“Research” is shorthand for “Let’s find out how our users behave to help us create a solution to their problems or address their unmet needs.” It’s also known as “design research” or “user research”. How much research you need depends on how new and different the thing you’re creating is from what users already experience. In general, the more new or different something is, the more uncertain we are about the experience our users will have. Usually some research is necessary.

Sometimes the term research also refers to testing a design to make sure people can use it. …

At the beginning of a project the design lead or product manager will write a brief, a document that summarizes what the team needs to start working. The format and name of this document varies wildly, but the two key goals are the same: establish a common understanding of the work and inspire the team.

More specifically, the brief:

  • States the organization’s vision, mission, and strategy.
  • States the desired outcomes of the project.
  • Summarizes research on the market, customers, and competition.
  • States the constraints in terms of time, money, technology, and other resources.
  • Describes the scope of work.

One template…

All human-centered software design can be boiled down to three essential activities:

  1. Researching the people and situations relevant to the project
  2. Designing the software
  3. Testing the design of the software to find out what works and what doesn’t

The detailed process used will change depending on your project: Is it big or small? A new product or a redesign? Is it for external customers or internal employees? And so on. Designers have multiple skills and methods, and they combine them differently to serve each project. For examples see the Small, Medium, and Big Project chapters.

In a nutshell, the overall…

I’m using the word roles rather than jobs because the division of work changes per project. On small projects all the design work might be done by one person playing multiple roles. On large projects the design work might be done by several people playing each role.

Here are some common roles:

User Research investigates customers’ behavior and preferences.

Interaction design (IxD) or user experience design (UX) or product design creates the user interface.

Service design is similar to interaction design but also designs for non-digital interactions such as in-store shopping.

Visual design specializes in how the final product will…

How is Software Designed? A Tiny Introduction to Human-Centered Software Design for The Real World (a book for non-designers)

What is Human-Centered Software Design?

Why Design?



The Brief






A Small Project Example

A Medium Project Example

A Large Project Example

What is Good Design?

How Does Design Work with Agile?

Can Design be Used to Create a Strategy?

How Can I Learn to Design?

The most obvious benefit of design is to make the user interface look better. Designers use color and fonts carefully, align things on the screen a certain way, and generally make everything more beautiful.

Designers make the user interface more usable. For example, if people need to select one or more items from a list the designer knows to use checkboxes, not radio buttons.

Design can help decide on the structure of the user interface. For example, if you have a long form that users have trouble filling out a designer could create different ways to present the form. Maybe…

This book describes how designers create user interfaces by focusing on the people that use the software.

If you have some familiarity with software — maybe you’re a project manager, a product manager, or a programmer — and you want to learn how software designers do their jobs, this book is for you.

Designers describe what interfaces will look like and how they will behave, how they animate, what sounds they make, and so on.

They do this using skills they have learned, such as when to use a check box and when to use a radio button.

Designers also…

People are worried about Common Core. People are worried about PARCC tests. Me? I’m worried about the way the PARCC tests are designed by Pearson, because when I see people get upset about PARCC what they are often reacting to how difficult it is to take the test, not the content or the use of standardized tests. In short, the design sucks and the poor usability makes students suffer.

Actually, I’m worried about a lot of the design that my district buys from Pearson (especially as interesting competitors such as Zearn can be had for free).

As I do homework…

The Charging Bull of Wall Street Bull by Arturo Di Modica. Photo by Sam Valadi.

In 2011 I was working on Wall Street. Every day for two months I would walk past the Occupy Wall Street protestors camped out in Zuccotti Park. And every day I passed them I wondered, “What am I doing to help the 99% improve their financial lives?” I’m not in the 1%, but I was in pretty good shape: I had recently married, had two kids, bought a house and a car, and put together enough of a financial plan to feel that my family and I were secure. But I’m fortunate enough to have a father who taught me…

See the State by Bret Victor

Working in the fast-changing world of digital product design, there’s always some new and exciting tools and techniques to learn. The flip side of this coin is that you must keep learning to keep up with the industry or your skills become irrelevant.

So naturally it would be helpful to know how our practice will change in the future so we can figure out what to learn next. This article is my attempt to look into this future.

Paul Saffo said that if you want to forecast what’s coming, look back twice as far. Luckily, I’m pretty old. …

Victor Lombardi

Design director at Capital One; author of the book Why We Fail http://bit.ly/WhyWeFailBook ; founded IA Institute & Overlap; taught at Parsons, Pratt, Rutgers

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