The planning stage is about digesting what the ask and requirements are and work towards the best possible outcome for a given project, in order to succeed we're looking at things like time constraint if any, any budget allotted for the project and any additional blockers that may came up during the project. Part of a good UX project is to deliver the best use-centric methodologies following the best practices mentioned above.
It's certainly not an easy task to plan and roll out a new project because there are a number of obstacles that one would need to overcome, things like budget for one, or even the buy-in from executives (it's time for vast majority of companies jump to the UX boat by now, believe it or not, we're into a new decade... 2020 that is), to being armed with the right tools that you know it will get the job done, and choose wisely, because there are a variety of tools that perform the same output, it just comes down if you have a large team that would also need access to the same tools and how are we going to streamline existing or new processes.
By now you've probably seen a number of infographics that illustrate the life-cycle of a product, there are a ton out there to chose from, trust me, you don't want to Google any more options, it becomes too overwhelming and then confusion of which one is the appropriate one to use or not. The process looks something like this; research, design, validate/test, iterate, launch, repeat - or many similar like this one. The fundamental key for all UX projects is that you involve as many users as you possibly can for your design project in some way or another, you will and want to include them, this will help you drive the design of your project. Otherwise, it's not UX, it's just UI.
Don Norman, the grandfather of UX, describes UX as the following (Loranger, 2014) "The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next come simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use". I hope this helps you get going with your UX research, if we need to meet the exact needs of the customer, then we need to listen and empathize with the customer in order to drive the design process. However, let's not forget the need to educate yourself and research on the business goals, objectives, know their audience and do competitive analysis to meet all business requirements. This is where it gets really interesting, you know, for us the designers, because we are then armed with a robust list of features from our scope and test the product with users whether we're on track and aligned with the user needs.
There are a number of characteristics why it is important to include a human-centered approach to our designs, and by following this approach there will be many benefits that come out of this. A few to mention are:
Better products: Yes! we love better products, but how do you know what is a better product, what is the KPI of such project, how do we know users are going to like it and engage with it, what makes it a better product. I know, too many questions, but these will come up at one point in the process whether by your peers or executives and you better be prepared to answer them. However, be sure to include users and design around them (UCD) and I guarantee you that you will have a better product will come out of that.
Iterate sooner, act fast = save money, lots of it: The beauty of design is that you can test and iterate as many time as you need to in the design process, whether it is a wireframe or high fidelity prototype, and make the updates on the fly, or within the hours, or 24 hours, of course, it will depend on each project, but the idea here (hopefully you got it by now!) is that you fix all issues and problems in the design stage rather than fixing issues once the product has launched, it will save you a lot of money. You're welcome!
Make it a team effort: It is paramount that you involve as many players to the project as early as possible because everyone will play a part on it, developers, engineers, product managers, etc. You get it! Everyone plays an important part in the project and it is important that you avoid going over your scope of work timeline and deliver on time. Sure, we all know how long it may take you as a designer or researcher, but don't forget about your teammates.
Choosing The Right UX Tools & Techniques
These are some of the tools and techniques one can follow as a UX designer, you're not required to do all of them (or do), but it should be a guide for your next UX project. Ok, let's go!
User/Stakeholder Interviews: Let's talk about those requirements. This is one of my favorite tools, it is my Swiss knife for everything UX, stakeholders will give you the appropriate direction for your project to help drive the design of your project forward. This is a great way of obtaining information from the user because you get to observe their body language, their facial expressions, their voice, and overall behavior other than just providing input on your questions.
Guerilla Usability Testing: This method is a very informal way of testing your product, it is very fast and efficient when getting results, great for projects that require quick feedback for development work.
Lab/Remote Usability Testing: This one is similar in as the stakeholder interviews in the sense that you get to interact with the user on a 1:1 basis and discuss the project. However, the lab usability testing is meant for the user to test the product in a controlled environment. This is great because you get an immense amount of information as you watch them interact with the product, however, it may not always work for certain organizations due to the budget allowed for user lab testing.
Competitor Benchmarking: Most likely there will be other competitors in the space fighting for a piece of the pie (some bigger, some smaller, a pie is a pie), or maybe even fighting to deserve a seat at the throne (sorry, too much game of thrones here. HODOR!) but the idea here is to understand who your competition is, what are their weaknesses and their strength, a good fighter would have studied their enemy, their moves, etc. So go out there and study your enemy. See, that's what benchmarking is all about.
Analytics: This is the quantitative data everyone mentions so much nowadays, with Analytics if any at your disposal will help you understand how they're using your product, is it mobile, is it a desktop, know your audience more, identifying user behavior and much more.
Surveys: Another one of my favorites are surveys because you collect the information directly from the user and make qualitative and quantitative decisions based on their responses. However, have in mind that depending on how complex your survey gets, the more time it takes to digest all of its information. Having a good understanding of survey best practices will make it a smooth process when decompressing all of its information.
Ideation Workshops: Ideation is the process of bringing ideas to life collectively and determining the best solution(s) to a problem. Depending on how big your team is you would want to include everyone to play part of this exercise, its fun and creative, a lot of good things comes out of this, and be sure you include executives from time to time, sometimes, it is also fun for them too. You see how I said "sometimes"?
Customer Experience Maps: Mindtools has a wealth of information and great examples of customer experience maps (mindtools, 2018)
Personas: These are fictional characters who represent the real users, they help you design around the user and their needs. If you're not able to do research with real users to generate personas from, then creating these fictional characters are a great way to get started.
User Journeys: Part of the user journey is to identify how and what the flow is of our product from the user standpoint, it helps us create better designs that are easy to use and one the user can engage with.
Information Architecture: IA is a blueprint of the design structure which can be generated into wireframes and sitemaps of the project. UX designers use them as the basic materials so that they could plan navigation systems.
Sketching: Also considered as a lo-fidelity prototype, sketching is an easy, fast and convenient way of getting design ideas going, generally these are hand-drawings of a design to help quickly generate and gather feedback on the design process. This is a starting point which helps lead the best ideas forward to wireframing and high fidelity prototypes.
Wireframes: For some (if not most) many skip this step because they rather go to a more hi-fi prototype to help better illustrate the design to executives or clients, unfortunately not many like the ideas of a framework because let's be frank, they don't get it. But, if you can, should you create a wireframe, this will certainly help with testing and IA at first hand, and let's not forget easy to update the screens at a very low cost. If you approach it from an angle of 'time saving + $ saving' to an executive, you're in good hands and they'll most certainly adopt this process.
Prototypes: Design anyone? Mocking up the ideas quickly in an interactive way to bring design to life is a great way to engage the users and provide a shared understanding and direction of the design. This is a good way to create a testing environment and fix any issues early in the game.
So, what would you design next and would you follow any of these steps in your future planning? I sure hope so. Happy planning UXers!
This blog post was inspired by the book "Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experience." I highly recommend reading the entire book, it's a goldmine.
Loranger, H. (2014, August 10). UX Without Users Is Not UX. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ux-without-user-research/
(mindtools, 2018) https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_85.htm