Learning is the act of gaining knowledge, trying to learn a user’s process, mental model, pains, the job they are trying to do, etc.. This can be done in a multitude of ways: interviews, observations, surveys, analytics, story maps, and card sorting. You should do whatever it takes to gain the knowledge necessary to understand your users and the problem or task at hand.
For me, the best way to learn about my users is to visit them. Get out of your office and get into theirs!
After you have gathered as much information as you can, then it is time to start consolidating your knowledge. One way I know I am ready and that I have learned what I need to, is that I start to get bored in my interviews. When what users are telling me starts to become repetitive, I know I’ve hit the mark of understanding their problem.
Remember that the ultimate goal of this phase is to learn. Use whatever means necessary to learn as much as possible.
Once you have learned enough and have a sufficient understand of what job the user is trying to accomplish, take that knowledge and begin to create the solution. My team and I have found that the best way to begin creating is by starting with the least obstructive method possible. For us this is usually whiteboarding or paper prototypes.
Starting with something as immediate as whiteboarding allows for more ideas to be presented. We want all the ideas we have to get out: good ideas, bad ideas, crazy ideas. They are all necessary and contribute to finding the right solution. I cannot tell you how many times we have spent hours whiteboarding, filled two 8-foot whiteboards with designs and ideas, only to have the right solution finally present itself and it is not any of those designs. Yet those designs were necessary in getting to the right solution.
My coworker has a saying that I love. Before he draws something on the board, he often says:
“This might be a bad idea…”
He then he proceeds to draw it anyway. Often it is a good idea. Other times it spurs someone else on the team to have a better idea.
The key to creating is using the tool that lets you get the most out the quickest. After you have identified the solution, then you can start to flesh it out using whatever prototyping tool suits you best.
Remember, the goal is to get the idea ready to share.
This is the step where you take your idea out into the world. Again, this can be done many different ways. You can conduct usability tests, do heat maps, surveys, demos, etc. The important part is that you share you creation with other people. Take your solution and show it to users, coworkers, family members, anyone who will listen to you. Put it through the grinder, so to speak. This is about discovering whether or not your idea and solution can stand on its own and if it is ready to be developed.
I have found, that more often than not, it won’t stand on it’s own. Not initially, anyways.
No matter how good of a design you have, testing it with users will nearly always reveal something wrong or something that can be better. But don’t get discouraged, that is a good thing.
“Good designers want to be proved wrong. Bad designers hope to be proved right.” — Andy Budd
If a usability-testing session goes too smoothly, that is usually a red flag for us. It means that people are not engaged in the solution to even care to point out the problems. We want users to tell us things that are not right or that could be better. Be skeptical of too-good testing results.
Once you have finished those three steps you’re not done; it’s time to do it again. Sharing your creation should cause you to learn more and kick start that process naturally.
What I have discovered is that I am always doing one of those three things, and hopefully I’m doing all three as often as I can. You don’t need a complicated process diagram dictating when you engage users, when you talk to developers, when a stakeholder should be included. Those things will come as you work with your team and your users. They will also change over time and between projects and products.
What won’t change is that to be a good UX designer you should always be learning, creating, and sharing.
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