When this year’s Adobe Creative Residency kicked off in May, interaction designer and recent grad Natalie Lew was ready to get to work; she just needed to figure out what, exactly, she wanted to be working on.
“Rather than tackle a single topic over the course of this year, I’m planning to approach a series of projects, testing out different research methodologies throughout,” she says. “As a recent grad, professional networking was a great place to start.” Over at Behance, Lew gives a comprehensive breakdown of how she pulled together her first project: Veet, an app that examines the future of professional networking. By approaching the issue from a millennial perspective, she was able to take an often overwhelming prospect–making meaningful career connections–and turn it into something manageable, and even personal. (Not an easy feat!)
Here, she shares with us five key lessons to kickstart a kickass UX project:
1. Identify Your Passions–Then Connect the Dots Between Them
I had been circling around a few different ideas and concepts to pursue during the residency. When I was finally ready to dive in, I had to stop and think: What am I really passionate about? I made big lists of topics I was thinking about a lot, and stuff I wanted to improve upon. A few main categories excited me the most:
- Future technologies and what they look like. This includes AR and VR, UX for voice commands, and how different communities can and will come together.
- How things are made, and the consequences they’ll have. How might we ensure that those future technologies be equitable and human-centered?
- What does process look like for me? As a budding designer, I want to work on how I can develop my creative process; take ownership of it; then share the pieces that are successful (and those that aren’t!).
2. Establish a Timeline (and Daily To-Dos) to Stay Focused And Efficient
If you’re working with a client, they’ll have a deadline, and you figure out what you can do for them in that time. For the residency, I’m the client; I’m setting up parameters for myself to make sure that I’m realistic about the quality of the product I can come up, within a deadline I make myself.
I create step-by-step timelines for my own work because it’s important for me to feel like I’m in control of a project–not that the powers of the universe are just, like: “You can do whatever, whenever!” That mentality means I won’t get anything done. So I like to know what I’m doing every day; I need to wake up and say, this is what I’m going to work on. It doesn’t have to be hour-by-hour, but I should have a handle on what I want to think about and get done as if everything is a piece that fits into a larger puzzle. That makes me feel empowered. (Just remember–it’s okay to make mistakes, too!)
One of the most important things a UX designer can do is to figure out their most effective work methodology. Do you like going heads-down for four hours, and when you get up you’re done for the day? Or are you working on something all day long, with little breaks in between? How can you get the most done? Pay attention to that, and build it into your workflow.
3. Abandon Your Expectations, and Embrace Nuanced Research
I love doing research. When I started talking to millennials for this app idea, their responses defied my initial notions. I felt that networking events could sometimes feel awkward, but thought that might have just been my perception. Then everyone used the word “overwhelming” when describing their own experiences. Everyone also seemed to think of themselves as introverts in big social situations but said that one of their favorite things to do was to meet new people one-on-one. I had never heard people discuss these things with such a unified voice before.
4. Ask, Listen, and Observe With Compassion and Intent
You don’t need to talk to a ton of people to get great insights; if you can have conversations with six to 12 people, you should be able to generate really good material. Start with a list of basic, but open-ended questions–like “What do you think of professional networking?”–with additional questions that can lead to rich storytelling opportunities, like “Tell me about a memory you have about a specific networking experience.”
Remember that research activities are not only about talking; they’re about observation, too. When I had people perform the Circle of Trust activity, some would actually grimace or recoil when confronted with certain ideas. Expressions, attitudes, feelings, motions–these are all valuable.
5. Be Curious, and Make Things With People–Not At People
Always ask: How can I learn more, and show my learnings through design? Take time to be knowledgeable about what it is you’re designing, and who you’re designing for. It’s more than a slick UI and visual components.
The most thoughtful thing you can do as a designer is to really consider your role. I don’t think we’re do-all, end-all, be-all heroes; instead, we should be communicating with people who will be impacted by our work, and translating their insights into design solutions. We become the channel that their ideas flow through.
Inspired by Natalie’s approach to UX? Check out these best practices for design that makes users–and their insights, needs, and expertise–a priority:
- Putting People First: Tips and Advice from UX Pioneer Don Norman
- Putting Personas to Work in UX Design: What They Are and Why They’re Important
- Why All UX Designers Should Be Creating User Journeys, And Here’s How To Make One
- A Comprehensive Overview of UX Design Deliverables
For regular UX insights sent straight to your inbox, sign up for Adobe’s experience design newsletter! We’ll also be sharing more from Natalie–in the meantime, you can keep up with her latest news on Twitter and Behance!