As a professional web and mobile designer, I spend most of my time solving problems. While some of those problems are business related, most are visual and experiential. That’s why I use a design process that lets me complete any project, for any client using the same basic steps. In fact, everyone can use this simple 3 step process, regardless of what industry they design for.
Step 1: Strategy
Every website or app you design should begin with strategy. Doing so helps you understanding the purpose of your design, whether it’s internal or for a client. You can also use this step to determine what primary and secondary goals need to be met in order for the project to be considered a success.
For personal projects, you can do this yourself. However, if the project is for a client, you can collaborate with them to determine the project goals. For redesigns, this step will include identifying what problems exist in the current interface and in the client’s business strategy.
Next, identify the target audience and demographic. Who are you designing this website or app for? Where are they located? How old are they? What’s their occupation? Why do they need this website or app? In what context will they be experiencing this design?
Asking strategic questions about the project will prepare you for prototyping an appropriate solution and let your client know that you care about their business.
Step 2: Prototyping & Wireframing
With a proper understanding of the project goals and target audience, you can begin to prototype a solution. This can be done in any number of ways (hand sketches, paper cutouts, digital software, etc) as long as you focus on defining the user experience with quick, low-fidelity mockups. That means your wireframes and prototypes should be void of color, imagery, fancy fonts, and pixel-perfection.
Creating low-fi mockups will allow you to make changes quickly while helping you focus on the user experience. It’s also a good practice to conduct user testing with some members of your target audience. You might think something is intuitive, but the end user might not.
User testing is an important part of UX design, but you also don’t want to put your entire prototype in front of a user and tell them to play with it. Instead, identify areas that you want to test and give them small, specific tasks to complete. Use the feedback you gather to refine your prototypes and mockups in preparation for the final design.
Step 3: Design
After creating an intuitive user experience through prototyping, it’s time to begin the visual design process.
Start by researching modern design trends (Dribbble and Behance for digital design). Doing so will help keep your work fresh and relevant as design styles continue to evolve. Then, adapt those styles to the needs of your target audience.
While the goal of any interface is to be simple and intuitive, the users needs impact my design choices. For example, if my audience is elderly people, I’ll use large type and big buttons with clear labels. That means less information can fit on the screen at once, but grandma won’t struggle to find the next page.
If my audience is young computer experts, I can use smaller type and buttons that only contain icons. That will allow me to fit more functionality into a smaller space.
Since user interface and experience design are all about the user, their needs must be a priority. In fact, I don’t always design interfaces that I find attractive. The needs of the user are always a priority over my personal taste and my client’s opinion.
Design isn’t subjective, but rather a precise and intentional process. It’s about finding solutions within constraints that meet the needs of the user you’re designing for.
The process of making anything
How do architects build a new home? They meet with the buyer and strategize a solution, create blueprints of the floor plan, then design the interior space.
How do breweries make a new beer? They research the industry and strategize an approach, test different combinations of ingredients in various amounts, then brew the final beer for everyone to enjoy.
How do automotive companies make cars? They research their customers and popular industry trends, prototype many solutions and test them, then design the final car and get it in the production line.
You get the idea. This simple process – at it’s core – applies to everything. I’ve used it for every website or app I’ve ever created and it hasn’t failed me yet. By using this linear, cumulative approach, you’ll be able to execute a more purposeful, thoughtful design for your next digital project.