Designing a Giant
How my small team designed a gargantuan product
A few weeks ago we handed over the first phase of a humongous (and I mean humongous) project. And while the client is as nice as they come, this project was monstrous in it’s enormity: it felt like being snowed-in in a hotel after watching The Shining.
And since it’s October, I figured this should be a Halloween flavored case study 🎃😉
The Challenge — The Project
We were to design the experience & interface of two platforms for public voting and ideation; one for private companies and one for government sector in KSA. Along with an admin dashboard for each platform.
Innocently, I was glad no one mentioned branding or identity design😅 bring it, world!
Monster #1: The Scope👹 — Any Psychics in the house?
“the way things should be and the way things are hardly ever get together.”
Several internal meetings, discovery meetings & an inbox full of supporting documents later we ended up with a vague idea of the project’s real size and a somewhat clear understanding of the client’s vision. The problem was to arrange all that in a comprehensive way in order to be able to choose the correct UX activities and therefore draw the timeline correctly.
What I learned: you can plan the timeline for any big project accurately up until wireframing phase. That’s when all requirements, research results & possibilities are applied and you can never guess how long that may take before you do anything because you don’t know how big “it” may be…
Monster #2: UX Research & Design — It begins 👻
“He felt that he had unwittingly stuck his hand into The Great Wasps’ Nest of Life.”
Here’s how it goes: to build a successful product it has to be functional, beautiful & tailor-made for target audience.
My team’s collective skills are enough to build a gorgeous product that works perfectly, but it could end up as a big FAIL if we don’t consider the real needs of those who will actually use it.
To empathize with users we need personas; and while we have our assumptions based on info provided by the client we can’t build an entire product based on an assumption now, can we?
Therefore we needed to do a round of user interviews to validate those assumptions. (Actually a lot more than that 😳, see below).
Add to that a full-on competitor analysis by none other than our chief UX Specialist, and a complicated looking Service Blueprint done by our UX Lead because honestly no one else could do it even with the nice miro template.
It did not stop there, of course. We still needed to know how these personas will use the products. so…
Everything went lightning fast, we were on a roll..until we got to wireframing phase. Seriously, the minimum number of screens required to cover all content & needs was ridiculous.
Most importantly, we planned to do a usability testing round on the 2 most critical of the 4 products prototypes before we start with UI. It’s no joke changing critical system structure when you’re well into UI design.
So in 2 months, we managed to finish all 4 prototypes, get feedback from client, fix, perform user testing, analyze results, fix again.
Then it was my turn.
Biggest Monster: UI & Interaction Design — didn’t I do this yesterday?
“Flakes of snow swirled and danced across the porch. The Overlook faced it as it had for nearly three-quarters of a century, its darkened windows now bearded with snow, indifferent to the fact it was now cut off from the world… Inside its shell the three of them went about their early evening routine, like microbes trapped in the intestine of a monster.”
But it wasn’t just me, it was me & the junior designer. And it was my job to build the design system, design my fair share of screens, review the junior designer’s work, design microinteractions and prepare all that for implementation.
It took a long time and tried me repeatedly because I was thrown face first into situations I never had to even think about before…but we managed to finish it. And the client was really impressed with the final results.
I learned SO MUCH.
What I learned during UI phase equals what I learned in all previous ones put together:
- Don’t think that your design system is done before you start UI design. Something will always come up and you’ll need to add stuff.
- Giving feedback is a science. I had to learn how to do it correctly before I did it because this is the first time I mentor someone while working on a client’s project with a deadline looming in the horizon. I suggest reading Kim Scott’s Radical Candor. It’s worth every penny but you must practice. it isn’t easy.
- Sketch & InVision are each visual designer’s best friends. Especially in small teams when most work needs to be automated somehow.
Sketch is my go to design tool because of it’s support of design systems, amazing symbol functionality and plugins to automate so much work & power-up your process. InVision, is the second tool I can’t live without; seamless integration with Sketch. Extremely handy Inspect for handover. Data & prototyping. It’s all in there.
- It’s ok to be independent and self-reliant. But a designer always should know when to ask for help. That it’s OK to ask for help. And how to do so.
We Came, We Designed, We Conquered — final results
“It could be a work of fiction, or history, or both — a long book exploding out of this central place in a hundred directions.”
February to September. 200+ screens. 4 Platforms. UX, UI & everything in between. Desktop & Mobile.
Phase 1 is now history. The client is satisfied. We all learned so much. But both we and the client understand that no amount of testing will be like reality..when users begin to use the product in their day-to-day activities.
Trick or Treat? — Tools & Resources🍭
I have no candy for you but I have some killer tool/ plugin recommendations and some downloadable resources. Happy Halloween!
- Miro: my team’s shared white board and playground. We used it for everything from personas to a full design sprint.
We are a remote team working from 4 different countries, how else can we do any UX activity?
Realtime collaboration + ready templates for UX activities. Winner.
Team Collaboration Software | Miro, formerly RealtimeBoard
Scalable, secure, cross-device and enterprise-ready team collaboration whiteboard for distributed teams. Join 2M+ users…
3. Notion for document management & microinteractions handover: literally the most powerful doc you’ll ever see. The way docs are related just makes sense and the ability to embed videos & code made microinteractions handover much easier. Coda is a free alternative.
4. UX activity templates: You can just use miro
You probably noticed that UX activities mentioned in this case study lead to external links where you can learn about the activity and sometimes download a ready template. You’re welcome!
Disclaimer: I openly use The Shining theme in this post because it’s the single most terrifying book I ever read. The book is by Stephen King. The Movie is by Warner Bros. I own nothing but my own story.
P.S: This case study focuses on activities I contributed to. The full story is much longer. I don’t show any photos of actual work because we have NDAs 😇
Until the next case study. Lots of Love and #keepdesigning.