Every UX designer goes through a job interview process, in which the most common questions are ‘What is your approach as a designer?’ and ‘What methodologies do you use?’. And unfortunately, designers who are not working in big organizations, or those who only do freelance work, often find themselves facing various constraints that make it difficult to follow one specific approach.
When working in a design team, it’s likely that your team works according to a certain methodology in order to conduct an effective UX design process. But if you are working as the only designer in a small company or doing freelance work, client deadlines and constantly changing user requirements are some of the things that take most of your time and energy.
In such situations, how do you make sure that you have a proper approach and a design methodology to follow when working on any project? Before we get to the answer to this question, there are a few things that are important to understand:
What is a UX design strategy?
Whenever an interviewer asks a designer about an approach or strategy, they usually mean ‘how do you start a project, after you are given certain requirements?’. However, there is no ‘one’ answer to this question, as it depends upon the project, and the amount of work that has already been done on it.
For example, if it’s a project you’re starting from scratch, you will always begin with understanding the requirements, and defining a user base. You need to draw lines to understand who your users are and what their requirements are from this product. But if the product already exists, you can always start by understanding the existing research and studying the documents that have been made by the previous designers.
Here, we will cover UX design strategies for designers who don’t have a specific process yet, when working on new projects.
Why should a designer have a design strategy?
Building a design strategy is important because as a designer, having a singular process with which you approach all of your projects can help you form more fluid processes. There’s less of a chance of getting stuck at a particular stage if you have a defined strategy that covers all the grounds, from research, to competitor analysis and more. Many times, designers don’t conduct user research, and directly jump to conclusions. On the other hand, many designers spend too much time on one thing, and fail to produce a design before the deadline.
Both these approaches are wrong, and can and can negatively impact your design projects. You need to have a balance, and you need to know where to stop. That is where a design strategy comes into the picture. As an independent designer, you should also work as a product manager for yourself, and schedule a proper timeline including all the steps that you are going to take in your UX design process.
A design strategy is like every designer’s individual journal. It’s your personal approach, and you can have as many steps in it as suits you. But you should also know which steps are of utmost importance, and cannot be skipped, and which steps can be ignored in cases where you have limited time.
To help you better organise your process, here are the most important steps to include in your design strategy:
Step 1: Understanding user requirements
Every product has a user base and those users have a requirement from the product that you are designing. That is what we call ‘Value Proposition’. A value proposition for any product will help you analyse three things about that product:
What is the product?
Who are the users of the product?
How will the product be used?
The answers to these questions will become the basis of your research and act as a starting point for your design approach. Once you establish a value proposition, you should move on to:
Step 2: Performing a competitive analysis
There will surely be many other products in the market that are already solving the problems that your product aims to solve. Even if your product is the first one to target a user base or solve a unique problem, you will still have competitors who are close to doing what your product focuses on. A competitive analysis is not only important to see how you can solve major user problems, but it is also necessary to study the mistakes they are making, so that you can avoid them!
Knowing your competition gets you deep insights about product design, user requirements, solving problems and addressing issues that they fail to address in their existing product. This helps you get an edge in the market and stay ahead of the game.
Step 3: Searching for a suitable user base
Then comes the part where most of the designers get confused, because start-ups usually don’t have the time or the budget for proper user research, and freelancers don’t have the means with which to conduct user research. Mostly, designers only take cues from the already available information. But in reality, you don’t need much infrastructure for user research, if you know how to find your users!
The main challenge in user research is how to find your users, and you can get the answer on your smartphone. If your user base is generation-Z, you can find them using hip applications like TikTok or Instagram. If your user base is millennials, they can be found on both Facebook and Instagram alike. Once you know where to find your users, you can promote a small survey or approach some people for a friendly chat.
Now, for generation-Z people (all those born after 1997), forwarding them a Google Form can be boring, and it’s likely you won’t get many responses. But you can try alternative methods, such as conducting a survey through Instagram stories. You can send them your Instagram handle, and ask them to participate in a poll that you will put up as a story, and also ask their friends to do the same. An Instagram poll is not only an interesting way to get their responses, but it also gives you numbers and insights quickly.
