Typically, when a product design falls flat, people want to insert a design process to fix the bad design. However, much like the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, a one-size-fits-all design process does not exist. Don’t force a process on a design team that everyone must follow. Every designer has their own unique way of solving design problems.
Bad product design is fixed by hiring good designers not by adopting a better design process.
I create products and ideas by instinct, derived from my own aesthetic tastes and personal beliefs of how a product should look and feel after I have studied the problem. Here is a loose outline of how I tackle a design problem (just don’t call it a process).
Start with an Idea
You gotta start with an idea of some problem you want to solve. Ideas and problems are abundantly available, just look to friends, personal product experiences, co-workers, user feedback, bugs, anywhere really.
Of course, the most inspired ideas come from the magical space in time between falling asleep and sleeping (if only I could remember them!). The idea should be strong enough to push you to action.
Give the Idea an Inspiration Shower
The seed needs to be soaked in an inspiration shower (patent pending). I hunt the interwebs for cool UI patterns and archive them in a massive PhotoShop file. For example, when working on YouTube TV I grabbed hundreds of examples of future UI from futurists like Jayse Hansen and Neil Huxley. I also explored and downloaded every video centric app for every device and console I own. (side note: current number of devices I own and regularly use is 8. In no particular order, iphone, ipad, nexus 7, apple tv, playstation, xbox, wii, galaxy nexus).
Think Till You Can’t
I let my idea soak until I can clearly picture how to solve the problem. The solution arrives as a clear eureka moment. A eureka moment is pure, and provides an elegant and obvious solution (at least thats how it feels in my brain). The eureka moment comes randomly when I don't expect it. If I sit down and try to force eureka I freeze and end up wasting time.
When eureka doesn’t come, I step back in the inspiration shower for more soaking. I head to a book store or talk the idea over with friends and keep collecting information until I get unblocked on how to solve the problem.
Saturating your mind with inspiration will help your mind find a solution during your sub-conscious thought, leverage those background cycles in the brain to work out your solutions. Your mind will push those solutions forward to your concious mind when they are ready.
Sketching for me is the result of landing on a solution in my mind. I dont sketch to solve the problem, I sketch to describe the solution I see in my mind. I start sketching the entire idea (I prefer 11x17 paper, moleskines are too tiny). As my grandpa always said, If you can draw it, you can build it.
I don’t stop sketching until I transfer the whole system from my mind to paper. I have to understand the big picture of the product first and how every piece fits together. I tend to sketch out little UI patterns like how I would handle large numbers, dates and long titles, trying to solve potential UI issues before I get working on mocks.
Mock in High-Fidelity
Post sketch, I dive right into Photoshop (if there is a big team I will formalize my sketches as wire frames in Illustrator to share with the team, but usually I skip wires and dive straight to hi-fi mocks). I use PhotoShop and layout type, buttons, textures, colors and then start blocking in the UI based on my sketches. Two to three different visual languages and systems tend to emerge from the mocking process.
Share With Everyone
During the mock process one of my master mocks gets me pretty excited and as a way of checking myself I tend to over-share the design and spam all my friends who are online. I rudely interupt people via chat with a link to a mock or visual treatment and simply ask “Thoughts?” I’ll ping whoever I can get my hands on. Before I know it, I have about 10 conversations going on at once gathering tons of immediate feedback from friends.
If I’m really lucky I get a few people to come over to my screen to check out designs. I can feel in the first 5 seconds if they "get it", facial expressions and body language don’t lie. When I have people smiling and super stoked on a design then I personally get stoked and continue to push in that particular direction.
When people check out my work and say "meh" or the non-descriptive “interesting” then I know I blew it and need start over. I rely on the reaction of my peers to know when my design is right.
Build As a Team
Typically a certain design begins to resonate with everyone involved and at some point there is enough momentum to start coding. I love to write core html/css to ensure the design translates as accurately as possible, and allows the engineers to focus on the hard stuff.
Ship and Evaluate
Shipping is the ultimate test of your designs success. Successful design is design that converts. There are only three metrics that truly matter:
1. How many users?
2.How much time do they spend on site? 3.How much revenue do you generate?
Data doesn’t lie. What you build and ship either increases these conversion metrics or decreases them.
Rinse and Repeat
What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. You have to find the flow that works for you, but once you do, share your process with others so they can better understand your working style and how to better work with you.
What’s your design pattern? What works for you? Let me know on twitter here.