It goes almost without saying: Every UX designer has a unique workflow.
This needs to be said more: Many of these workflows aren’t as efficient or practical as they could be.
How do you ensure that a UX workflow is ideal for you? It can take a little trial and error and is a combination of thinking about how you work, as well as the needs of your design team.
Here, we’re going to explore ways to think about and develop a workflow that complements how you work and think as a designer.
Value of UX workflows
Workflow might be just as important as design style to your career.
Think about that for a minute and let it really sink it. A solid user experience workflow is important because it is every step in the design process, including everything from user research and surveys to wireframing to the actual design and user testing.
UX workflows look different depending on how you work, what you do, and the size of your team.
A good UX workflow does two things:
Ensures that teams work efficiently and that every person knows his or her role within a project scope.
Ensures that individuals have a standard process, so that tasks and elements of each project are almost like second nature, helping increase design efficiencies.
UX workflows may be formal–your team might implement agile or design thinking processes–or informal. Think of an informal UX workflow as the process you use for each project that comes your way. There are probably systematic steps that you follow and a certain way you do things that moves projects along quickly, even if those concepts are not formalized.
Common UX workflow processes
Many of the things you read about UX workflow mention different stages of the design process. Often it seems like these steps should come in a specific order, but that’s not true for every designer.
Your UX workflow process might look a little different, and that’s okay. With one caveat: That’s okay as long as you are meeting goals, deadlines, and feel comfortable in your process.
Most UX workflows have steps that look something like this:
Research and information gathering
Brainstorming and ideation
Creating information architecture
Developing user personas
Low-fidelity prototyping or wireframing
Organizing UX flows and experiences
Building a design system
High-fidelity prototyping and user interface design
Adding or removing design extras
Design your UX process
What does efficiency look like for you? For most UX designers, an efficient workflow is one that can be replicated with ease for use on multiple projects. If you follow the same steps and process every time, the process only gets easier, right?
That takes some legwork on the front end, so start with a little workflow housekeeping. Pick one tool for each job. Fumbling through different pieces of software isn’t beneficial, as it can slow down your work process. Choose a set of tools and stick with them.
For most UX designers, an efficient workflow is one that can be replicated with ease for use on multiple projects.
Here are some more UX design strategies you can implement immediately:
When working with teams, stay in your lane. Freelancers and designers working in small shops might do it all, but, if you are a part of a bigger team, let each person do their job while you focus on yours.
Be present in meetings and pay attention to information the first time around. Think about how much of your workflow gets dragged down because of a failure to pay attention.
Automate as much of the process as possible. This looks different in large versus small team environments, but there are probably tasks and tools that can take away some of your heavy lifting. Don’t ignore premade elements (third-party or in-house), UI kits, and online collaboration and prototyping tools. Use them.
Don’t be afraid to clean your digital house regularly. New tools, design techniques, and technologies are constantly changing the way we think about design and web development.
Know your quirks. If there are parts of the design process that you struggle with or that cause constant frustration, schedule that part of the design process with intent and don’t try to force it in between meetings or other tasks. Create dedicated time in the scheduling process and a little backup time, just in case.
Don’t force yourself to use certain tools just because they are trendy. Use what works for you (and your team). Even with all the digital options to try, pen and paper wireframes are just fine as long as you can share them with your team when necessary.
Remember the following:
Use consistent systems that establish common user flows or experiences that users are accustomed to.
Create patterns or basic design elements that you can recycle from project to project.
Use a consistent labeling, filing, and folder system for working files.
Use tools that work with you. If you like to sketch out low-fi wireframes with pen and paper, for example, you probably need a scanner or digital notebook, so you can share with the team.
Tackle the biggest challenges at times of day when you feel freshest. That can be at drastically different times of day for different people; block that slot on your calendar, so you don’t get pulled into meetings during peak brain-power times.
When it comes to the actual UX design and development process, experiment with how to implement workflow processes. Most of the workflow processes and steps above can be grouped into four “buckets” of work:
Project prep and launch: Researching and information gathering, foundational planning, brainstorming, and ideation.
Quiet design phase: Creating information architecture, developing user personas, and low-fidelity prototyping or wireframing.
Design details and polishing: Organizing UX flows and experiences, building a design system, high-fidelity prototyping and user interface design, adding or removing design extras.
