UX Process: What It Is, What It Looks Like and Why It’s Important
As a UX designer, I am sure you have been asked many times “What is your UX design process? What and how many steps does it have?” There is a simple reason why this question so popular among designers: UX process is a cornerstone of UX design, it’s a make-it-or-break-it aspect of UX design. Without a solid UX design process, a designer could be completely moving in the dark. A clear and concise UX process, on the other hand, makes it possible to craft amazing experiences for users.
In this article, we’ll define a general UX design process, as well as the order in which specific UX phases should be taken. We will also see what methods can be used by UX designers during each phase.
What Does a UX Process Look Like?
The answer to this question is: it depends. A UX design process is something that everyone has in the UX industry, but something that everyone does differently. This happens because UX process depends heavily on the project. Different projects require different approaches: the approach to a corporate website differs from the way we design a dating app. And while there are some practices UX designers should follow for each project (such as conduct product research before moving on to prototyping), there are principles in every part of the process that have to be custom designed for the specific project.
UX Process Overview
At its core, every UX process should consist of the following 5 key phases:
1. Product Definition
One of the most important phases in UX design is actually done before the UX design process even starts. Before you can build a product, you need to understand its context for existence. Product definition phase sets the stage for the success of a product. During this phase, UX designers brainstorm the product at the highest level (basically, the concept of the product) with stakeholders.
This phase usually includes:
- Stakeholders interviews: Interviewing key stakeholders in a project to gather insights about their goals. Defining the goals and values of the product that you would like to build is a key driver for a results-driven process.
- Create value proposition: Value proposition maps out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it’s for and when/where it will be used. Value proposition helps the team and stakeholders create consensus around what the product will be.
- Concept sketching: Creating an early mockup of what the team is looking to build.
- Project kickoff meeting: The kickoff meeting brings all the key players together to set proper expectations both for the team and stakeholders. It covers the high-level outline of the product purpose, who is involved in designing and developing the product, how they will work together, and what stakeholders expectations are (such as KPI and how how the success of the product should be measured).
2. Product Research
Once the product idea is defined, product research (which naturally includes user and market research) provides the other half of the foundation for great design. Good research informs your product and the fact that it comes early in design process save a lot of resources (time and money) further down the road (as fewer adjustments will need to be made).
The product research phase is probably the most variable between projects — the phase varies based on the complexity of the product, timing, available resources and many other factors. This phase can include:
- Individual in-depth interviews (or IDI): A great product experience starts with a good understanding of the users. Not only do UX designers want to know who their users are, but designers want to dive deeper into their needs, fears, motivations, and behavior.
- Competitive research: A comprehensive analysis of competitor products maps out their existing features in a comparable way. Research helps UX designers understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given area.
The aim of the Analysis phase is to draw insights from data collected during the Product Research phase. Capturing, organizing and making inferences from the “what” users want/think/need can help UX designers begin to understand the “why” they want/think/need that. During this phase, designers confirm that the most important assumptions being made are valid.
This phase usually includes:
- Create hypothetical personas: Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a product in a similar way. The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of the key audience segments for reference.
- Create experience maps: An experience map is an important design tool to understand the product/service interactions from users’ point of view. An experience map is basically a visual representation that illustrates user flow within a product/service. A basic experience map just follows one path (one user, one goal, one scenario) even when the product/service allows multiple path variations.
When user expectations from the product are established (it’s clear what their goals are and how they like to operate with it), UX designers move to the design phase. An effective design phase is both highly collaborative (it requires input from all team players involved in product development) and iterative (meaning that it cycles back upon itself to validate ideas and assumptions).
The design phase usually includes:
- Sketching: Sketching is the easiest way of visualizing our ideas. Drawing by hand is also the fastest way to visualize a concept — it allows the designer to visualize a broad range of design solutions before deciding which one to stick with.
- Create wireframes: A wireframe is a visual guide that represents the page structure (hierarchy and key elements). Wireframing acts as the backbone of the product — designers often use them as the skeletons for mockups.
- Create prototypes: If wireframes are mostly about structure and visual hierarchy (look), then prototypes are about interaction experience from it (both look and feel). A prototype is a simulation of the product, commonly using clickable wireframes.
- Create a design specification: Design specifications usually consist of user flow and task flow diagrams which outline the functionality and style requirements of the product. Design specifications describe the processes and graphical assets needed to make a working product.
5. Validation (Testing)
Usually, the validation phase starts when the high-fidelity design is fleshed out. A product is validated with stakeholders and end-users through the series of user testing sessions.
Similar to the product research phase, this phase is also variable between projects. Validation phase can include:
- “Eat your own dogfood:” Once the design team has iterated the product to the point where it’s usable, testing it with the product team is a great low-cost validation technique.
- User testing sessions: User testing sessions serve as a validation of design, based on tests with real users.User testing sessions have a lot of forms, some of the most popular are usability testing, focus groups, beta testing, A/B testing, and surveys.
- Create user diaries: User diaries are great at capturing an information from real-world users. Using Google Docs, UX designers can create a simple template and then include open-ended questions such as: Where were you when using the product? What tasks did you hope to achieve? Do you have something that frustrated you?
- Metrics analysis: Numbers provided by an analytics tool about how a user interacts with your product: clicks, navigation time, search queries etc. Metrics can also “uncover the unexpected”, surfacing behaviors that are not explicit in user tests.
- Working with feedback from users: Feedback data such as support tickets, bug reports, and other analytics are able to drive product refinement.
How To Improve UX Design Process
Now you’ve seen how each phase is connected to each other, let’s consider some helpful tips for improving the UX design process:
Consider Overlap Between Phases and Iterations
It’s important to understand that UX design isn’t a linear process. The phases of the UX process often have considerable overlap and usually there’s a lot of back-and-forth. As the UX designer learns more about the problem being solved, the users and details about the project (especially, constraints), it may be necessary to revisit some of the research undertaken or try out new design ideas.
The Importance of Communication
Communication is a key UX design skill. While doing great design is one thing, communicating great design is equally as important, as even the best concepts will fail if they don’t accept by the team and stakeholders. That’s why the best UX designers are great communicators.
Processes Morph To Fit Projects
UX designers should be flexible with every project — the process employed should be tailored to fit specific project needs, both business and functional. A process tailored to the capabilities of the business and the clients proved to be generally effective.
When it comes to UX design process, there’s no one fits all solution. But whether your UX process lightweight or it’s full of a lot of activities, the goal of each UX design process is the same — create great a product for your users. Thus, use what works the best for your project, get rid of the rest, and evolve your UX process as your product evolves.