Establishing The Challenge
Whether working on a pet-project or designing for clients, 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 is the mission you are looking to communicate?
The answers to questions like these are essential when writing research scripts or conducting a competitive analysis.
Approach & Research
There is no product without the user, so interviewing potential/current users or distributing questionnaires is necessary when trying to determine pain points and needs. I want to understand the user's needs 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. During user interviews, activities like journey mapping and card sorting can get users thinking more abstractly.
PERSONAS & USER STORIES
Drafting up personas after gathering data from users can help bring empathy into the design and development process. Personas help focus the project and figure out MVP features and improvements. 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. I've worked on several Agile teams, so I know that writing user stories can help a team break down features into digestible sections. They act as stepping stones toward completing the project (or epic) and clearly define the most important goals.
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. It's important to keep site-maps up-to-date so that the whole team knows the current and future state of the product.
Similarly, drafting up user flows in draw or illustrator can help to communicate the ideal outcome of a particular user story to the development team. When included in specs, user flows will give a description of the steps users will take to accomplish a task.
Wireframing & Prototyping
Quick wireframe iterations and low-fidelity prototyping is vital during my 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 Illustrator, and mock-up two or three designs to give the project perspective and variety.
Once low-fidelity 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.