Every designer has a process—a unique go-to method for bringing ideas to life. Sometimes these methods shapeshift and change with each project, but almost everyone has at least one thing that’s crucial to their creative process.
We asked four UX designers what part of their design process they never skip and why it’s so important to them. From digging deep into discovery to taking inspiration breaks, here’s what they had to say.
The Discovery Phase
To me, the most important part of the design process is the discovery phase. It’s critical to spend the time learning as much as possible about the client and the project before moving forward. This is not the phase to skip, skimp or to try to reduce costs by shortening. With the focus often on UX and the user, sometimes the basics of understanding the context of the project and the client’s needs are overlooked by designers.
The discovery phase includes learning more about the project and it’s also the beginning of my relationship with the client. As designers, we often underestimate the time needed to educate the client and to get them on board with the design process. Doing this upfront can help in the long run. The more the client understands a team’s process, the better appreciation they’ll have for the work. Also, I want to make sure I know who all the stakeholders are, and anyone else who is a decision-maker for the project.
As an educator, I know design students are often surprised how important this phase is. New designers might make the mistake of taking the project and the client’s requests at face value. What we forget to ask, or to dive deeper in this phase, can pop-up unexpectedly during the project, sometimes with negative consequences. I want to be sure I find out all I can early in the process. I need to know the project and the client before moving on to understanding the user.
Basically, as designers we’re working towards this for the project:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
– Albert Einstein
~ Jamie Cavanaugh, Interaction Designer, Educator, and Founder of Design Higher
Defining the Problem Clearly
Here at Code and Theory, we kick off every project with a phase we call Define. It has been called different things in my previous design roles; but essentially, it is using design thinking tools to figure out the problem you’re trying to solve. Once the problem is scoped and defined, even more important is communicating your findings in an elegant and digestible way.
Generally, this means doing design workshops with clients or internal stakeholders to get them bought into the design process and refine the problem. Often project initiatives are driven by business goals instead of user interests. It is our job as experience designers to ensure that the business goals can be translated into a solution that solves the business’s problem (usually, needs more money), while continuing to provide value to the user.
This process should take place before an interface is considered, and to be used as a guiding principle when going to build your experience. If you start designing without a clearly defined idea of what problem you’re solving and who you’re designing for, you’ll end up making things that are never used or useless.
~ David Plakon, UX Designer, Code and Theory
As a designer, I have a constant need to be re-energized and it is essential for me to find new inspiration in the simplest of things. It’s easy to get stuck at my desk in the same boring routine, but that also likely means that my design gets stale and repetitive. I like to take little (sometimes, not so little!) breaks in my design process to do things that are seemingly unrelated to the work I’m doing!
For me, these things can be random doodling, working on a Medium post, play time at the dog park with my pup, or a powerlifting session! Of course, this will be different for everyone depending on what makes you happy. The magic is that this practice often gets my creative juices flowing again and ensures that I never get bored!
~ Ling Lim, Senior Experience Designer, Yahoo
Prototyping as a Way of Learning
From very rough paper prototypes to hi-fi click dummies, prototypes come in many shapes and forms. They’re whatever you feel comfortable with to make your ideas, assumptions, and hypotheses tangible (and shareable). I am no good at sketching, so I tend to go digital quickly (with as much of a rough, hand-sketched look and feel as I can achieve, at least for the first iteration). It helps me better understand the needs and wants of users and stakeholders alike.
Prototypes are immensely valuable as well to communicate an intention and get the ball rolling with the graphic designers and developers I work with. By allowing us to get things out of our head and onto paper or screen, prototypes greatly reduce ambiguity and miscommunication. To be fair, prototypes alone don’t achieve much. They have to go hand in hand with user testing and iterating. Once you’ve given shape and tested your design—hopefully gaining valuable insights about what works and what doesn’t—you need to work your findings into your design and repeat.
Most importantly: accept being wrong and fail to eventually nail it. It’s all about humility really.
~ Annabel Roux, Freelance UX Designer & Design Thinking Coach
What part of your design process do you never skip and why? Share with us in the comments below.