Whenever I look at a new project and I’m mapping a process to the task in hand, I’m reminded of those cutlery deniers in the Matrix. There is no user experience design process.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few processes to choose from. It’s easy to argue that user experience design doesn’t follow process, because really, as Chandra Harrison pointed out the other day, the process is really user-centred design. User experience is really, well, the user experience. Except, I call myself a user experience designer, and when it comes to ‘designing stuff’ that addresses user needs, identifies requirements, suggests solutions, optimises performance, but also needs to be designed efficiently, predictably, and consistently, there’s got to be a reference model for how a design project runs. Well, I say there’s got to be, it’s more like there should be.
Building a design framework
Whatever process you use, if you’re just using one, that seems to work for everything, it might not really work for anything. At least, it might have worked for one thing, but a singular success does not necessarily define a re-usable method. Much better to understand and review previous design projects to understand which approaches worked best in specific instances and then build a design framework that actually supports building your own, modular process to support multiple projects.
There’ll be traditional activities in there, identified from the ground up, like research, design workshops, competitive analysis, wireframing, persona definition, prototyping, and so on. There’ll also likely be a more generic process pathway within which those activities sit. Think ‘discovery’, ‘ideation’, ‘visualisation’, that kind of thing. How you put your framework together largely depends on what kind of projects you, or your organisation, run, but you’ll only know what the elements are if they’re based on a thorough understanding of prior and planned work. How rigid the resulting framework is will depend on your client mix and how diverse your projects are. The flexibility in how you allow staff to pick the best, most relevant elements and roll their own process to suit those clients and projects, is what makes your framework delightful, rather than frightful.
I should point out that everywhere I’ve worked as a designer in the last 15 years or so has had a project on the go to build the framework I’m talking about. The ones that don’t work tend to focus on deliverables between activities and phases. The ones that work better tend to be more focused on the definition of the activities themselves and what value they add. And, of course, they’re probably redundant anyway, since lean and agile anti-processes are surely going to take over the world. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the next one. I’ll let you know how it goes.