For an effective you need to constantly ponder one : “How does this help me get to a solution?”

Design is not simple. At every step of the process there are dozens of activities you could be doing. When you need to learn about the problem space, you have a binder full of exploratory research techniques to employ. When you start transitioning your research data into an analysis document, you need to decide how to capture everything you learned. When it’s time to create draft solutions, you can choose any number of tools and approaches to capture your thinking.

For every tool, methodology, and technique out there you can find several thousand advocates telling you why you should be using it. There are myriad blog posts and twitter threads selling us on the virtue of one approach over another. With all this chatter and noise in the world, how do you possibly choose what you should use for a particular project?

Since there is no ‘one’ answer for every situation, you need a touchstone. You need something that can keep you grounded and thinking about the context of your particular project. For me, I look at what I call ‘The question of design process’. Whenever I am about to embark on an activity or plan out a project, I continually ask one question to make sure I am setting out on the right path:

“How does this help me move towards a solution?”

That’s it. It’s simple but something that I still have to force myself to consider nearly every project. And asking this question repeatedly will have lots of positive implications on your product.

Intentional Effort

The high-level goal of everything we do is to get a product or service in the hands of users to make a positive impact in their lives (and the world at large). This is really the point of the eternal question. Every work activity we engage in should be driven towards that goal (socializing, networking, etc.. fill other personal life goals and are also important, but not related to the point). Activities that don’t help us achieve that goal are time wasters and can lead to inferior, more costly products.

How many meetings have we all toiled through with no tangible impact on the product? If you want to get rid of meeting waste, start with the eternal question. If you schedule a meeting, declare in the invite what you intend to accomplish (the goal of the meeting) and make sure you accomplish that. If you can’t come up with a great goal, that might be a good indication that your meeting will not be helping you come to a solution.

If you schedule a meeting, declare in the invite what you intend to accomplish (the goal of the meeting) and make sure you accomplish that.

If you are invited to a meeting, ask the meeting owner what the goal is. If they can’t come up with one, push back on the reason for the meeting. If they have one that doesn’t involve your skill set or may not have tangential relationship to helping you move towards a solution, it’s probably a good idea to sit it out. Both of these are a bit uncomfortable actions to take, but they will help the team over all.

Similarly when you are planning out an activity, consider what you will do with the information. For example, let’s say that you are ready to do some research. You gather some people together and hold some interviews. You decide that journey maps have been useful for you in the past, and figure that’s a good way to capture what you learn. Now think towards the next step. What will that journey map help you accomplish? How will this move you closer to a solution?

If you don’t have a clear idea in your head, perhaps the journey map is not the right decision for this project. Maybe you should be capturing your insights in another manner. Focusing on the eternal question helps prevent the production of artifacts for the sake of producing artifacts. Every thing you generate should have a purpose, whether it is to communicate, to drive a decision, or persuade someone on a course of action. It is important to move forward with intent rather than aimlessly wander through product design.

Tool Quality Check

Asking the eternal question also provides a bit of a quality check on the tools that you are using. At one company, I had been creating personas on my projects but not really deriving much value from them. For each project I did, they became more of a check-the-box activity than an actual value add.

Rather than assume that personas as a whole were bad (which is the easy conclusion to reach), I re-evaluated how I was using them and tried to understand why they were not helping me transition my research insights into design.

This led me to scrap the persona framework I had been using and redesign how I fit them into my process. I started from what I needed to make a good design, and then worked back to identify what information I needed to capture in my persona. My goal was not to redefine the concept/purpose of personas, but to make sure that I was getting the most out of them. The eternal question helped me realize I was not producing quality and showed me ways to generate the value that I needed.

Seeing how the persona could and should impact my design leads right into the next point.

Provide Traceability

A former boss I had frequently mentioned how important traceability was in an engineering process. For engineers, it is often traceability from requirement to specification to designs to finished product. With traceability, when something isn’t correct, the engineering team could see how the decision-making unfolded and identify where the error occurred. Was the requirement bad? Was the implementation wrong?

With traceability, when something isn’t correct, the engineering team could see how the decision-making unfolded and identify where the error occurred.

Our design process should have the same traceability, though tailored to our needs. Everything that we provide to our users should be traceable back to its origins. Again consider the persona.

In a persona (or any analysis artifact), every piece of information embedded in it should be traceable back to data collected during your research. If not, it should be clear which pieces of the persona rely on assumptions. Similarly the items you add to a product should be traceable back to the persona. This provides an end-to-end look at what you have designed.

I took some time to think through how I created and used personas by documenting how I thought different pieces of the persona would drive design decisions.

A great design tool would support this traceability — and I don’t know of a tool that enables this. When a product owner or stakeholder asks why you designed things in a certain way, you should be able to point to your persona (or whatever analysis artifact you choose) and give a reason. If that is challenged, you can then point back to your research data. When a particular product area doesn’t work, you can go back and look at your analysis, see if you came to the right conclusion. You can go look back at your research data and see if you maybe you didn’t get enough perspectives.

This is in essence the ideal design process, but something that we don’t often consider when designing. We design and then lose sight of why a decision had been made. Keeping the eternal question of design in mind will help make it more realistic.

Knowing When to Stop

When you work on a product, the research and design might truly never end. You can always be talking with more users and stakeholder. Designs can be tweaked and refined over and over again, making slight improvements until it’s time for you to retire. At some point you have to stop. By having the eternal question in your mind, you get a bit of guidance on when the time is right to head to the next step.

Knowing when to stop each task is an important decision point in every project.

Yes, every new data point can help make the product better and every tweak can make it slightly a better experience. But if you can’t define how one more user interview will help make the product better, then you have enough — for now. If you don’t know how moving a button 3 pixels to the left or right might make for a better solution, it’s time to put it aside — for now. When it becomes too difficult to see the benefit of making another tweak, you no longer are moving towards a solution. It’s time to move to the next step so you can work towards getting something better in the hands of your user.


There is a lot that you can be doing at any one time. But the worst thing you can be doing is just keeping busy. Know the reasons for your actions and tasks and make sure you are doing them with a purpose. As basic as that concept is, it will help you transform your days and help make your design process that much simpler.

Thanks for reading. For more of my ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @bkenna1 or here on Medium.

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