Method & Process
I'm constantly asked as a designer to justify my design rationale to clients, stakeholders or other designers. It is a major part of being a designer and a common part of the business when seeking to provide argumentation-based structure for the collaborative process of working through visual problems.
I eventually realized that people who aren't visual thinkers, think more analytically and look for reasons. Some people want an explanation in order to better understand visual design decision outcomes.
I have good news! There truly is meaning to the madness. I've put together a page on my website to outline the methods and processes that I personally use. Every designer is different in their approach to creating and designing but there are some common (and not so common) ways that I approach design. Some clients want to jump around in this process, and that is fine. It's not set in stone but gives a framework and is flexible.
Here is a not-so-secret, secret. All of the top companies in the world are utilizing the power of 'Design Thinking' to gain success through innovative iteration. You might have heard of a few of them such as Apple, Samsung, Capital One, IBM, Bose, Airbnb, Microsoft, Lego, BMW and the list goes on. When done right, it can have profound implications to not only a project's success but also have major revenue increases that lend to a business jumping way ahead of the competition.
Design thinking starts with understanding the user's needs. Who is this for and why do they need it? Relevancy for the audience is vital. It goes further in regards to making sure whatever is created will actually fulfill the goals for the target audience on as many levels as possible. We will have discussions on the wants, needs, intentions, and expectations for the end users. We also discuss the business goals and expectations. A good designer knows what questions to ask and how to bridge this connection with results-driven design. A strong designer will make sure they are empowering the user while helping the business to achieve it's projected goals of satisfying their customers.
During the define stage, we put together the information that has been created and gathered during the empathy stage. In some cases, a company will have a researcher or business analyst who collects and presents the findings. We will analyze the observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems. It is best to define the problem statement in a human-centered manner.
The defining stage will help us gather ideas to establish features, functions, and any other elements that will allow us to solve the problems or, at the very least, allow users to resolve issues themselves with the minimum of difficulty. In the defining stage, we will start to progress to the third stage, ideate, by asking questions which can help us look for ideas for solutions.
We can start to identify new solutions to the problem statement that has been created, and we can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem. Brainstorming is used to stimulate free thinking and to expand the problem space. It is important to get as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase. Knowing what needs to be designed and getting to the final design are two entirely separate things. Ideation is the process by which we as a team can generate the ideas that get from the starting line to the finishing line. It is also a way we create the hypothesis that will drive the first design iteration.
After creating a sitemap structure with information architecture, we can now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the design or specific features found within the design. Wireframes and prototypes may be created then shared and reviewed within an internal group or in other departments, or tested on a small group of people outside of the business. We get into the experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages.
The solutions are implemented within the prototypes and, one-by-one, they are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected on the basis of the users’ goals and needs. We also want to identify any constraints inherent within the design, the problems that are present, and have a better/more informed perspective of how real users would behave, think, and feel when interacting with the end design.
I can't state enough how important testing is for the success of a design or user experience. Here we can find the 'disasters' and 'hard stops' in usability testing that can be quickly identified and more importantly, fixed. This is an iterative process that will support the design or show the gaps and pitfalls that we can address sooner than later to achieve a minimal viable product (MVP) of success for both the target audience and in turn the business. Also, the results from the testing phase may reveal some insights about users, which in turn may lead to another brainstorming session (ideation) or the development of new prototypes.
Without overwhelming you, here is a broad listing of more of the design methods, principles or rationale that I personally use with my design approach. Some of these methods utilize the studies and findings from 'Gestalt Principles' that are related to cognitive psychology and the way that the human mind connects pieces to create structure, groupings and biased meaning in the world. A good designer will understand the underlying principles as to how a human brain perceives the world. Here is a good test, ask a designer to name just one Gestalt Principle and then have them describe what that principle means. If they can't, well, you might want to find one that can if you want to trust them with your projects. I would be more than happy to discuss any of the listed items below and how they relate to my design approach. (not in any specific order)
In a world of constant change and with only a split second to interpret visual information before we interact with our environment, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of a visual system capable of providing an accurate representation of objects and events instantly.
The capacity to analyze visual information and convert it into an accurate mental representation in an instant allows us to rapidly scan our surroundings for elements that are necessary for our current aims and objectives. So what is doing the 'converting'? A brain.
Through extensive HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and Gestalt Cognitive Psychology training, I realized that I'm not just designing for people. I'm designing for neurological beings. I'm designing for the brain. So when it comes to web design and complex problems, I tend to use the power of 'Reductionism' along with Gestalt Principles.
Simply put, I try to find the most simplistic way to define something complex, then in doing so, build up from that standpoint to create identifiable structures and groupings. Why? Because people value relatable simplicity and it's a large part of my job as an effective designer to create clarity which is done through appropriate design language. A great example of reductionism to understand web design is from Brad Frost and his creation of 'Atomic Design' principles. A truly knowledgeable designer will realize they are actually designing for a brain and people's psychology.
Why simplicity? My approach has to do with cognitive load and alleviating it when possible through design. A good user experience involves a high-level summary of content allowing the user to dive in deeper into the content. I use hierarchical and prioritization approaches when designing. Minimalism is connected to this approach, yet there is a balance of clean and contemporary while not boring the viewer. Keeping the user engaged and their attention active is a fine balancing act that an expert designer will help achieve.
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