Well… it depends!
For me, it boils down to Context.
Although there’s a predictable path for the design process, taking a second to become aware of the context - “we are an agency”, “you are working on your own for this project”, “we have limited amount of resources”, “I need this in 5 days” - understanding the situation, the nature of the project, its constraints, and requirements allows me to set up a mental roadmap of how to carry a project forward.
One of the things I take pride in myself is having the balance between UX and business skills. These skills also come with an exhaustive amount of research techniques, frameworks, and analysis. Taking a second to do some initial thinking allows me to become solution-oriented and be able to select specific methods and techniques that are most suitable to each phase.
STEP 1: DEFINE
“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it” - Simon Sinek.
In anything that I do, I start by asking WHY.
Why do we want to have a more “contemporary” design?
Why does a local board game store need an e-commerce function?
Why does CNN want people to involve with politics year-round rather than just during the election year?
Whether it is working with a client or choosing a personal project to work on, I seek to to understand the problem before solving it.
The store owner, product manager, marketer, or developer -- each individual is a part of the customer journey and may have their own version of the problem so I always reach out and listen to see the problem in different lens. One of the things I find very accurate of my ENTJ personality is I feel motivated by interacting with people. Asking WHY not only helps define the problem but also allows me to collaborate and engage others, building trust and including them in the process.
Once the WHY is identified, it’s time for the WHAT, or as I call it: The Game Plan.
Most of the time, I use S.M.A.R.T goals to break down a big vision into specific and measurable tasks. It’s not “I will finish user research this week” but “By Friday noon, I will finish interviewing 4 users and synthesizing findings”. Slack, Trello, and Google Sheets would come right after and serve as tools for collaboration and help me stay on task.
STEP 2: RESEARCH
Repeat after me: “I am not my users"
Again: "I am not my users”.
It’s easy to jump into assumption of what the solution might be after identifying the problem. Having early assumptions is great, it serves as a starting point and warns me of the potential bias in the research process. It makes me think of how I should craft my language and tone to avoid leading questions or skew research results.
I am an advocate for user-centered design. I invest myself into the baby steps to make sure the research is thorough. I believe all synthesis, personas, and design decisions must be driven by user research and they should represent users’ motivation, needs, and pain points.
A good research process takes time. Every designer has their own principles and rule of thumb that guide them through the design process. Mine places an emphasis on user research and I tend to ask my myself: “Does my research result surprise me?” -- if it doesn’t, I maybe haven’t researched enough.
STEP 3: IDEATE
This is where the creative mind takes its place.
A common misunderstanding I’ve seen is that producing ideas should solely be the designer’s responsibility. I find it powerful to ideate with others and the designer should take the initiative to facilitate a participatory design session. Whether it’s brainstorming, paper sketches, idea dumping, or rapid drawing on a whiteboard (sometimes even napkins). A quick design hackathon allows unique ideas to emerge and brings the team together.
I can generate ideas at my best when I allow thoughts to come and go in my head. At this stage, I try to create some mental space for that serendipity to happen. Well, with a pen and a notebook handy, I take a sip of coffee while contemplating the street traffic or taking an introspective walk around the block to get some fresh air.
STEP 4: REFINE
While the artist side of me generates ton of ideas, the scientist jumps in and filters them a part.
With tons of ideas and concepts in front of me, I’m ready to do more synthesis and start the elimination process, prioritizing only practical and impactful features. Creativity without constraints is a tricky thing. Throughout the entire design process, this stage is when I apply the principles of Lean UX the most.
To avoid producing waste and falling into the trap of featuritis, I rely on the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and refer back to the Why and research synthesis.
Before going through each idea, I print out user personas and put them on my desk or somewhere visible to constantly remind myself of the users, allowing me to assess and select which designs to move forward.
STEP 5: PROTOTYPE
The advice I’ve heard a lot from developers and in Agile space and it is applicable to UX practice every time.
Once ideas have become more refined, I start transferring them into low fidelity wireframes. I am a fan of paper prototype. It is an easy, low-cost, and effective method to test with users. With some simple paper sketches, I can run quick usability tests, make changes on the go and use MarvelApp and InVision to make it more interactive.
UX design is a constant looping of feedback and iteration from users. There’s always a need to run more tests and evolve designs overtime. However, structure and functionality must come first for any app or website.
Only when the foundation is laid, then the fidelity of wireframes increases, allowing visuals and interaction to come in and build delightful experience for users.
STEP 6: SHIP
“The goal is to have the rare skill of actually getting things done, making them happen and creating outcomes that people seek out.” - Seth Godin.
Generating great, thoughtful ideas is only the beginning process of UX design. The most important part is to ship those ideas, turning them into something tangible that can add value to the organization. The design process is never done but before further iterations can take place, a goal must be met.
With my headphones on, playing a good playlist is when I finalize my process and bring everything together.