Design Thinking for the UX Process

GETTING

STARTED

User experience is integral to creating digital products around user expectations. So much so that it features in each phase of product creation — from discovery and ideation to design and user testing, and on to code and release. Its impact is so great that it even remains an active ingredient in the end product, contributing to your user’s overall satisfaction.

But despite its prominence, some of us are still hazy on the details of leveraging Design Thinking for the UX Process. For instance, what is a UX strategy, and how does it contribute to UX design?

A good digital experience project needs a strong UX strategy to ensure that it follows a user-centric approach, as well as aligns with the company’s vision. UX strategy includes developing a killer design brief. By defining every aspect of the user experience before initiating the design phase, you’re giving your team direction for all aspects of the design. This means fewer misunderstandings, and less rework and resource wastage during the design process.

In UX design, we create delightful experiences through the implementation of the strategic brief. User experience design seeks to improve the usability, accessibility, aesthetics and interactive elements of a web or mobile user interface in order to enhance user satisfaction.

Although there are no hard and fast rules to apply Design Thinking to the UX process, you can leverage the 6-step approach below. Every section of this article will focus on one step, showcasing a non-comprehensive list of activities or deliverables.

Please keep in mind that this is an iterative process, not a linear one! Every activity of each phase provides meaningful feedback that should be leveraged for continuous improvement.

[Bonus content, you can find more about the original design thinking 5-step approach at dschool.stanford.edu

 

UNDERSTAND

DEFINE

CREATE

PROTOTYPE

Test

Measure

Dieter Rams once said, “You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people”. A great product experience starts with a good understanding of your users. That’s why user research is every UX professional’s starting point for a UX design project. User research has to come first in the UX process because without it, designer’s work can only be based on their own experiences and assumptions.

Understand phase is probably the most variable between projects. It usually involves:

UNDERSTAND

Interview is an in-depth one-on-one discussion between an interviewer and a user from the target audience. Interview should be designed to discover the underlying needs and requirements of the user when using your product. This technique is especially useful when the target audience is new or unknown to the team.

Focus groups are a special types of interview involving multiple interviewees at the same time. It usually works best to gather quantitative feedback rather than qualitative.

An online survey is a questionnaire consisting of a set of very precise questions sent to a sample of your target audience over the internet. The length and format of an online survey can vary from project to project.

Interviews and online survey can work together. Before you start writing questions for your online survey, take the time to conduct a few interviews to fully understand the user’s problem space. This will help inform your survey questions.

Surveys are used to validate the assumptions that designers make about a product. 

There are many tools available for running surveys, ranging from lightweight and inexpensive tools right through to specialist market research tools. For most UX applications simple surveys tools such as Google Forms, SurveyMonkey or Wufoo should offer adequate functionality to create surveys.

Evaluating the competition is one way to determine where a designed product stands, and what potential markets it can break into. When conducting a competitive analysis, UX professionals evaluates a competing product’s usability, interaction design, and unique features, to see how their own product stacks up.

Competitive analysis is especially important when designers are building an entirely new product that hasn’t entered the market yet.

A competitive analysis gives insight into what competitors are doing right, and what difficulties they face, leaving opportunities available.

 
 

The aim of the phase is to draw insights from data collected during the Understand phase to create the building blocks of the overall experience. This step is the foundation part of the process.

DEFINE

When a UX Professional has finished a user research and know what users need and what they expect, s/he can summarize those findings into user personas. Personas are fictional characters which are used as a representation of a real audience and their behaviors.

The purpose of personas is to create reliable representations of target audience segments for reference. Personas make it easier for designers to create empathy with users throughout the design process.

Once there's a clear idea of who might use a product, it’s time to map out how they might use it. Every user has a goal to achieve, UX Professionals needs to define each step that the user will go through to get to the final goal. These steps will shape a user story.

A well-formulated user story must clarify the specific type of user, describe the task with comparable detail, and clarify on the context in which work must be done. In Agile, user stories development follows epic definition: these entities are used to organize and plan sprints. 

Value proposition is a process of mapping out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it is for and when/where it will be used. Value proposition helps the team narrow down and create consensus around what the product will be.

UX Professionals create a document to communicate a value proposition which contains the followinig information:

  • Key business objectives

  • UX attributes that will influence the success (both directly and indirectly) of the key objectives and desired outcomes

  • Desired state of these UX attributes

  • A list of activities and design work that can be done to improve the state of the UX.

A structured organization of elements and activities that articulate the strategy, from the highest level of the north-star/vision/mission all the way down to more tangible objectives and tactics.

A strategic framework it's a detailed one-pager-plan that will be used as the foundation for prioritized roadmaps and activation plans.

 
 

The premise of the Create phase is to design a product which will be tested with real users. This product may be represented by paper or interactive prototypes, interactive wireframes, or semi-functioning prototypes. The Create phase of a UX project should be collaborative (involving input and ideas from all team members) and iterative.

CREATE

Brainstorming is the most frequently practiced form of ideation. Brainstorming helps to generate constraint-free ideas that respond to a given creative brief. The intention of brainstorming is to leverage the collective thinking of the group, by engaging with each other, listening, and building on other ideas.

