In the past decade an innovative problem-solving process involving your set of skills and the methodology of how they are applied has evolved beyond just the design community. It is a systemic approach for creating the most efficient and effective solution to properly serve the customer/user of your application and/or product. Each step of the process is serviced by a different set of skills by the UX team. The steps involve developing Empathy for your user; defining the problem and possible solutions; ideating on the solution; prototyping solutions to the problem and then testing the solutions to develop proof of concept. We will break down the process more in depth below to provide a deeper understanding.
The first step is to begin understanding, becoming aware, and vicariously and/or actively experiencing the feelings, frustrations, and thoughts of your customer. This step helps inform your decisions throughout the rest of the entire process, allowing the foundation of what you build to be centered around the user first. Finding out the answers to who your user base is, what problems they are currently confronted with, and where the users have congregated to voice their frustrations. There are several tools which we will discuss in the future to gather these insights, but first, we will continue to help build your knowledge of each step.
“If you have only 4 hours to chop down a tree, spend the first 3 hours sharpening your axe”
Research serves as an intermediary step between empathizing and defining your path to developing the solution. While empathy helps create a foundation for how to position and frame your efforts correctly; user research will help validate your intuitions, insights, and strategies by providing data to begin product definitions and iterations. There are numerous methods to employ in order to generate artifacts that will guide your decision-making which include competitor analysis, Card Sorting, First Click Testing, Heuristic Analysis, In-depth user interviews (IDI), Analytics Review, Product Snapshots, Use Cases, Usability Testing, Task Analysis, & Focus Groups to name a few. These tools will help divide the data into two categories which are Qualitative & Quantitative.
Analyze & Define
After conducting in depth interviews, data analytics, focus groups, and usability testing to generate and categorize the data into Qualitative & Quantitative it is time to apply analysis tools. If you have not guessed it yet, creating usable artifacts are the intent of each of the first 3 steps to serve as guiding documents for your team members. In this step it is time to define the user personas, map out the journey of your users, and begin usability testing depending on the state of the product. This means you have a firm grasp of your user’s background, goals, pain points, behaviors and their interactions during their user journey. Now, next in the process is my personal favorite step: Ideation!
Ideation is not the same as the design phase where you are developing hi-fidelity mocks and prototypes to woo the client. The ideas can and should actually begin by structuring the information architecture of the website, product, or project environment. The purpose is to implement a structure which labels and organizes a site/product’s individual elements and identify how each element/component fits and interacts. A few things to consider are the cognitive load in order to not overencumber the user; the mental models to understand the set of assumptions brought in by a user when interacting with the site or product; and to fully understand the decision making capability of your user base. The elements of information architecture are Ontology, Taxonomy, Metadata, Data Modeling, and Navigation/Wayfinding. To fully develop out artifacts like sketches, site maps, user flows, wireframes, and card sorting; one could utilize programs such as Omnigraffle, Axure, Figma, or Pencil & Paper.
The design phase is the most commonly understood step in the process since the items are normally shared to majority of team members to review. These elements come in two forms which are lo-fidelity and hi-fidelity. Lo-fidelity items can be sketches, specifications, site maps , and user flow diagrams; while hi-fidelity can range between wireframes, design mocks, and prototypes. This is the phase which contains the highest form of your execution and presentation of a product concept before you test it with internal teams or external users. Become very comfortable in this phase since you will live within the last three steps of this process in perpetuity or until you retire the website or product.
The testing phase is an ending, but also a beginning as well. It forms the 3rd phase of a loop which the team building a product will exist in until they are satisfied with the product’s performance. Usability testing is the ultimate validation of all previously conceived ideas, assumptions, beliefs, and solutions. The team will formalize a test plan, create a prototype with a script, prepare the test environment for use, gather a group of users to test, and then retrieve the data analysis to begin understanding the insights collected. This is the effective end of the process, yet, you still have to go back to the analysis phase to understand the information. Become accepting of the fact that to provide the best solutions for your user, you will have to let go of being “right”. It is about what is best for your user, not yourself. Listen with open ears and continue living within the last three steps until you have honed the product into a liveable solution. Even then, one should keep this loop active and feedback open to continue to evolve!