Allow me to introduce you to my lean & super design cycle used at TheUDDA.com. It is primarily used for quick concept designs. At a glance it probably looks overwhelming, but stick with me for a few minutes and I promise this will be totally worth your time. I am highlighting my key take aways from each section …
1. Project Introduction
This is straight forward … a project has to start somewhere. Usually, it comes in as a creative brief or some kind of organized concept or idea. Our favorite project introduction? The Bar Napkin Pitch, continue below…
1.a The Bar Napkin: This is probably our favorite introduction, generally speaking, this is really a metaphor for concepts without much description. Kind of like a jotted down Eureka. One time we literally had a photo sent to us from one of our enterprise executives with an idea scribbled on a bar napkin to get started with. We thought it was funny and didn’t ask any questions, we got to it.
Why is this our favorite? Because it’s flattering to be trusted to take a loose idea to see what it can potentially grow into. Unlike a fully detailed creative brief, we now have permission to creatively run away with it without restrictions. It doesn’t mean it’s easier, it’s probably more challenging actually … but it’s the kind of challenge we love and excel at with our customers. We also now the client is fishing for ideas and asking for us to come back with something that can inspire the conversation further. If you get a ‘bar napkin’ project … don’t ask questions, just go for it and have fun. Just be sure to come back with something good.
2. Research & Explore
Another straight forward process, but I want to point out a few things we do that set us up for success:
2.a Connect: With any new project we research the people involved, look at their resumes and experience. This gives us insights into potentially certain design ideas that would resonate with them. It’s also a good way to find small talk and conversation starters on topics that interest them, we all have to work together and its good to connect with people on a personal level. Think of it like reconnaissance. If you discover the client is into rock climbing, maybe the demo is centered on a scenario in Bishop … you see what I just did there?
2.b Industry Leaders: Don’t ever use the word “competitors”. But that’s basically what we are talking about. Learn who is being successful with a similar idea and established in the marketplace.
2.c Imagine the Future: Always try to take into consideration how technology or social trends effect the concept.
For example: Big investments are being made in AR technology … I try to imagine how the concept could be used with future technology. What other technology do you see trending?
2.d Method-Designing: This is similar to the idea of method-acting. In which you mentally go deep into the mindset of the potential persona to gain insights on how the interface or technology could improve their experience. We like method-designing because it works for us and for a few moments we get to pretend we are someone else doing a job that we are designing for. This might not work for you, a slower alternative is to create at least two user personas or conduct light interviews for people in the industry.
3. Meet With Team and Client
Keep meetings short and to the point. Each time I come to the meeting I try to make sure I am prepared as expertly as I can. This leads to the following highlight …
3.a Educate: Always bring something to the client that shows you are beginning to understand the subject in a deeper way or new angle. Even if it’s small insight, a small bit of enthusiasm goes a long way to compensate. It’s not always easy to do. I will usually find one area that isn’t completely clear or hard to understand and really dive deep to comprehend it … if you have trouble understanding it, most likely everyone else on the team will too. So if you take the time to really understand an area and then present it in a way that makes it easier for others to understand you will look like a Super-Star. *High fives all around*
Here is an example: When researching a predictive service tool for a utility company I researched a piece of equipment from one of their service stations, went through the service manual, and created a contextual story around that. I literally read the service manual so I could make sure I understood the type of information that an engineer would be considering and looking out for. I even went further to understand the parts and accessibility around it to understand how critical the failure of this part would be and how it would affect the whole machine … and you thought a UX designer just made things look pretty :)
Meeting Pro Tip: Try to record your meetings as needed, I am good at taking notes but this can be a life saver and saves a lot of stress. Especially if I am tired, stressed, having difficulty understanding the client, etc. I hit record knowing I can go back and replay all the feedback. My tools: GoToMeeting or Screenflow
Throwing together a few sketches and rough layouts are simple enough. But there is one thing I always try to do earlier than most designers ... and that is to create at least one flashy design people can drool over.
Flashy Design: Within the 1st or 2nd meeting I like to bring at least one flashy design to the table … if it isn’t good then don’t bother. Pulled off, bringing a flashy design to the table creates excitement, confidence and a visual that people can rally on. It can snowball a lot of momentum. Even if it’s not the final design it gives everyone a taste of possibilities.
5. Design Clarity
After a few design cycles & meetings, a clearer vision of the product should start to come into focus. There are two things I always try to include in my final designs …
5.a Wow Factor: There should at least be two features in the design that can really wow an audience. It’s not always easy to do … but constantly asking yourself these mantras can help:
“Could something be done more interesting?”
“Could there be a better way?”
5.b Go Deep: I remember when I first started working on enterprise applications I would throw a nice colorful bar-graph or pie-chart everywhere I could … my designs did look good but I remember a client asking me: “what do these graphs actually mean? What’s the logic and data behind them?” I’ve come a long way since my gratuitous design days and every graphic, button, and element has a purpose and deeper layer of information around it. Go deep … you don’t have to design every small piece but you should have an understanding of the logic or functionality that makes up every page because chances are, you will be asked about it.
This isn’t about you, although you probably are a design champion, this is about the customer. For the most part, what we do at my company is acting like a secret covert operational team for executives and senior staff. Our job is to give our clients the ammo they need to champion the vision they want to move forward. Hopefully, your designs go forth and inspire, creates new relationships, encourage discussion and ripples around the world.
I hope something from my process gives you some helpful ideas. If you have any tips & tricks you would like to share from your creative process leave them in the comments blow. I look forward to hearing your feedback!