Discovery phase of UX Design is the anchor of the experience. The goal is to understand the people that will use the application and understand the value proposition.
It is the time to ask lots of questions:
If we are working with an existing interface, then it is a perfect time to do an extensive heuristic evaluation. A detailed description of all things that seem to be an experience friction.
The concept phase of the project is the time we brainstorm ideas that solve the issues uncovered from the discovery phase. The focus is to generate lots of ideas and dismiss lots of ideas. We might script the story of a user experiencing the application as way to find ideas. We want to be fast so we rely on a pencil (or pen) on paper to sketch the interactions. We are forced to focus on ideas because the details are difficult to work out on a paper.
It takes a team to build an application. Present the best concepts and establish a shared vision. Get the team to engage in the ideas early. It is an opportunity to get a technical validation done and understand how long it will take to develop alternatives. Understand and capture constraints that need to be addressed in the detail design phase. We all have different ideas, but we need one unified vision for the application to succeed. Otherwise, we end up building a hodgepodge of features that we cannot market.
The detail design step of the UX process is the most time consuming. It is best that we are working on the best of ideas. We map the overall application flow and identify all the interaction touch points. We show the first time experience and clearly address user motivation. We show how the experience grows and expands with content. We start with early wireframes and add voice, colors and icons.
People have a hard time giving feedback in the abstract. A deck of design screens does not put the user in the driver seat. The prototype brings things to life and simulates an application. It becomes the medium we use to observe people. The prototype is the tool we use in the usability test.
A usability test with actual users helps us understand the areas that we need to improve on. While we name this step a usability test, we are actually testing for usability and utility. A usability test lets us know if we created an interface that successfully communicates with our user. Is it clear to the user what they can do here? A utility test helps us understand if we created something of value, something a user would actually do. We need to succeed on both ends before we release the application.
The best way to test for usability is to sit back and observe people use the prototype or the application. Before anything is clicked, we ask people to explain what they think each element on the screen does. That will tell us if we successfully created an interface that effectively communicates its features and functionality. Then we proceed with tasks and see if they can be quickly accomplished. A utility test is a conversation at the end, and it starts with the following questions: "Now that you have done this, do you see yourself personally using this in the future?" Our emphasis is on the individual and the doing.
A successful test tells us that we are on the correct track for development or release. A failed test is a learning opportunity.
UX Design process is not a linear process. We frequently move back in the process and anchor the project with more research. We might sketch a new design if we cannot achieve enough success with the usability test.
Projects vary in size and software design never really ends. As soon as we release, we begin to evaluate user impact and make changes. We explore future features and begin to find ways to introduce them in the application. A cooking application (Monj.com) was a 3 months at 3 days/week engagement to launch the V1 of the application. That work scope included product management feature definition, UX design, investor product pitch, and team recruiting. Stubhub Call Center was a much larger undertaking and involved extensive stakeholder and user interviews. The vision pitch portion of the project was 6 month at 3 days/week.
1. Simple. The focus of simple is clarity. We break clarity into - What / How / Why. Is it clear to the user what can be done with the application? Is it clear to the user how they can accomplish the tasks with the interface? Is it clear to the user why they would use such functionality? We slot simple and clarity as our number one UX goal because we know from reviewing data that people walk away from any experience that does not clearly show the value and clearly show how the value can be realized.
One thing to note about simple, our goal is to be simple to the people that will use the application not necessarily simple to the general public. An application created for a structural engineer needs to use the language and terminology that an engineer would understand. The more that we know about the people that will use an application the better we can make it.
2. Fast. People are here to accomplish tasks. The faster the task can be accomplished, the more likely they will be happy with the results and we retain them. A wizard might be simple but it is a painfully slow step-by-step process. This goal goes beyond developing fast technology. This is about creating efficient experiences that predict what people need and presenting it at the appropriate time. Simple experiences bring people in and fast experiences keep them coming back.
3. Smart. Devices can be smart, they can track our location and store our patterns. If a salesperson opens a sales app during a trip to Austin, TX -- more than likely they are visiting a customer in Austin -- lets show them the information about the Austin customer. Not every experience needs to start dumb. Automatic defaults, AI and predictive experiences are all part of the smart UX goal. The more we know about people and their objectives the smarter we can make the experience.
4. Delightful. Delight and beauty is achieved from the harmony of the elements. Software is a commodity, if your app feels nicer and more pleasant to be in then people will use it again and again. Delightful doesn't mean the interface is colorful or pretty. It might be the complete opposite - the interface might be subdued, dull and reserved so that the content people create takes center stage and shines. An interface for a one-time marketing page experience is completely different from an interface for a call-center agent application that is used on a daily basis. A marketing page needs an interface that is immediately discoverable and extend the brand but an interface that is used daily needs to be subdued, move out of the way and help the agent focus on the data. Both are delightful in what they achieve.