Establishing The Challenge
Whether working on a pet-project or designing client work, I always like to start by clearly defining the challenge being presented. Well-defined questions start the conversation so that I can narrow my research and understand the focus for the project.
- Who is the service/feature for? What is the demographic that is being targeted for this service/feature?
- What should users ideally be gaining from this service/feature?
- Who do you see as competition & what are you doing to differentiate yourself from the pack?
- Is company branding already established, and if not, what sort of message are you looking to communicate?
The answers to questions like these are essential to writing pointed user surveys and researching for a competitive analysis.
Approach & Research
From there, I can begin the preliminary user research phase. There is no product without the user, so interviewing potential users and distributing questionnaires is necessary for determining future behavior. I want to know everything a user could possibly want out of the service/feature we are creating so that we can meet those expectations and provide an intuitive experience. I like to include a variety of question formats when putting together user surveys; using a healthy mix of multiple choice, check boxes, and free-form text responses keep responders from getting bored and illicit more detailed input.
PERSONAS & USER STORIES
I like to put together several personas after gathering data from users. Personas help focus the project and put things into perspective. While they may not be real individual users, they represent the needs and motivations of the users we are trying to reach.
Once I have established some working personas, it is time to list out user stories for new & returning users. User stories help me define the user flow and/or establish the MVP. They act as stepping stones toward completing the project and clearly define the most important steps/goals the user will be aiming for.
User Flow Mapping
User flows & site mapping go hand-in-hand for me. In order to create an intuitive experience, I like to quickly whip up site maps in draw. Site maps get me focused on functionality and movement, as well as help me organize tasks into a hierarchy. I let the user stories lead me through the steps a user might take to achieve any of the story's goals. This way, any overlooked step can be addressed before any work has been put into pixel-pushing wireframes.
Wireframing & Prototyping
Quick wireframe iterations and low-fi prototyping is vital during my user research process. To get my creativity flowing, I always start out by sketching ideas onto paper. Despite how advanced and fast wireframing software has become, nothing can beat plain pen and paper when it comes to visualizing preliminary ideas quickly. I then move into a program to bring my sketches "to life" so to speak. I like to wireframe in either Balsamiq or Illustrator, depending on how much detail is necessary to perform user testing on the designs. I mock-up two or three designs to give the project perspective and variety.
Once low-fi wireframes have been completed, I use services like InVision, Marvel, and Axure to mock-up working prototypes of the designs. When real users are hard to come by, using services like Usability Hub and User Testing, can give me a sense for what real users think of the designs, and have them record their responses and reactions to default or custom directives.
When it comes to creating new features for established products, mocking-up working prototypes in Origami Studio is a good way to get a feel for how something could move and feel, without using up the precious time of a developer.