2 clear process

Diverge, explore, then converge.

Go broad, then deep

The challenge

There are many different possible design solutions for any problem. However, it’s easy to get excited and run with the first idea you have, or to limit your exploration due to time constraints. But if you go down the wrong path, changes become much more expensive later on. So how do you make sure you’re proceeding with the most compelling solution?

The solution

Begin every design process with divergent exploration of many possible solutions. Each direction should take a significantly different approach than the others and not just be a variation on the same theme. A good rule of thumb for how many ideas to sketch out? Everything you can think of, plus three. Stay high level early on. The key here is to design only as much as is needed to communicate and get feedback on the overall direction.

Don’t design in a silo

The challenge

When products become sufficiently complex, you have different people designing different parts of the experience. It’s easy to get deeply focused on the immediate problem you’re solving, but features that are designed without context in mind risk creating a confusing experience for users.

The solution

Make sure you understand the whole user journey, and consider your current project in that larger context. Optimize for a holistic user experience across the entire product. Use Muriel to ensure you’re employing consistent UI patterns across the board.

Reduce time to clarity

The challenge

In order to reduce risk, you want to gain confidence as early as possible that you’re developing a compelling solution. If design happens in a vacuum, decisions can be made based on incorrect assumptions about your users.

The solution

Clarity comes through understanding who you users are and what they’re trying to accomplish. Design approaches should be grounded in early research, so you know that you are identifying the right problems. You can then gain clarity about your solutions quickly throughout the design process by asking for feedback, testing your hypotheses, and watching people use your designs.

Ask for the right feedback

The challenge

Getting feedback is an important piece of the process, but it’s easy to get the wrong type of feedback. Different stages of work benefit from different types of discussion.

The solution

Below is a good framework for the conversations that are most appropriate to various phases of the design process:

1. Divergence: “What’s the best solution?”

When exploring divergent possibilities, keep the conversation high-level. Anchor the feedback in the problem to be solved and avoid getting deep in the details.

2. Exploration: “How might we execute the solution?”

At this point, you have decided on the overall direction, but there’s still room to explore execution. Discuss various permutations, but don’t revisit the overall direction or get down into minutiae. This is a good time to look at the information architecture, user flow, and hierarchy.

3. Convergence: “How can we tighten this up?”

In the final stages of the design process, the focus should be on the details. Are the UI patterns consistent? Are we using our design language system appropriately? Is the typography strong? Now is the time to give feedback that helps tighten up all the pieces to make the design shine.

Don’t be afraid of users

The challenge

Designers all know how important talking to users is in theory. But in practice, due to tight timelines or simply fear of moving outside one’s comfort zone, many designers regularly opt out of this key exercise.

The solution

Once you start making user research and testing a part of your process, it becomes more comfortable. There are lots of guerrilla testing methods that don’t require a ton of time or resources. Just getting your questions or concepts in front of a handful of people can bring insights and improvements to your work.

Be inspired by instinct,
but informed by data

The challenge

Good design process is a delicate balance between intuition and logic. When the balance tips too much toward instinct, you risk making incorrect assumptions based on your limited perspective. But when it tips too much toward data, you risk losing the human capability for creative synthesis and experience-based insights.

The solution

Use your existing knowledge to make a hypothesis. Use data as a safety mechanism. As long as your change doesn’t sink the ship, trust your gut. The sweet spot comes when you trust your instincts, but use data and research to validate your assumptions.

Data — when leveraged properly — can lead to insights and clarity. We aim to be data informed rather than data driven: using data to help validate hypotheses and support decision making. Always be mindful that data is collected and synthesized by people; it is neither neutral nor perfect.

Don’t be afraid of users

The challenge

Designers all know how important talking to users is in theory. But in practice, due to tight timelines or simply fear of moving outside one’s comfort zone, many designers regularly opt out of this key exercise.

The solution

Once you start making user research and testing a part of your process, it becomes more comfortable. There are lots of guerrilla testing methods that don’t require a ton of time or resources. Just getting your questions or concepts in front of a handful of people can bring insights and improvements to your work.

Use duct tape and string

The challenge

You want to make sure you’re on the right track before investing a lot of time and effort, but need to build something in order to test with users.

The solution

If you have a hypothesis that you’d like to validate, you don’t need to write perfect code. Paper mockups, prototypes, and rough code are usually enough to test an idea. Figure out if your hypothesis is correct first, then circle back and polish everything up. There’s at least a 50% chance that your hypothesis is wrong, and all the time you put into premature polish will be wasted.