With the initial ideation process done, it is now time to focus on making ideas a reality which is easily the most difficult phase of any UX or Engineering project. However, as we make the necessary steps to craft the actual product, it is important that the ideation process does not stop there. Rather, it is an ongoing process which allows us to remain adaptive throughout.
Ideas into reality
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”
– Edward de Bono
Start working on an idea even if we have doubts or think that we may face some problems during the development process. There is only so much that we can plan ahead as to what can work and what cannot, what’s left is to actually take action. Trial and error will often bring us different perspectives to the problem at hand and possibly the long awaited eureka moments. However, it is also crucial that we have the practice of risk reduction early on in the development process, which involves a systematic procedure of first testing the “high risk” components of the project to make sure it will work before carrying on. The longer we take to eliminate risk, the more time will be wasted on futile solutions. The best time to fail is always at the beginning. In essence — fail fast, fail early.
One of the ways which we do this is, as a group, identify which components of the project that we have the most uncertainties about. What happens if the components do not work, would the entire project no longer function as intended? Is this something we can do without? How confident are we in our abilities to achieve that functional goal?
Depending on the nature of the project, prototypes are often made from bare bone materials or resources that are cost effective. For example, when building prototype structures for school projects, our material of choice is often easily available cheap wood blocks from a nearby art supply store. Though the material may in no way have similar properties with the intended actual material, it still achieves the goal of creating a demonstrable product form. Likewise, in the case of UX prototypes, our goal is to create a visual skeletal structure of a user interface, with some elements of interactivity simply to allow user testers to give feedback and for us to test interface ideas.
Test and Fix
During projects, one of the challenges I faced was losing sight of our initial project goals. We were so lost in our desire to make things work that at times, that we added unnecessary features or iterations that do not serve the project goals, resulting in time wastage and a futile product. One way to effectively circumvent this issue is to pen down the project goals and ensure that it is clearly visible by all members during group meetings. Why did we even start on this project? What were we trying to fix or create? Who were we creating this for? Knowing the problem statements will also ensure that during the testing phase we know who exactly the users of the solution are, we select the right users to test the prototype and are able to gauge the effectiveness of our solution.
The next step is to observe the interactions between users and your solutions. We watch closely and take note of what they do, how they react to the product and their immediate comments. Most importantly, we observe which part of the product users get most confused about. When posed with a question from users, it is important that our reply has to be neutral — so as to not sway the opinion of the user whom we are gathering genuine feedback from. This is also an area where UX can play a very complementary role to the engineering design process by placing a big emphasis on understanding the user profiles and asking the right questions to get the best possible feedback. At this stage of the design process, it is important we avoid simple yes or no questions as much as possible as we are more interested in knowing the whys so as to understand the users’ thought process. Understanding the users’ thought process will allow us to create not just functionally better products but also user friendly products.
Feedback can sometimes be very disheartening especially when things don’t turn out as expected. However, we have to keep an open mind and understand that these feedback are in no way a personal attack but a guide for us to design a viable product; even if we have to go back to square one. Use your test findings to fix problems that occurred and polish aspects of the project that exceeded expectations. Ask yourself: Was the problem fixed using your solution? Did the user have to constantly ask questions? Did they use the solution in your intended way? Was the project goals met? Once changes have been made to the design based on user input, go back and test the new designs and see if the improvements or changes you made have created a positive or negative effect on your solution. Ask yourself the same few questions and repeat the redesign process again if necessary. With each design rendition you will be gradually refining and improving the product.
Since being introduced to the UX design process and slowly learning the ropes of what constitutes good UX design, it has changed the way I approach any engineering project or even projects in general. The focus on crafting the right user feedback questions and a greater emphasis on user research has helped in my personal design process to create more user-centered solutions.