The Product Design Process
Process is a tool for achieving a goal. Since the goal and team behind every product is a little different, my design process varies depending on the project goals and team.
Develop a fuller understanding of the problem domain through research. This can involve many different tools including team discussion, interviews with users or subject matter experts, in-situation observation of user behavior, surveys, user experience mapping exercises, etc. It’s important to collaborate with product and engineering to form a collective understanding of the problem, align on any research insights and find a strategy for product success that everyone can support. Ideally this process produces clearly defined goals and strategies with agreed ways to measure success.
Iteratively Test and Refine Ideas
Test your hypotheses by gathering data and user feedback to validate or invalidate them. Take all the ideas that were generated during discovery and create something you can use to present them to users and get feedback. Start with a wide range of ideas initially, perhaps even including bad ideas, to gain insight into user reactions and why some things work better than others. Iteratively develop concepts from sketch or wireframe to more and more developed visual design mockups, prototypes or animations, getting feedback on each iteration and incorporating it into the next.
Build and Document
Create what engineering needs to build it. Regular conversation is an essential communication tool during this phase. The amount of documentation needed varies with the size and structure of the team. Ideally much is already communicated in a living style guide that is shared with engineering. Update the style guide with any new interface patterns or components and generate any screen-ready assets. Produce screen-ready graphic assets and create or update any related support content.
Confirm and Iterate
Make sure it does what it’s supposed to, then ship to users and observe the results. Ideally new features can be deployed to a subset of users and behavior can be quantitatively measured and compared to users without the change to understand if/how user behavior is effected. Collaborate with the team to evaluate the effectiveness of the change and next steps, potentially scheduling another iteration on the feature.
Find Balance Between Competing Goals
The most successful brands, companies and products excel at finding a workable balance between 3 sets of opposing goals; the business, the technology, and the user.
These goals always exist in hierarchies with other goals.
Uncovering the How? and Why? behind goals illuminates their structure and helps identify potential strategies for making everyone successful.
Empathy and The Power of Stories
It’s much easier for us to predict the behaviors of people we know. Talking to users, understanding and mapping their experiences is a great way to help us better understand their desires and predict their behavior. When we understand their goals in the context of their experience, we’re better able to help them reach those goals.
I'm in the process of adding a few other things that influence my design thinking. Here's what I've got so far.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams
“You can't have a breakthrough without blockage. Frustration is a natural, normal part of the creative process.”
- The Minimum Badass User (Video)
- Great talk by Kathy Sierra. People want to be awesome. Don't make your product awesome, make your users awesome by giving them a superpower. "People don't tell their friends about your product because they like your product, they tell their friends because they like their friends."
- CX Journey Mapping Toolkit
- Great set of tools for collaborative mapping of the user experience with a team.
- Local Maximum
- Optimization can only yield a slightly better version of what you already have.
- Red Routes
- Some useful and practical ideas for prioritizing your product backlog.
- The Inmates Are Running The Asylum
- By Alan Cooper. After almost 20 years, it's still must-read book for anyone involved in creating interactive products. Written for a non-designer audience, it makes the case for the need for good design to be successful in business.
- About Face
- By Alan Cooper. The first edition was my initial introduction to interaction design and user-centered design thinking, and I still find myself mentally referring its list of Design Principles, e.g. "Design for Intermediates" and "Design for the probable, allow for the possible.".
- The Design of Everyday Things
- By Donald Normal. A must-read for anyone designing things that people use.