Have you ever wondered how designers come up with their best ideas, and whether being a ‘creative’ person is something one has to be born with? This article will give you an insight into the design process and its key phases (and how you can start incorporating design-thinking in your next project).
Two misconceptions about design
I usually have a really hard time explaining to people what I do. Every family event where the extended friends and family gathers (think weddings…) the question will inevitably come up: ‘what do you do?’ or ‘how is your work going?’. The answer ‘I’m a UX designer’ or ‘I’ve been working on [insert UX method]’ usually causes more confusion than expected from a simple question like that (at this point they regret they asked).
I don’t blame them though. When people think of design, the first thing that comes to their minds is the aesthetic and visual aspect of how things look. And that is part of design too, and it is an important one. But in reality, how things look is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the work happens in the initial conceptual stages of design process. Before you jump into how things look or even work, you need to understand the users, their context, their needs and challenges, their capabilities, required content and functionality, users mental model, what other competitor solutions they use, how your solution will fit into their daily routines, is this product even worth building… I could go on but you get the gist. All those questions are answered in the initial phases of the design process and they form a basis for every good design.
The second misconception, strictly related to the above-mentioned questions, is that ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ is this ability that some people are born with and it allows them to come up with good ideas and design awesome things from the top of their head. The good news is – this is not the case. Good design is an outcome of several steps of specific activities where each builds upon the previous one and drives the design process forward, ultimately shaping the final solution. This is where the design process comes in. In the further paragraphs, I describe those steps in more detail.
The first step in the design process is to thoroughly understand the problem we are trying to solve with our design idea. Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, put it in words this way: “As a startup, figure out the problem you are addressing, and the users. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution, and the rest will follow.” Even if you already have an idea, the first thing you want to do is to validate whether this idea solves a real problem your potential audience is experiencing (not your personal problem), and build your solution based on the findings. According to Tomer Sharon, the author of ‘Validating product ideas’, 86% of startup founders base their idea on their personal pain point and only 2% on user research findings. Watch his talk from NUX conference where he tells a story of one such startup to see how it worked out. Even if you have a limited budget and time, there are quick methods you can implement, and it will save you time and mistakes later on in the project. You can interview 5-10 potential users, send out a survey or even set up a fake landing page for your product and see how many people sign up. No matter the method (more about methods in our free blueprint) you can follow the 5xW+H framework and try to answer the questions: who, where, when, what, why and how of the subject you are investigating.
For example, if you have an idea for a new app that will help people make healthy choices while they do their food shopping you want to find out:
- Who: who would be interested in this solution? A mother caring for her family? A student that wants to stay healthy while shopping on a budget? Someone trying to lose weight?
- Where: where do they shop? Online or in-store? Big supermarkets or corner shops? Waitrose or Aldi?
- When: do they make regular weekly shopping or do they pop out to the store when they need something? On the way back from work? On the weekend? How much time do they want to spend food-shopping?
- What: what are the specific activities involved? Writing a meal plan? Researching recipes? What information matters to them – nutritional value, use by date or substitute ingredients?
- Why: this is the most important question you should be asking as often as you can. This is the question that uncovers underlying motivations and challenges people are trying to solve. Why does it matter to them to eat healthily? A mother might want to teach her children healthy habits, an athlete might want to increase his performance, someone suffering from diabetes might want to control their symptoms better. You can imagine how the final solution for the mother, the athlete and the diabetic could potentially look completely different and have completely different functionalities.
- How: investigate what tools and resources your audience is using at the moment to solve their problem. How do they search for recipes? How do they plan their groceries? Do they use internet or paper books? How do they write their list? On their phone or in a notebook? Does one person do the whole process or maybe one person prepares the list and the other does the shopping? How do they decide what to buy? Does the price matters most or maybe the variety and quality of ingredients? Do they compile the list based on personal preference or so that each meal includes all food groups?
Once you’ve done your research it’s time to decide on the strategy for your product or service. Pick your audience and focus on their needs. Usually, you can’t solve everyone’s problems with one solution so it’s better to target a specific audience and use case. Your research insight is your starting point to come up with the concept and requirements. You know your problem but how are you going to solve it? Is it a product or a service? Take your time to explore all possible solutions.
Coming back to our groceries shopping example. You had an idea for an app but now that you have much more information you want to step back and validate your initial assumptions. Is an app still a good idea? Could it be a service? How about a platform that integrates with online shopping baskets? How about an in-store nutritionist that offer help and advice while people walk through the aisles? How about an in-store info-kiosk that suggest available ingredients based on selected criteria? The possibilities are endless and you will want to decide based on the insight from research as well as your business capabilities. This is where you want to find that sweet spot between business and user goals.
Let’s say you decided to create an app that integrates with people’s shopping baskets and suggests changes based on the shopping patterns. Now that you have a concept you need to dig a little bit deeper into specific functionality and content your app will support. Again, you want to look back at your research and drive your decisions from there. If you are designing for a mom you might want to integrate the ability to add different preferences for each family member. If your users shop both online and in-store you might want to integrate a barcode scanner to help them keep track of all their shopping. If you are designing for a diabetic you might want to include functionality for correlating eating habits with symptoms severity and frequency.
Having done your research and coming up with UX strategy is a crucial step and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. The next step is to turn that strategy into a working product or a prototype. Read about how to do it in the next article UX Process Part 2: Definition and Testing.
Still have questions about the Definition and Strategy phases? Write them down in the comments below and I’ll be more than happy to answer them for you!