How Great UX Drives Great Ideas

More often than not, when meeting with a client about a new or existing product, I focus my communication around the importance of user-centered design (UCD) and user experience (UX). While eye-opening creative design is a great talking point, I push to make it a secondary topic and focus on what is most-important: the product. It's not long into an initial "idea" discussion before I am asked what UCD / UX really means and why it is so important when designing a digital product. Therefore, I figured this would be a solid topic to kick off my blog with and help viewers understand the importance of learning the needs of a user and incorporating them into successful design solutions.

UX projects are a lot of fun, but very detailed and can be costly if proper planning hasn't happened. Don't get me wrong, a napkin sketch can become a beautiful reality but if the right techniques, guidelines, and practices aren't in place, it can be a long, bumpy, and expensive road. There are dozens of amazing books that cover common / proper UX techniques, many which have educated and inspired me along my journey to this day, but what I want to focus on is a 10,000 foot view that is much more digestible for the average consumer.

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Personally, I think great design is born from great research and understanding. When appropriate, I try to look at my clients like a new book. From the outside, I can make my assumptions based on what I see, but that is not a fair representation of what is really inside. As I "read" through the "Table of Contents" (initial client meeting), I have an idea of what this book is going to tell me; giving me further insight to what I'm about to read. But it's not until I actually start digging through the chapters that I uncover what this book is about (what is the product or product idea), and what grips me and keeps me from putting it down (unique qualities / features and goals). Fortunately, for UX projects (especially for start-ups and new products), there are no spoilers that give away the ending and trying to jump to the last chapter in efforts to skip through the journey (chapters) is only going to make things more confusing, frustrating and complicated and you'll end up spending more time and money to realign everything.

It's safe to say that my clients don't always have things flushed out (or else why would they be coming to me?) but they at least have a goal or mission in mind and look to me to provide the right amount of energy, creativity, and expertise to turn their idea into a reality. Here's a look at what you can expect from me on a UX project:

Stage 1: Discovery + Research

Who are you, what are you looking to do, and why does it matter? I want to get to know you and your business, product or idea and understand where you want to go. I take a lot of pride in what I do and feel that I can provide the best outcome when I have a full understanding of who I am working with, what excites them, and how we can work together to bring their visions to life. This stage includes things like stakeholder interviews, collaborative requirements workshops, competitive analysis, customer mapping, user journeys, personas and information architecture.

Stage 2: Prototyping + Design

In all fairness, this step encompasses a dozen or so small stages that add up to the big picture so I will spare you the details. This is obviously a very collaborative stage that incorporates things like lean usability testing, ideation workshops, sketching, wireframing, and interactive prototyping. Our mission is to take everything we discovered and mapped out in Stage 1 and implement it alongside of users, peers, and other testers. For larger-scale projects, I typically utilize the Agile methodology (as opposed to Waterfall) as it allows for us to pivot along the away (hence the word "Agile") as opposed to the Waterfall approach where activities flow from one stage to the next and there is little-to-no room to pivot or change course along the way. Markets, time, people, and needs can change at a moments notice during the creation of a new application. Allowing for some wiggle room and a more cyclical approach to testing and refinement typically allow us to get roadblocks out of the way and get to market faster.

Stage 3: Validation + Iteration

Now that the rigorous design process is done (or is it...?) we can start the process of validating whether our efforts are actually going to work for our intended audience. Chances are, at first swing, we didn't hit the nail straight on the head and drive it in perfectly. In all reality, this is to be expected so let's flip our hammers around, pry up and straighten the nail we just jacked sideways, check our grip and alignment, and take another swing at it. Each swing, whether driving the nail in perfectly straight or not is still progressing us forward and that's what matters as long as we continue to push the research, design, and test cycle and consult the end user of the product as often as possible.

While I only covered a small snippet of UCD and UX, I hope it's helped educate you on what it means to really get behind an idea, understand the needs of the business and users, and align it properly in the market. As I mentioned above, there are a variety of small, necessary steps during all 3 stages that help us gather crucial information and insight and apply it accordingly. Bringing an idea to life is more than great branding and beautiful graphics; it has to start with the user. UX is a very fast-growing focus area in the world of digital design. I make an effort to educate myself on the evolving world of UX on a daily basis so my clients can reap the benefits. It is very rewarding to work alongside people and help solve their problems. I am a people person so learning about the people I design for is one of many benefits (and advantages) of my profession. 

What can I learn about you? Hire me for your next project and let's find out!