Defining A Design Approach

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One of the most important steps in building your company’s design culture is establishing a design thinking cadence. My teams have found success in the iterative cycles of Discover, Define, Test, and Deploy (see diagram below).

To meet the customers needs, a design approach should make space for discovery, and allow for cyclical iteration between testing, definition, measurement and back again. Unfortunately not all design sprints allow for early user testing or deep data analytics. Sometimes you just need tighter cycles where you can gather data once the feature is in market.

It’s absolutely critical though that the team have a shared understanding of what the intent, actions and expected deliverables are for each phase. For example, coming out of discovery, the team should be aligned on a set of prioritized user tasks, use cases and edge cases, before moving to design definition.

No two teams are alike so consider your market and unique business needs, improvise, experiment and don’t be afraid to fail.

UX and UI – beyond the job function

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As a Design leader, I help teams solve customer problems and help companies shape their business strategy. Throughout the project lifecycle, I encourage my teams to apply a range of design methodologies. Starting with user experience, tackle the big picture with discovery of the user journey, then move to realize and define the solution.

At first glance the diagram below might seem to be about “who does what”. However, when you apply this as a framework for “what happens when”, the team begins to share a common understanding of the user needs and are then able to deliver solutions in support. Where the two areas overlap, are wonderful opportunities for collaboration. These “Magic Moments” are areas where designers can meet in the middle and work side by side.

UX, and UI designers are now industry titles but we used to have roles like “Information Architects” or “Interaction” or “Usability” Designers. I’ve always felt those titles did a better job setting expectations for function accountability.  What is critical though, and helpful for design teams regardless of titles is a shared understanding of the customer mental models that can be uncovered through a collaborative multifaceted approach.

The way we as design leaders organize our teams, has a great effect on the customer experience. Consider the following team model: Design ops, Researchers, UX and UI designers. This range of disciplines will help teams be autonomous and allow them to go deep into the user/product development journey.

UX/UI should be a partnership with regular meetings along the sprint and as design leaders, the structure and methodologies we apply will catalyze for collaboration.

iRobot – Smart Home App

Over the the past two years the iRobot UX, Product and Engineering teams have spent time listening to customers, uncovering insights and mental models about health, cleaning and the home. Our user centric approach led to the team’s shared understanding of customer needs along the journey, a guiding set of design principles and a brand new app experience.

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Design Manager

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iOS, Android

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UI, UX

Catalyze Collaboration

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Transparency and openness are the key ingredient to high functioning design teams. There is no substitute for open regular communication. Short of an established process, two meetings a week with key partners will make a huge difference. It’s all about collaboration and bringing people along the journey. I’ve found it helpful to get teams aligned on defining the purpose of each meeting and consideration for who needs to attend.

As design leaders we can help crystalize some of these magic moments for our team by standardizing meeting names across parallel design teams and defining goals for each meeting.

My team meetings and their purpose:

Discovery Brainstorms

Sketching, card sorting, cross team investigations. This is a highly collaborative phase early in the sprint. All key stakeholders, UX/UI/Copy/Animation/Product/Dev partners converge to kick it off.

Co-Design Sessions

Designers can co-design or work independently with frequent check-ins to realize design solutions and prepare for user testing.</li><li>Research Planning – UX/UI work with Research to establish learning goals, create prototypes, observe research, act on user data, and participate in read out sessions.

Design Reviews

Present work in progress – Share project overview, design goals, user scenarios, and a design walk through. Design Team Review is held every Thursday. product pods may also hold their own reviews.

Stand-ups

UX/UI to attend as many product pod standups together as possible. The Design team holds its own Standup on Mondays. Come prepared with bulleted items, what you are working on, and any important information to share.

Handoffs

Handoff meetings should be the last of a series of meetings with the development team in a sprint. The design specs should cover all use cases/edge cases and provide guidance on UI patterns and interactions.

Backlog Grooming

Product Pods decide how frequently they run Backlog meetings. UX/UI should have jira tickets written ahead of the meetings, so the product manager can help prioritize and scope tasks along the roadmap.

Retrospectives

Retros give us the opportunity to address what’s working, and what we need to improve in our process or approach. They help inform and identify follow up items for the next project or sprint. Stepping back as a team provides the opportunity to align and be proactive together.

Sprint Planning

Jira tickets should be scoped and well defined. A cross functional team reviews the tickets for the upcoming sprint. By attending together, UX/UI designers will establish a shared awareness for sprint priorities and product direction.

Vivox Rebrand

For Vivox, my team established a company vision, mission, and principles. We then designed a new visual identity, new customer facing software and multi-channel advertising.

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Design Director

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Web, Desktop App, Print

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Branding, UI, UX