My Design Process, Part 2

Missed part 1? Read it here.


Time to grab your design tool(s) of choice and get designing. This could mean pencil and paper, Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Balsamiq, html/css, or anything else you prefer. The goal is to get to something clickable as quickly as possible. The great thing about having done all the up front work, is you probably have pretty good ideas for what might be solid directions by the time you get to this step. Try them all as quickly and cheaply as possible. Remember the pros and cons you were listing during the competitive analysis process? Do the same here. Admit where your design is weak and see how that balances with its strengths.

Solicit feedback regularly and consistently. Get eyes on what you’re doing, start tossing what’s clearly a dead-end and iterating on what feels right. Collaboration is definitely your friend at this point. If you’re down a rabbit hole all by yourself you’re setting yourself up for quite a bit of pain at the end. The times I’ve been most defensive in my career are the times I worked for an extended period completely cut-off from a steady critique loop. Get help early, get help often. You’ll be glad you did.

And here’s another tip: if you’re working digitally, print everything out for critique. Buy some foamcore or some other surface and attach your work, in flows, to that. Leave your laptop at your desk when you organize a critique session and bring your boards instead. There’s something psychologically very different when people are standing huddled around a printed design than when they’re sitting casually staring at a 50" plasma screen you’re projecting your work onto. Using physical artifacts, I’ve experienced less bandwagoning (people all piling onto a single line of critique), as well as more close inspection of flows, since they’re visible all at once on a board, whereas you’d need to scroll if presenting with a laptop. Printing and posting up your work can be tedious when you first start, but the benefits are very real and hard to ignore.


Once you’ve whittled your way down to a few solid-feeling options (or even just one direction you feel positive about), it’s time to start prototyping. Remember those flows you drew out earlier? Entry points? Exits? Interesting states? It’s impossible to feel how your design performs in real life without wiring something up. Get something put together, click through it, share it with those same folks helping you out with feedback and critique. Get more feedback and critique and keep iterating.

At this point, I’ve seen everything from Keynote prototypes, web-based clickthroughs using Invision or Marvel, and even live code with live data. The idea is to get as real as possible while still maintaining your momentum. If you can’t easily wire up a live code prototype, don’t waste a month trying to get it put together. Go for something simpler. I will say that, as far as the next step is concerned, live data or clickthroughs with actual user data are highly preferred to that lorem ipsum nonsense I see designers toss in now and again (I can call it nonsense because I’ve, nonsensically, done it).

User Research

To the researchers reading this: don’t murder me. I’m about to lay down a huge disclaimer:

User Research is absolutely, positively a huge boon from the very beginning of and throughout the entire design process. Defining the problem space? Get some users in and talk to them. Want to know what’s good/bad about competitors or even what competitors exist? Same deal. Want to know the flows people typically use in your product? There’s nothing more eye-opening than watching a real person struggle through an experience that you designed years ago and haven’t touched since.

I’m only putting research in here because, honestly, if you haven’t engaged with your users by now, this is your gigantic, face-to-palm reminder. It’s also the typical point at which, when I’m personally strapped for time and resources (think only designer at a very fast-moving startup), I finally get the nerve to ask for a few hundred bucks to bring in strangers from Craigslist for guerrilla user testing.

That’s right: you can get qualitative feedback from real users even if you aren’t a professional researcher. Be scrappy. Buy some iTunes Gift Cards, screen some Craigslist folks to see who at least appears to match the profile of your intended users and download Silverback. While you won’t get everything, you will at least get some pretty big and glaring drop-off points. And, bonus points, it helps you make the argument for establishing a user research group at your company.

If you have a group of researchers to collaborate with at your current company, you can actually probably skip this because you’ve engaged with them from the moment the project kicked off.


Read on to part 3!

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