we building? What are we not building? What should be in the next release? What makes our product unique?
This involves a lot of communication with team members via group and one on one meetings. This also requires that I switch hats when communicating with different team members.
- With Stakeholders– I want to know what the business goals are and help get them as specific and measurable as possible. I want to know their history, and the future of where they want the company to go.
- With Developers, I communicate the design rationale through tools like user personas, design pattern libraries, and use cases. I provide clear, detailed direction for what needs built.
- With Project Managers, I communicate the story and “why” of what I’m doing, to help them stay actively involved, educated, and enthusiastic about what we’re building.
With Visual Designers, I have ongoing cycles of working as a team and solo, followed by structured critique sessions. The purpose of this is to create shared ownership of the designs.
During these meetings, I get people involved with creating visual representations of what’s being built- which can be done in multiple ways- including flow-charts, post-it notes, a PowerPoint presentation, whiteboard scribbles, etc
After these meetings, I gather what’s been created, and write up a design brief that outlines the values, problems, solutions, and puts them all in one place. This document is useful for uniting the team with a shared understanding of the product vision.
Key Questions: Who are our current/ideal users? How does this product help the users? What are they trying to accomplish? What frustrates them? What would delight them? How often will they use it? What is their mental model?
Some of the ways I do user research include:
- Competitor Analysis
- Reviewing existing analytics (clicks, page views, conversions, funnels, etc) in either Omniture or Google Analytics
- Reviewing current customer feedback (social media interactions, reviews, support tickets, surveys)
- Conducting a usability study, eye-tracking study, or field study to gather direct user input.
Planning & Wireframing
Key Questions: What paths have users taken on the application/website? What features have the users requested? What content, links, and interactions do we need to meet user & business goals?
Now that I have a sizable amount of user research, I can start crafting deliverables to help visualize the process for the team.
- User stories
- User personas
- User flows
- Paper sketches
- Low fidelity wireframes
Frequent communication with the team to make sure specific deadlines are in place and that everyone is clear with the direction is key.
Copywriting & Content
Key Questions: How do we describe our product to customers in a way they understand? How do our users speak? In what contexts will our product be used and by whom? Is information chunked into 5–9 items at a time?
It used to be that people actually read content, but now, reading has been reduced to skimming, and skimming has been reduced to glancing. This means that copy must be strong and compact enough to capture VERY limited attention spans and be conversational in nature.
In order to write effective copy, I need to:
- Pinpoint the voice and tone that matches the organization’s brand
- Develop a narrative of the organization. Without a story, there can’t be a strong connection with users.
- Clearly communicate benefit statements that show how the product fulfills the user’s wants or needs
- Think about what fun, short “micro-copy” could delight a user and get their attention
- Perform A/B tests for copy and partner with professional copywriters to make sure the content is effective and concise.
Key Questions: Is the overall site/app structure as simple as it could be? What is the flow of users through our site? Can users get to where they want to go? How is information being presented to the user?
Information architecture connects people to the content they’re looking for in the real world and online. At this point in the process, I‘ll have a good understanding of the user and how the product’s data is structured. My job is to make sure that the navigation is as clear and simple as possible.
Some of the ways I do this include:
- Facilitating user interviews
- Using Richard Saul Wurman’s LATCH method and organizing by: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy.
- Creating user hierarchies through activities like card sorting
- Creating design deliverables like site maps.
Key Questions: How does the product behave? How is it organized? What happens when the user is waiting? What happens when an error occurs? What feedback does a user get once an action is performed? Does this satisfy specific user needs and desires?
Interaction design is what brings the architecture to life. It involves defining and designing things like buttons, links, form fields, spinners, hover effects, transitions and more. I typically use Axure RP to create my interactive prototypes.
When designing interactions- I run through a checklist like this:
- Ensuring all elements (ie. buttons) are standard sizes big enough for a user to click or tap
- Making sure the system is communicating what’s happening to the user and providing appropriate feedback
- Making sure error messages provide a way for the user to correct the problem and/or explaining why the error happened. Coming up with constraints to reduce errors in the first place.
- Providing as much information as possible for users to be able to take actions- such as labels on buttons, instructions before final submissions, etc
- Providing ways for users to undo actions or get out of wherever they’re at
UI Design & Development
Key Questions: How do we build quality interfaces quickly and flexibly? How does the product look and feel? Are the interface elements a reasonable size to interact with? Is the interface as simple as it could be? Is the UI as simple as it could be? Is the UI consistent?
By this point, there should have been at least a few rounds of low fidelity, rapid prototypes created that have been tested and discussed with the team. Depending on the size of the team, I either provide direction to the visual designers, or create the designs myself.
Some tasks that need to occur include:
- Creating a set of design guidelines (a UI style guide) that match W3C accessibility standards
- Creating a hierarchy of type & color
- Defining image & icon usage
- Creating visual mockups in Sketch or Photoshop
- Sharing visual designs with team via InVision or Slack
Key Questions: What devices are our users on? Is the user’s end simplified as much as possible? Can the user accomplish what they came to do? Is the product accessible to those with disabilities?
Usability testing is getting an external perspective on your product to determine where the flaws are that the internal design and development team is blinded to. Testing with real users is INVALUABLE for spotting problems quickly, which reduces the amount of expensive fixes in the future.
This can be done via:
- Remote testing methods (surveys, screen recordings, etc)
- Gauging progress with KPIs (key performance indicators) such as task success rate, time on task, user error rate, or system Usability Scale (SUS)
- Creating a KPI document that defines failure/success goals.