This is just one unconventional example of how you can reach out to your target audience, but there are many more non-traditional ways to reach out to them.
Hopefully, there will be many people who’ll want to contribute towards a project for a cause, but as a gesture of goodwill, it’s always nice to show you appreciate their time and help. You can either send them a small gift card or a simple thank you note. Anything that makes them feel like they contributed towards something, and that their opinions made a difference!
Step 4: Doing user research
Conducting user research is a lengthy process, as you need to find out which methodology fits your product requirements. Do you want to conduct a face-to-face interview, or do you want people to fill out a quick survey? That depends upon more than one factor.
User research can be quantitative or qualitative depending on what kind of insights you are looking for. Are you willing to dive deep into the emotional mindset of your users? If so, you should go for qualitative research. Or are you looking to see how many people are using an existing product and facing problems with it? In this case, quantitative research can come to your rescue.
Once you have your product requirements defined (this happens when creating a value proposition), you will also get clarity on the kind of research you want to do. And once you have clarity on that, you can easily find the most suitable methodology that will give you desired results.
Step 5: Creating a product roadmap
Creating a product roadmap is the next step, once you are done with the user research and have some information that can help you kick-off. A product roadmap is a basic timeline that includes tasks and deadlines. It is important to have a roadmap even if you are a freelancer, as it will help you avoid procrastination and improve your productivity, so you don’t run the risk of delaying the project. A roadmap helps you track your progress and see how you are doing.
Step 6: Building the user interface
Creating UI and prototypes, taking meetings, discussing issues with the team or the client, are things that you can do once your roadmap is ready. Working on the front-end design and a minimal viable product (MVP) is necessary for the second round of user research. But before you jump to the screens, it is equally important that you create a user journey map.
As different users use the same product differently, it is important to design and cover all the possible journeys that a user can take to achieve one goal. They might press the same buttons, but in a different order. They might make the same choices, but follow a different pattern. As a designer, it’s your task to come up with all those different flows and journeys, and analyse whether any of them are too long or convoluted, or whether there are any dead-ends in the product.
Once you’ve defined your user journey map, you can start with the screens!
Step 7: Conducting a heuristic evaluation
To make sure no mistakes go unnoticed, make space for a heuristic evaluation in your project timeline. It will help you critically evaluate your designs, look for common mistakes and correct them before the project moves into production.
A heuristic evaluation also helps you to see if you covered major usability aspects, and if your product is user-friendly or not. Basically, it helps you take a break from designing, rewind and go back to the product requirements that you started with. At some point, it becomes important to see if you are still in-line with those requirements, or if you went off-track.
Step 8: Doing user research, round-two!
This time, the user research has to be more ‘to-the-point’ and direct, because now you have an MVP to show your users, and ask for their feedback. At this stage, the aim of your user research is to get insights about whether your product is solving their problem or not, and whether they like it or not. You can conduct personal interviews to test your product, and see if the users understand the functionality, or if they need some help using it.
Based upon the insights of your research at this phase, you can always modify your product and make changes to make it more user-friendly.
Step 9: Making small changes and final release!
As you complete the changes suggested by the users in the second phase of user research, you should now move on to communicating with the developers about the project, and helping the development team pick up from there. As a designer, your job doesn’t end here.
Step 10: Taking that extra step to be a great designer!
Many designers think that submitting final screens and source files is where your responsibility ends. Well, technically you have done everything that was asked of you, but practically, there is a lot that has to be done even now. Designing screens was your job, but giving life to those screens is a developer’s job, and many times due to lack of proper communication, the screens that are developed look nothing like the designs in the source file. Communicating with the client and the developers, even after the designs are complete, is a best practice that you can develop, to make sure that everything is pixel-perfect.
It reflects your professionalism and dedication towards your craft. You have put so much thought and work into those screens, would you now let a developer do injustice to them?
Your designs are your craft, and any live website that you have designed can really add a lot of potential to your portfolio. It can give you more work in the future and make your profile stand out in the pool of designers.