Finish: User testing, deployment.
Within each of these buckets, steps and phases might move in seemingly random or circular flows. You may skip and later repeat steps. All of that is acceptable.
When you are really learning your workflow, the trick is to accept trial and error as part of the process. Keep the parts that work, but ditch the rest.
It’s also worth noting that your contribution to a project might fall into only one of the buckets above. You might break steps into even smaller steps therein to streamline your thought process.
The best workflows have patterns and consistencies built into them. These elements will increase your efficiency and speed.
To keep a workflow process moving efficiently, each step or process should come with timeframes and deadlines for completion. Simple milestones are often the metric that determine success or failure in terms of workflow efficiency.
3 signs of a good UX process
The end game of any UX workflow process–whether you are talking about workflows from start to finish or for one part of the project–is the creation of a functional, intuitive, and highly engaging and usable interface.
That’s why every part of the process is interconnected, but how do you know when your workflow is working?
Look for the following, positive signs:
Projects and tasks are completed on time and without major send backs for revisions.
Teams get more productive over time and can complete the same work in less time.
Clients are happy, and finished projects meet or exceed goals and expectations.
Workflow red flags
How do you know if you have an inefficient workflow?
Look for these red flags:
Missed deadlines or milestones.
Inconsistent work and repeated revisions.
Lots of time spent “spinning” rather than finishing design elements.
Work being delivered in different ways or using different tools.
Inability to define scope of work or what is happening with the design.
Every project seems to “reinvent the wheel” of how things are done.
Incorporating your UX process into a team
Regardless of how you work, at some point your workflow will intersect with others. From integrating your part of a design into the scope of a bigger project to handing off a design to a client, these parts of your workflow have the potential to have the most impact on others.
This is the part of an individual UX workflow that is most visible and will likely require you to be most flexible.
When you are really learning your workflow, the trick is to accept trial and error as part of the process.
Here’s how to successfully incorporate your workflow into a larger design team:
Explain your process up front, including milestones and deadlines.
Have a conversation about software and tools, so you know what deliverables are expected (and in what format).
Overcommunicate if you must with status updates during periods when you might not have a lot of work product to share.
Ask questions about the process of others.
Be willing to be flexible.
Here’s how to successfully incorporate your workflow into a design handoff:
Create a consistent handoff process that you repeat every time.
Use a standard piece of documentation that provides vital material that’s a part of the handoff (usernames, passwords, design guides, related account information, or subscriptions).
Use a common folder structure for documentation or files; if you get a call later, you’ll know where everything is located.
While much of designing a UX workflow happens internally, there are plenty of creative tools that can help you manage efficiency.
Here are a few suggestions for tools to use during each step in the UX design process:
Foundational planning - Good documentation and forms are vital; plan projects with Asana or use checklists that you can send to clients or team members with a form-based PDF (Adobe Acrobat); and make sure you have proper time tracking or billing software if you work alone, such as Invoicely.
Brainstorming and ideation - Gather ideas in a visual way with tools like Whiteboard or Google Docs.
Create information architecture - Nothing is better for organizing a new sitemap or structure like old-fashioned sticky notes that you can move and rearrange as needed.
Develop user personas and journey mapping - Templates can help with streamlining these processes and giving you consistent results and documentation. Try Xtensio’s User Persona Template or HubSpot’s Journey Map Template.
Low-fidelity prototyping or wireframing - Sketch out designs with tools you probably already have such as Adobe Photoshop or pen and paper.
Organize UX flows and experiences - Consider best practices and common user patterns with a tool like UI Patterns or Sketch.
Build a design system - A resource guide is a must-have with teams and makes project handoff easier later on; try Sketch with a nifty UI kit or Zeplin.
High-fidelity prototyping and user interface design - Everyone generally has a go-to tool here, such as Sketch or Adobe XD.
UX workflows are funny things because they are so unique from designer to designer. What works for you might look totally different for someone else.
An efficient UX process is almost always customized by the designer and certainly results in higher productivity and successful projects. Don’t turn your wheels by comparing your process to someone else if you are finding success.
It can take time and practice to create a truly solid workflow, but, once you understand what process and tools work for you, the efficiency gains are worth all that trial and error.