Before a design solution can be recommended, the user need must be understood, defined and agreed upon. The methods that I most often employ to uncover these opportunities are Observational Research, User Interviews and Subject Matter Expert Interviews. Immersing myself into real users’ experiences allows me to mirror their frustrations, opinions and hopes, to truly empathize and understand their point of view. With this and understanding the subject matter at hand, I can make sense of the problems that exist.
Because I’m never designing in a silo, team alignment on the problem or opportunity at hand is the next critical step before solutioning begins. Visualizing the user research and insight, and clustering paint points to develop themes lays the foundation for generating ideas and even prioritization. This can be done with As-Is Scenario Mapping and agreeing on a need statement.
Once the team is aligned on users’ needs, ideating begins. I’ve learned quickly that my most important role as a designer is the facilitation of the whole team’s ideation. Good ideas come from every team member and a passionate group of invested contributors with different sets of expertise will arrive at real, vetted solutions in a few hours. Yet, if this step is skipped and design comps are presented to this same group of people, their ability and willingness to ideate diminishes and feedback becomes focused on limited instead of opportunities.
In a cross functional ideation or white-boarding session I encourage positive thinking. It’s nearly impossible for our brains to evaluate and create at the same time. No idea is too wild in the beginning, and the team is encouraged to build off of one another. These sessions end in group validation and consolidation activities to converge ideas and identify an action plan. Then, I can take away a concept that the whole team is invested in and create a prototype to validate with users.
Prototyping allows for failing fast and failing cheap. It’s the quickest way to uncover missteps or incorrect assumptions in a solution — allowing a team to pivot before ever spending a dollar on development. Depending on the context, prototypes might exist as anything from a flat wireframe sketch to a fully clickable high fidelity prototype, as long as the user is able to understand the concept and react to it.
Depending on the goal of the project, testing can be done with new, existing or desired customers. Studies at Neilson Norman Group suggest that testing with just five users can uncovers 85% of issues. By sitting down with a user and asking them to think aloud as they use your prototype to accomplish a task read to them, a team can learn the Discoverability, Findability and Usability of features. Combining the results of these interviews provides quick and inexpensive insight into areas that need improvement. Sometimes the opportunities are so clear that a task can be immediately added to the backlog and sometimes new problems are uncovered to bring to the beginning of this process again.