Process

Method to the madness!

There is one thing to have a process and what that is, and then there is another thing of how the process actually feels like. For how it feels like, the below image perfectly encapsulates it all:

There is something about the creative process which is incredibly rewarding as this is where one grows as a creative person. The pain, the struggle, the elation, the happiness, the breakthrough, the dead-ends…all of this is so essential to evolve and get better as a designer or for any creative person.

As for the former part…honestly speaking, when starting out in this amazing vocation of Product/UX Design, I didn’t have a process as such.

One reason was that I didn’t have a proper design education, secondly when in a job and having deliverables, I didn’t have the time to learn about a process and then apply. And lastly as it was a new UX team which was formed by picking people from other departments, we were all learning and there was no one as such to educate/guide us as to what should the process be.

Let me also say that all three are nothing but excuses.

Firstly, with the internet and YouTube, education has changed forever.

Secondly, for things we want to do, there is always shortage of time, but we still create time (happy hours on a packed day? Sure!) .

Lastly, this one also ties up with the first point that if one is keen to seek and learn there is always a teacher available.

It was not that the absence of a process which was a worry, it was what the process can do and how it helps, which is the reason over the years I have found enormous benefit in having a process and continuously applying, testing and changing based on my personal work-style and also demands of the work at that point of time.

What the lack of process did was that I had no idea why something was not working and more importantly why something was working.

As is commonly known – if we don’t measure something we cannot improve upon.

Process gives us a framework, a pattern to work with. Process is not a formula as being a designer or any creative person is far from solving a maths equation (even though as Product/UX Designer we are problem solvers at the very core).

Also usually, it’s the first step in any journey which is the most difficult part. With a process, taking the first step becomes easy as I am clear as to what and how I need to do next and next and next. It provides the much needed momentum for my creative endeavors.

So now whenever I see the final outcome, I am more keen on what went behind the output, what process did the designer follow, why they did what they did, what choices they made and in what condition. It’s easy to judge any decision in hindsight but in that moment, it’s how you take a decision which defines who you are as a person or in our case as a designer.

Anyone can imitate or copy any design output. But can you ensure that you repeat the output on a continuous basis. Even if the output is not same, predictability definitely increases.

The other view is how you can improve as a designer, if you don’t even know what and how you are working and therefore you will not know where to improve upon. It will constantly be a case of throwing everything to the wall and praying something sticks. Not a very good strategy for any career.

To give you a rather philosophical argument in favor of a process –

What separates any person from another person is how they think. As their thoughts drive the actions and everything around it.

On that note, here is what all forms part of my process. Though there is a certain amount of sequence(starting from top and going down as you go forward) involved, though not everything happens in sequence all the time and also not all steps are followed based on the time constraints and expectations from a given project.

I follow the HCD (Human Centered Design) which is all about putting the user first in all the designs and deliberation!

To explain a bit more about HCD, IDEA has got a good succinct summary –

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.

Below are the various UX activities/deliverables which I have been doing as part my design process. Though would like to mention that not every project/product requires/allows that we do everything due to variety of factors.

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Problem Identification

Why is it a problem, if at all and for whom the problem exists.

User Research

To uncover more below the surface. This is incredibly valuable as without interacting with the people who is or will be our customers, some things will always feel amiss.

  • Analysis from user research. Making data useful and consumable to guide/influence product design
  • Profiles/Personas – Who are we designing for, as we are not our users!
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Problem Statement Definition

Arriving at the right problem definition is something which so underrated and yet so immensely critical. Until you know the problem absolutely clearly, moving on to the solution part doesn’t quite make sense.

Information Architecture (IA)

One of my favorite parts of the process and very helpful! At times when I skipped this, I always felt something was not going right and found myself gravitating back to it!

Story/Metaphor

Metaphors are something which help potential users visualize what the product can or will do for them. So when provided with info/images which connects with their current mental models helps to get the message across.

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Task Flows

What will be the logical flow for a user to do a particular task and where we can improvise and optimize to the maximum. Once the flows are clear and chalked out, things become smooth going forward.

User Journey Map

As the name suggests, it’s the journey of the user w.r.t to your application. It illustrates various touch points of your app within the overall journey of the user in doing a task.

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Sketching

Now comes the part where everything we have learnt is synthesized into a visible solution. Also this is the part where the intent is just to explore the possibilities where a possible solution is likely to be an outcome. It’s very easy to freeze on the initial ideas and hence I always explore a lot more to ensure that the good ideas are not left out. On the flip side this activity can go on forever and good to take a judgment call and go ahead.

Wireframing

If the sketching part is well thought, this part is quite a breeze. Though more often than not ideas get better here as it’s more tangible and real than the very crude sketching part.

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Design Scoping

Design scoping helps me to point down how many screens my app would need and out of these how many are done and how many are left to be done. It also helps in giving an overall status of where things stand currently.

Prototyping

Where ideas turn into solutions and come alive!

 

A discussion on Process feels incomplete without talking about “Tools” .

Current Set of Support Tools (Flexible to change and adapt, but highly recommend nevertheless)

Pen & Paper

Nothing like sketching to get the ideas out and bounce off with other stakeholders.

Sketch

Probably the best and the lightest tool for making wire-frames.

Invision

Fastest way to get a prototype out and get feedback from others (even distributed/remote teams)

Trello

Project/Task Management tool, So important to see all what I want to accomplish in a clear and easy to understand board like format. Out of sight is out of mind.

Essential Set of Support Tools (Ideally would like to always have)

 

Life outside work

So important to soak in inspiration from various fronts and also to de-stress.

Books

Not everything needs to be reinvented/learnt from scratch, a lot of wisdom/knowledge can be found inside books. (Have a look at my book shelf on Goodreads)

Podcasts

For me there is a wealth of information found in Podcasts nowadays. And since it’s usually one-on-one, you get to hear directly from super talented people at the very best at their craft.

 

If you have some questions or some ideas as to how can I take my process to the next level, I will be more than eager to answer and learn. Feel free to use the Contact Me page or alternately mail me at anirudhbbalotiaa[at]gmail[dot]com.