Sketching is the easiest way of visualizing ideas. All you need is just pen and paper, or a whiteboard, or anything you can write on. Sketching allows team memberes to visualize a broad range of design solutions before deciding which one to stick with.

Wireframes are the “blueprint for design.” A wireframe represents the page structure, as well as its hierarchy and key elements. Wireframes tie together the underlying conceptual structure (information architecture) with the visible part of design (visual design).

The process of wireframing helps designers uncover different methods for representing content and information as well as prioritizing that content in according to the user’s goals.

Wireframes aren’t supposed to represent the visual design or contact graphic elements. They should be quick, cheap, and simple to create.

Not to be confused with an User Story, an User Flow is the path a user follows through an application. The flow doesn’t have to be linear, it can branch out in a non-linear path. User flows are helpful in hashing out complex flows before prototyping a product. Creating users flows will help the designer think about what happens to the user before & after they visit a particular page.

Navigation and content fruition are a make or break aspect of the user experience of a site/app. Each person who’ll get lost navigating through a site is going to have a bad experience. To avoid these scenarios, UX Professionals should take care of Information Architecture (IA). The purpose of IA is to organize the content on a site so that users can find exactly what they need to perform the task they want and to reach their goal.

The outcome of IA process varies based on the type of a project. The Sitemap is one of the most iconic IA deliverables, consists of a diagram of the website’s pages organized hierarchically. A content catalog usually reinforces the robustness of the architecture.

 

A prototype is a simulation of the final product. Basically, it’s a version of a product that takes UX Professionals as close as possible to a good representation of an app/website and its user interface before any coding has begun. Prototype makes it possible to test the product — see how the overall design works and fix any inconsistencies.

PROTOTYPE

Low-fidelity prototypes help you focus on creating the smoothest flows for users to accomplish their goals. It's a quick and easy way to translate high-level design concepts into tangible and testable artifacts. The first and most important role of lo-fi prototypes is to check and test functionality rather than the visual appearance of the product. Here are the basic characteristics of low-fidelity prototyping:

  • Visual design: Only some of the visual attributes of the final product are presented (such as shapes of elements, basic visual hierarchy, etc.).

  • Content: Only key elements of the content are included.

  • Interactivity: The prototype can be simulated by a real human.

High-fidelity prototype can be a fully-interactive version of a product.

An interactive prototype has functional animations and microinteractions which are used to build meaning behind about the spatial relationships, functionality, and intention of the system. Animations can contribute heavily to the user experience if used correctly. Both functional and delightful animations can be used to deliver a feedback.

The basic characteristics of high-fidelity prototyping include:

  • Visual design: Realistic and detailed design — all interface elements, spacing, and graphics look just like a real app or website.

  • Content: Designers use real or similar-to-real content. The prototype includes most or all of the content that will appear in the final design.

  • Interactivity: Prototypes are highly realistic in their interactions.

 

The premise of the Testing phase is to put ideas in front of users, get their feedback, and refine the design. It’s important to understand that the earlier you test, the easier it is to make changes and thus the greater impact the testing has on the eventual quality of the product.

TEST

Usability testing is usually a one-to-one, moderated in-person usability session. The purpose of in-person usability testing is to identify problems or issues the user has while interacting with a product. Test participant performs tasks using a product while the UX designer observes and taking notes. When conducting usability testing it’s crucial you observe the actions the user takes without intruding on their actions or decisions.

Testing doesn’t need not be either time consuming or expensive. Jakob Nielsen’s research has found that testing with 5 users generally unveils 85% of usability problems.

A/B Testing (also known as split testing) is a form of quantitative analysis comparing two different versions of a product (e.g. two different types of landing pages). A/B testing makes it easier for UX designer to test hypotheses about design. A/B testing helps if you already have a product/service and need to improve it.

Accessibility enables people with disabilities to perceive and interact with a product. A well-designed product is accessible to users of all abilities, including those with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments or motor impairments.

Accessibility analysis checks that a product can be used by everyone, including users with special needs. W3C guidelines define a basic set of accessibility rules. By following these rules UX design increases changes that all users are satisfied. It’s possible to use an automated tool to regularly test your service’s accessibility. One of the popular automated tools is WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool).

 

Unlike any other discipline, UX work doesn’t stop with releasing a product. User Experience is an ongoing process that continues for as long as a product will be used by people. UX designers should continually measure product performance to see if it meets user satisfaction and if any improvements can be made.

MEASURE

Numbers provided by an analytics tool tell UX Professionals about how the user interacts with a product: clicks, session time, search queries etc. Metrics analysis and usability testing work great together because metrics can “uncover the unexpected”, surfacing behaviours that are not explicit in user tests.

Metrics analysis helps understanding what is happening on a site/in an app. But when it comes to uncovering why, the true value lies in collecting qualitative data.

User feedback allows UX Professionals to discover the reasons behind the actions that analytics tools show. With an option to leave feedback, users can effortlessly report anything that’s causing the friction. This feedback item can then be labeled and filtered directly to UX designer’s mailbox.

Images Credit: Dribbble

ABOUT

ME

🕹'm a Digital Strategist

My superpower is creating better experiences for all kinds of users.