Design is a process

Whether we are designing customer experiences, broom handles or mobile applications, designers must follow a human-centred design process. Organisations are recognising that design is not just about the beautiful pictures but more about facilitation and collaboration. Collaboration is the new shared currency of design. We need to have broad skillsets, rather than bespoke design disciplines.

In a world of unpredictable markets, the designers role is about making products by solving problems.

First, a disclaimer!

There are a variety of design processes easily accessible to designers, however I believe these are just starting points. Due to the nature and spirit of creative problem solving there can be no ‘THE PROCESS’–in my opinion. Instead I follow a design framework, a mindset with overlapping spaces. The creative process does not proceed methodically or in programmatic fashion.

At a conceptual level, what I attempt to do is to uncover problems for people and businesses. Next we engage with expected users/customers from the outset, going to them with very low-resolution prototypes to get early feedback. Then repeating the process in short cycles, steadily improving the fidelity [product] until the customer is delighted with it. By doing this I believe we create a greater chance of success, an insurance policy for success. I believe creating or improving a product should be conducted in an efficient way. This means that each step of development and design should be looked upon as an opportunity to cut waste in order to reach the users and businesses goal.

The framework

The first component is the discovery phase, where we dive deep into the problems customers and users experience. We lead a cross-function team through the discovery phase activities together, providing a shared understanding of the customers’ problems. The activities include stakeholder interviews, user visits, competitive evaluations, storyboarding, and insight/question/hypothesis/patterns/assumptions prioritisation.

Depending on the project we can learn a lot more by observing people in their natural environment. Throughout the team we develop a shared sense of empathy towards the people we are designing for, to gain insights into what they need, what they want, how they behave, feel, and think, and why they demonstrate such behaviours, feelings, and thoughts when interacting with products in a real-world setting.

As a team we share the stories that each member has observed, the team can get up to speed on progress, draw out meaning from the stories, and capture interesting details of the observation work. By converging on insights we begin to frame the problems and set the direction for the project.

An evolving series of things representing an idea before taking it to the streets to test.

The next phase is build and again we diverge by exploring lots of concepts and ideas. Our aim is to connect solution ideas to existing people behaviours or problems. We hold a series of collaborative ideation sessions and workshops that unlock the brainpower of key users, stakeholders and our team.

These initial ideas are collectively converged down to one potential solution, one that forms a stable foundation for evolving the product.

Then I start building systems. I start making an evolving series of physical things, I start making prototypes, storyboards, scenarios, quick and dirty videos through to interactive builds. The aim here is to quickly create a tangible vision of an idea so it can be test and improved. These artefacts are a transient part of the project — like a conversation — get it done, get it out there, discuss, learn and move on.

The third component of the framework is to measure what has been built. Rather than planning incessantly we quickly come up with something, we show it to smart people, we show it to users, and then we do it again and again. By conducting user testing, analysing analytic data, A/B tests even ‘false doors’ we can apply learnings to subsequent iterations of the product.

Throughout the process I encourage the team to answer and be mindful of three core questions:

  1. What people problem are we trying to solve?
  2. How do we know this is a real problem? [is this a problem worth solving?]
  3. How will we know if we’ve solved it? [what constitutes success? What are our measurable goals and metrics?]

Underpinning the design framework are my guiding principles.