Victor Papanek (1985) once said that “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.” In simple language it means that the design should be meaningful, which implies that if we design a product in a way that is easy for users to use and can help them achieve their goals, they will be satisfied and happy.
Planning and designing a product requires significant efforts and collaboration of the design and product teams. You can streamline the whole procedure by following a design process which will keep you aligned with the end user goals.
This blog discusses various aspects of the design process and some of the practical methods used in it. It elaborates on why communication within the team and with the users plays an important role in the product life cycle. It explains how design artifacts, specifically stories, and prototypes are utilized as a medium of communication. It also touches on topics like Lo-Fi prototype, its comparison to Hi-Fi prototype.
For a designer to be able to explain his work clearly and convincingly, it is very crucial to communicate the ideas and thought process behind the work, be it with the team, the organization or with the end users. Erickson in his notes on design practice mentioned “communication-oriented model of design”, according to which design artifacts such as prototypes, user interviews, scenarios etc can be presented to the audience using appropriate communication medium.
Information needs to be communicated in every phase of the design process. For instance during the initial stages of the design process like information gathering, definition phase, we find answers to questions like why are we doing this? Why does it matter to the user?.
The main goal is to understand the usage domain and keep everyone in the team on the same page with a common vision towards achieving the end goal.
After the information is gathered, it goes through the refinement cycle in which the design team develops many design solutions iteratively in order to come up with a user interface design that fits perfectly with the use case. Some users are involved in this phase for continuous feedback and once the changes and the modifications are done the information is shared with the people who will implement it in the product so that the crucial information is sustained.
Design Artifacts — Medium of Information Sharing
To make the design process a success it is essential to understand the user goals and use that understanding in the creation of a design solution that satisfies these goals while also addressing the business goals and the technical constraints. Through design artifacts, the aggregated data and hypothesis made from the user research can be communicated to the team(s) associated with the product development. These design artifacts such as narrative stories, scenarios, and prototypes are crucial to build a shared understanding.
User stories are informally phrased requirements which do not describe the user’s entire workflow in a big picture. They are often about a typical situation. These are mostly used in agile software development. Generally, a user story consists of a short sentence like “ As a user, I would like to log in to my online campus connect account ”. A story should be phrased such that the listener can recognize common events and relate it to real life scenarios and come up with his own version of that story.
User stories are helpful in communicating the requirements from a user’s perspective to the team building the product because typically user stories are associated with particular situations or findings. So once a good understanding of the research is achieved and documented through stories, refinement can be done through prototyping. Also creating user stories do not require any prior design related knowledge.
The refinement phase is marked by the translation of user stories into prototypes which depicts the user interface i.e how the product will look after the development. During the prototype phase, every possible view should be designed in order to present a complete picture of the design with the development team and how it fits into the end user goals. There are various types of prototypes amongst which Lo-Fi prototype is highly recommended and easy to built and use.
Mark Rettig in Prototyping for Tiny Fingers elaborates on how important it is to make a Lo-Fi prototype by giving an example of how a development team spends weeks designing an interface, drawing sketches and finally executing the result after which they go through an evaluation phase in which they are again asked to make changes.
He barely has time to incorporate those changes. On the other hand, a development team after gathering the requirements construct a paper prototype of their initial thinking and test it with beta users. They note the changes suggested and redesign the interface and repeat the process under the allotted time period. Now the team has revised the design many times and tested it with beta users.
Lo-Fi prototyping works because it effectively educates developers to have a concern for usability and formative evaluation and because it maximizes the number of times you get to refine your design before you must commit to code.
On the other hand, Hi-Fi prototypes have problems such as they take a long time to build and iterate whereas the goal of the prototype is to iterate as quickly as possible. Moreover, a single bug in Hi-Fi prototype brings testing to a complete halt.
For any team to be agile, it is essential to communicate their ideas. This will enable them to quickly build a product and also stay aligned to end user goals.
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