This article is a thought experiment. Imagine we have a chance to join an enterprise company as it spins up a new team, to tackle a new project with visions of taking today’s product into tomorrow.
Offered here is a description of how I would approach joining a hypothetical, new product endeavor as the team’s UX designer. Assert that the project is brand new, the team is experienced yet freshly amassed, and the stakeholders have a clear vision of this product’s business value. The reader is invited to put yourself in UX design shoes and imagine how you might align or diverge from my high-level approach. Our challenge is to establish all design practices, earn trust, produce top-notch UX, and deliver this beast to market.
Let’s break this problem into three categories; What, How, and Why.
What Would You Say You Do Here?
User Experience designer? Wow, sounds awesome! What do you do all day? // My Aunt at Thanksgiving
Product companies, large and small, will have some established design culture, healthy, ill, or a mix of both like an athlete with a hangover. Let’s say the new team’s leadership is worried. They don’t want any unhealthy UX practices leaking in from the mossy corners of the Seattle headquarters. Congrats! We get to provide clean design process as the badass UX designer on the badass team. It’s a big chance to prove we’re next-level, to ourselves and the industry.
Let’s set some more basics: This is a software product. It will be developed by a team of engineers on- and off-site with the designer. Collaboration between dev and design is expected. The team has been challenged to invent a new product, there is no precise definition of What we’ll build. Finally, as any solid enterprise operation will, we are given equally solid market data for us to interpret into action.
We’re glad to have this market data, but how do we start defining the UX after reading and re-reading it? We need to produce clear answers to several important questions because What we build depends on:
Who are the users?
What are their motivations, inclinations, and current tools?
We will construct Personas and Journey Maps in a team workshop to codify answers. The team learns to support these items through participation in our workshop. Now we have created, collaborative, excellent aides to progress the product design.
What are the prioritized business goals of the product?
How will it profit the company? What are the sales and use expectations? What metrics can be measured now and in the future to prove the new product is providing business value?
Collaboration between design and dev is already expected, but, as masters of empathy, we will push cooperation beyond expectations, partnering with “the business” to ensure they are a real part of the product team. Welcome aboard Sailor! Our business-types take awhile to get their Scrum sea legs but with coaching and patience, we get our list of to-dos in order.
What is the state of the data that will drive this new application?
Are the backing APIs owned by the product team or provided by a separate group? How can the team ensure user-centered design thinking informs the design of these APIs?
APIs are the fuel injection for every app. Let’s say in our hypothetical, we have an 80/20 split of new-to-old APIs. Efficient interfaces will give us a critical performance pillar for the user’s experience. Though it may not be pixel-based design, API design is within our domain as it relates to the user. Bring on the JSON. Let’s sit in on that dev meeting about the APIs, then we’ll present how our information architecture benefits the user and helps the API devs learn more about the upcoming needs of the interface design.
Cool collaboration with other roles will answer What the team will design and build. Customers take many forms, from end-user to VP stakeholder, and all the dependent teams up and downstream of our product. Following through on the early design process steps of Discovery and Analysis enables everyone on the team to smoothly answer to “What are you building?” with consistent clarity.
Good job us. Now we can get started…
How Do We Make UI?
Short answer: follow the product design process.
We are relying on a process established through practical application in the business environment. A more in-depth look at the UX design process can be viewed on my website. At a high-level, we prescribe this approach for ourselves and the dev team:
Design the UX
Design the UI
Go to Market
This process is non-linear. Certain steps feed back into earlier steps, better informing the design output of the team. Strategize, Discover, Analyze, and later, Measure, are fairly self-explanatory and are shared by many other roles in software. These steps initiate a project with its framework, research, and actionable data, based on all current product knowledge.
Let’s unpack the UX and UI design steps, these produce our bread-and-butter artifacts that define the product’s user experience and give our work lives meaning! Time to aim high friends, let’s show’em how we do.
We think UX design is pretty special. It supersedes nearly all other design disciplines in the product context. It informs high detail design work by providing a backbone of documents, each maturing through its own iteration and presentation:
- journey maps
- information architecture
- workflow design
Each extends the preceding and gives a continuous and concrete reference for our pals in dev. Your big-time stakeholders will really start liking you now as the product’s direction gains clarity. UXer’s are a pretty gregarious bunch, and even if we’re leaning introverted today, we will be sure to show and tell, shout and yell, all our visual progress. Design is a visual sport so we will wear a path into the carpet between our desk and the best printer in the house.
Let’s zoom in from UX to designing the user interface. UI design is where the product meets the pixel. It provides the appearance and personality to the preceding intangible UX work. The user interface is defined in two major ways; Visual design and Interaction design.
Visual design defines how our product will look and Interaction design defines how it will feel and behave. These disciplines produce high-fidelity, pixel-perfect renderings for testing and for the dev team’s reference. Our visual work will take external dependencies into account, company and product brand are major influences on our visual language.
Interaction design is easier than it used to be. Now, it benefits from existing, established behavioral patterns which have emerged as either software manufacturing best practices, as user expectations, or both. Even with all this groundwork, we will not skimp on IxD. Controls will be modeled, behaviors and states will be spec’d. Our brains are in interaction design mode, so it seems obvious that we deliver the goods through an interactive spec sheet hosted so anyone on our team can hover, spin, and animate to their heart’s content.
Visual design and Interaction design also depend on the feedback loop to cull the weak from the visual herd. We have an eye for detail, and our craft skill is as sharp as our X-acto knife. Focusing on these critical attributes of design presentation is what will elevate our work from good to great.
Agile methodology is also a major consideration as it relates to delivering these pieces, a topic worthy of its own article. For the sake of brevity, we will rely on the three levers used to convert any idea into reality; resources, time, and requirements. Conceding depth in any one relies on the strength of the other two. Design deliverables are no different, a large team can produce rich work quickly whereas a sole designer may need to rely on less depth to delivery in a timely fashion, or concise commitment to a short list of detailed work, to fit within a Sprint. It’s all about delivery, so as the sole designer, we recite that perfection paralysis is the antithesis of progress.
Why would our particular presence be valuable to a new project team like this? This design role, on this team, requires two molds; Designer and Leader. The Designer must deliver all of the artifacts listed above on time and at high quality. The Leader must install design thinking and process, establish and nurture relationships with dependents and stakeholders, and most importantly, constantly advocate for the user. What more could we ask for in a gig right? We must stay loose. Inspiration strikes at odd times. We are sure to allow space to drift and daydream, so that lightning has room to strike.
Nicely done designer, now go draw something.