Iterative Design — A refinement methodology

Iterative design is a way of constantly and continuously developing and refining a design at each successive stage. This is all based on feedback and evaluation given by the clients for the designs.

It can be understood as a process of creating, designing and testing a product repeatedly at different stages to eliminate usability flaws before the product is launched.

Iterative designs ensures polished results and has scope for improvement. It is flexible and feasible to make changes, easily, without having to go through any trouble.

Typically, there is a procedure that is followed to create an iterative design.

  • The first step of creating a design is to draft an interface. This is the initial interface developed, which then is improved.
  • Then the first initial interface created is tested by a small group of users, who provide inputs related to any issues and faults in the design. They critically analyse and note these problems, which are refined in the later stages.
  • The third step is to eliminate the issues that are noted in the previous step.
  • This cycle is repeated a few times until a final, issue free, interface is created.
  • The last step is implementing the design. This is the step that defines the usability of the design.

The main reason why an iterative design is helpful and important is because it keeps the clients in the loop since the very first stage of development till the last.

It allows teams to reduce usability issues and create an extraordinary User experience through a great User interface.

Another advantage of an iterative design is that, the cost of eliminating and refining the design at every stage is very minimal and a range of Wireframing and prototyping tools can be used.

Iterative design, now, has been increasingly used by many companies and developers. Example of such are as follows:

  • Wiki — A wiki is a natural repository for iterative design. The ‘Page History’ facility allows tracking back to prior versions. Modifications are mostly incremental, and leave substantial parts of the text unchanged.
  • Evolution — There is a parallel between iterative and the theory of Natural Selection. Both involve a trial and error process in which the most suitable design advances to the next generation, while less suitable designs perish by the wayside. Subsequent versions of a product should also get progressively better as its producers learn what works and what doesn’t in a process of refinement and continuous improvement.

Improving the usability of a system is difficult. There continues to be considerable good evidence that the test, make changes, and retest (iterative) approach clearly works. In fact, it continues to be the only evidenced-based way to improve the quality of computer-based systems, including Web sites and web applications. There is no evidence that revising a system based solely on designer observations about needed “improvements,” or user comments actually leads to better user performance or increased user satisfaction.

Here are some simple benefits of the iterative design approach over and above its cost-effectiveness including:

  • It allows for rapid resolution of misunderstandings within the project team and established clarity early in the development lifecycle.
  • It brings out user feedback to ensure that system requirements meet user needs.
  • It can help with client relationships to show the evolution of a design rather than “dumping” a finished product on them.
  • It gives the development team some certainty that their efforts are being focused on adding value for users.
  • It provides regular testing which can provide a strong desired performance framework for acceptance testing.
  • It allows for easy incorporation of “lessons learned” in the final product.
  • It gives stakeholders better visibility of progress at each iteration.

Iterative design allows designers to create and test ideas quickly. Those that show promise can be iterated rapidly until they take sufficient shape to be developed; those that fail to show promise can quickly be abandoned. It’s a cost-effective approach which puts user experience at the heart of the design process.