The Method to Our Madness

One of the things other product / user experience designers and myself try to push for is sharing progress more early, more frequently, more collaboratively, and more iteratively. (I’ve blogged about The Lean Product Playbook before, which dives deep into this approach to product management). Last week I participated in a Design Thinking Crash Course hosted by The Design Gym, and it really helped summarize some of these core philosophies from a product design perspective. So, I want to share some of the central ideas that may shed some light into why it is that Product/UX Designers might seem OBSESSED with post-it notes and strategy decks and whirling in messes of research…

Before we jump into it, here’s my teaser for you: This Semisonic song is going to become completely relevant by the end of this post:

PhasesAs you could see in this illustration, every phase of product design opens with a starting point – usually a hypothesis that needs validation or an idea/direction that needs feedback. At that starting point, the possibilities are wide open. We use whatever methods and activities are most appropriate and feasible to explore different avenues. We draw patterns and discoveries from that exploration to arrive at some better understandings, narrowing down to an at least semi-conclusive end point of that phase. That end point should evolve from the start point from which it originated, and essentially becomes the start point for the next phase.

PhasesFlow

This is where our checkpoints and design artifacts play their essential role, though. The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. If we don’t take the time and serious thought to formulate our findings in some tangible way – whether it’s a series of personas, a strategy deck, a rough sketch, list of features, user journey map, wireframe, etc. – then we’re not concluding all the effort of that phase in a collaboratively useful way. Just as important, if we don’t take the time and serious thought to regroup on those end points before starting the next phase, then we risk moving forward without alignment. Clear end points help establish a unified vision going forward.

 The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. – Jason Wisdom, Co-Founder of The Design Gym

Now, just because we need tangible artifacts at the end points of each phase does not mean that we need to wait until we have a massive, polished presentation assembled. (And yes, I admit this despite a history of 80-page UX documents…but the era of lean is now here). Sometimes a sloppy sketch might do. We want to receive buy-in and feedback before investing a large effort into a single idea, which is why we’re often hesitant about mocking up early-phase design concepts. What if we spend weeks perfecting the UI of an idea thats premise doesn’t work for the client? While it may feel too abstract to seem productive, strategically aligning early on will save time in the long-run.

Design Thinking Crash Course worksheets

Likewise, just because we’ve reached a new hypothesis or idea to validate and explore does not mean that we need to invest massive amounts of time and money into elaborate design research exercises. In The Design Gym‘s Design Thinking Crash Course, we conducted these little activities within two hours and it still helped provide more clarity, direction and ideas to help move forward less obliviously. Of course, if the time allotted for these is extremely limited, we move forward with much less confidence and security (and sanity) than what feels adequate, but nonetheless there is merit to any effort that involves real research and real feedback.

Again, all these efforts come down to the principle of closing those loops strongly. Just listen to Semisonic…

EVERY NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING’S END – Semisonic

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