My ideal work process is split into 5 main steps. I adapt my approach based on project characteristics (features, audience, platforms etc.), time available for design (days, weeks, months) and development method (Waterfall, Lean, Kanban etc.).
Every project starts with a brief or a problem that needs a solution, followed by a kick-off meeting or a requirements workshop in case there are clarifications to be made. And usually there are.
After I know more about the design challenge I have to solve, I turn to research and dig deeper in order to find insights and data that can help build the right product.
No matter the time or budget, the research never lacks a thorough competitive analysis. So, after learning more about the client, the industry and the context of the product, the research continues by identifying and analyzing the main competitors of the product. The analysis includes business, technology and user experience criteria, that reveal do’s and don’ts, which I take into consideration in the next steps.
In case the time and budget are not an issue, more in depth user research can be undertaken, including surveys, interviews and usability testing using the competitors’ products for a more comprehensive understanding of the problems to avoid or the positive features pointed by the users.
To identify the audience, I usually create 2 to 6 personas with one of them being the primary audience. Depending on time and requirements, I use interviews, surveys, analytics, customer data or contextual research.
In an Agile team, when the sprints are short or the budget is limited, I make use of guerilla interviews, social media profiles, articles and published interviews with the people I need to know more about.
After data is analyzed, probably the most rewarding part consists in identifying the specific themes and patterns that characterize the product audience, which I use to create the actual persona profiles.
Over time, I developed my own profile template which gathers demographics, role, challenges, pain points and goals.
When the task consists of a redesign rather than a whole new product, there are a few more steps I go through depending on the time available. If the product is connected to a real world business, contextual research is mandatory, talking to user support personnel or sales assistants, for example, to find out insights and pain points.
Besides this, any other redesign project involves a complete audit for every component: feature, content, taxonomy and usability audits are required in order to understand the current problems and the reasons behind the change.
Interpreting analytics and identifying broken funnels is also an important step in case of a product redesign.
Armed with research data, the focus shifts to the product architecture, which starts with a brainstorming session or an ideation workshop. High level ideas are born, filtered and wrote down.
The more challenging the problem, the more time I invest in the thinking process, which in turn, includes extra research, talking to other designers, meeting with stakeholders, looking for feedback and a lot of paper sketching.
The first step I insist in introducing to the UX process is gathering all the team members involved in the project for one or multiple sessions to define all the terms used within the product and all the statements that describe the connections between them.
This way, a common language will be set, no more time will be wasted on small misunderstandings and new team members will be easily introduced to the project.
Probably the main characteristic of my entire workflow is introducing basic psychology concepts into the user experience process, to explain and predict user behavior.
I am a strong advocate for identifying and applying suitable psychological techniques and theories that help the product offer a superior experience to users, without influencing them do something they wouldn’t want to do.
Following behavioral, cognitive and social psychological patterns is not only beneficial for the business but also for the users, by minimizing friction and optimizing their journey so their overall experience improves.
Once I know whom am I talking to and why, it’s time to map the experience. I found that going from building high-level maps to detailed low-level ones usually works best, as I can narrow down the information I get from previous steps. That is why I start with mental models created from previous user research and outline the thought processes that users employ when undertaking the particular goals of a product.
I continue developing the task models which help identify the set of activities the users perform outside and inside the product and ultimately the user journeys, mapping the main paths of the product the users have to go through to complete a task.
I always find it very exciting and challenging to go from existing mental models to crafting experiences and flows that meet and exceed user expectations.
Building the information architecture is usually undertaken once I know the outcomes from the previous stages.
There are 3 elements that guide me when developing the information architecture: the ontology, taxonomy and choreography, and 2 specific steps I go through: creating the sitemap and creating the feature map.
Designing the task models and user journeys help create the sitemap, which, in turn, helps develop the feature map.The sitemap contains the complete list and hierarchy of pages or screens inside the product, while the feature map is build using the sitemap to which I add content elements and taxonomy for each page.
Card sorting sessions are great at getting fast user insights before deciding on a particular architecture.
Having a solid architecture lets me focus on sketching a first version of the product. It is now when a lot of iterations are made and I can put together all the components into one visual solution.
I sketch a lot at every step along the UX process. It helps me visualize flows, maps or features and make mental connections I wouldn’t otherwise see.
Sketching layouts and user interfaces is invaluable for getting rapid and cheap user feedback. It’s also a fast and easy way to get stakeholders’ approval without investing a lot of time into a design, which ultimately allows me to be flexible and make quick changes when needed.
In an Agile environment, sketching is also incredibly helpful as a means of collaborative design.
Depending on the complexity of the project, I usually take the sketches to the next level and convert them to a low or high fidelity wireframe or prototype. They help me visualize and feel the product in its native digital form and adapt content elements that do not fit the technical requirements.
Having a working prototype is also the best way to represent the interaction design previously developed and I find it a lot more insightful when doing usability testing on clickable prototypes.
I usually use Axure, UXPin or In Vision to building wireframes and prototypes.
Once I have something relevant to validate, I test it out. This can be at the beginning, during or at the end of the process. If the time or budget is short, I use guerilla testing, asking potential users for feedback.
Otherwise, I push for remote or lab testing, which includes recruiting users, developing a test plan, setting testing logistics and facilitating the actual test. I this situation, I don’t normally work alone, there are usually UX researchers and recruiters that help with the process.
After gathering the data, I look for common issues, questions or suggestions and try to identify patterns that need addressing. Based on the user feedback, I then make the necessary modifications to the materials and test again until the issues are solved.