The process that I follow has evolved over the years. It has a foundation in Software Engineering, with the User Experience activities built on top of it. It’s an amalgamation of the best aspects of both the Software Development Life Cycle and the User Experience Project Road map.
The initial step for any project is the requirements phase. Gathering Requirements from stakeholders and users, organizing the requirements in terms of importance, identifying the feasibility and the risks involved. Not only is understanding the requirements important, but also the limitations that you have to work with. This improves coordination between the designers and the developers.
This process can be augmented with some brainstorming and visioning. Its better to have some ideas to begin with.
To be the man, you gotta beat the man!
Products do not exist in isolation. You need to know how your competitors aim to solve the problem you’re trying to solve. It’s important to know what they are doing, what they are getting right, and what they are getting wrong, in order to make something better.
Understanding the User – Persona Creation
Understanding users is considered one of the key steps towards a better UX, but it is important not to go overboard. There is a need to highlight what is important, and how this knowledge can be used to create intuitive solutions. Excessively detailed personas can be very confusing and even misleading. Scenarios that go with the personas are useful as well, as they bring together the user and the features of the system in a way that helps inform the design.
One important thing to note however, is that UX design requires a Design Persona and not a Marketing Persona. The key difference between the two is that while a Marketing Persona focuses on the demographics and type of customer, a design persona focuses on user goals, and attempts to describe why people do what they do. While creating a Design Persona, the focus should be on user goals, the pain points they face, and their current behavior. The Design Personas should also reflect patterns that are observed in the initial research.
They key aim of a Design Persona is to help everyone involved in the development and design process to understand, relate to, and remember the end user through the entire development process.
To create the user profiles, contextual interviews can be conducted. Gathering data through surveys and questionnaires is also helpful.
Conceptualizing the User Experience
Identifying key issues and improving upon them can only be done when we understand how the user perceives the system and its features. This also helps create a plan of action for the project.
This can be done with expert reviews, heuristic evaluations and cognitive walkthroughs to understand the key issues the existing application has.
After gathering data about how users perceive the system, creating an information architecture that takes into account their mental models is created. This also helps define the hierarchy of content.
Low Fidelity Prototyping
Once the content hierarchy is defined, it needs to be validated. This is done using sketching and creating wireframes. This is a time for brainstorming design ideas.
Testing the Concept- Formative Testing
Now that a low fidelity prototype is created, it is essential to gather user feedback. This is formative testing, and card sorting can be used.A test structure is formed, and a pilot test is conducted. The feedback is used to improve upon the low fidelity prototype as it is easier to make changes at this stage rather than at the later stages of development and design.
High Fidelity Prototyping
Once the formative tests are conducted it is time to create a high fidelity interactive prototype. This is essential for the next stage – Usability Testing.
Usability Testing – Summative Testing
Usability Testing is one of the most important steps in the design process. First, the scenarios and user profiles/personas are used to create a list of tasks that the participants are to perform. Then, a test plan is developed that outlines the entire test process from start to finish. Users are recruited carefully, with the software system and it’s target users in mind.
It is also important to know what kind of data you will be gathering. Qualitative data is rich and can provide insights, but qualitative data provides numbers and statistics that hold a lot of weight. Gathering the right mix of quantitative and qualitative data to suit your requirements is essential. It is also essential that the data is free of any biases and negative effects that can be caused by recruiting the wrong participants, or having a sub-optimal testing plan.
A pilot test should be conducted to make sure the test plan and the technology used to conduct the test works flawlessly. Recording your tests in terms of audio and screen capture helps maintain an archive, but it is not always essential.
Iterating the Design
It is important to create the high fidelity prototype using tools that help you generate quick iterations, to make changes fast. This is because most software development teams use the agile methodology. Tools like Sketch and Axure are popular, but the de-facto standard is still the Adobe suite- Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Illustrator.