When starting out with a new project, the first step is to research what competitors are doing and what established services, patterns and methods are. Apart from the obvious, i.e. reading up on the subject and preparing interview questions for the client, this also includes actual observation whenever possible. This helps me see how people interact with the current solution to the problem at hand, and get first-hand input on where the pain points are. In the second step, these workflows are converted into flowcharts and user journeys, mapping out the ways people interact with the product they’re using so far.
The second major step is creating personae and scenarios/customer journeys from what I learned in the first step. The persona model has often been criticized for being unscientific, and while I agree that it is not perfect, it helps me getting into the mindset of the users and it sometimes uncovers valuable questions for the client. It also helps identify at which stages within the process frustration is most prevalent and where the goals of the company and the needs of the user might differ. Last but not least, the persona model is a good way of getting a grasp of one’s target audience.
Usually, at this point, I have an idea about what the finished product is supposed to deliver – or an idea about the inherent problem, if you will. This is when I pick up the pen for the first time and sketch a first draft of what the new solution could look like. I take notes about user flows and identify which screens, buttons or flows need to be prioritized by comparing standard patterns to what I learned about user behavior earlier.
I start creating a series of wireframes that are still vague but allow for quick changes within the hierarchy of the design. Coming from Sketch, I am meanwhile using Adobe Xd. This way, I can build a low fidelity prototype very easily, even when major changes to the hierarchy need to be made during the process.
When the wireframes are done, I usually test the prototype I built with potential users, or whom I can get my hands on. When no one is up to the challenge, I sometimes use online user testing portals – I definitely prefer using actual people in real life settings, though. Depending on the feedback I get from stakeholders and testers alike, I make last changes to the prototype and start creating color schemes and visual language, especially when the product needs to adhere to brandbooks or design guidelines.
Alright, time to make it beautiful! The visual design is the last step of the first iteration, however that doesn’t mean it is not important. The key to an aesthetically pleasing and functional visual design is to emphasize the focal points in the design and not detract from them. The color scheme, for example, needs to reflect the user flows and there must be a clear hierarchy for interaction colors and decorative colors, etc. Also, this is the time when Marketing comes into the mix and CRO methods are applied.
When is one really done? Well, probably never – but that is a good thing. Analyzing user data after launch, I optimize designs and prioritize features according to usage or throw out features that aren’t accepted by the users. This data driven approach allows for democratizing the design. After all, the service is not something I built for myself or fellow designers, but with the customer/end user in mind. This is probably one of the most exciting tasks – learning where one went in the completely wrong direction and utilizing this knowledge when building the next iteration of the product.
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