The idea behind having a process isn’t just about trying to be organized amidst the chaos. While it does play an important part in giving us trusted and well-structured ways of performing tasks, it doesn’t always stand true on every project. In reality, as every project has certain requirements, trying to work it out using a particular process, doesn't hold much sense.
Having said this, we do have a specific process in place that we like to follow, along with certain additions and subtractions, as per project needs. While sometimes the process stays as linear as can be, sometimes it’s a combination of pieces, while other times we decide to follow something completely new, while trying to stick to the basics.
Nonetheless, QED42 does have six core steps that we mostly stick to while phasing out, as per project needs. Our process and how we go about it completely depend on the project at hand, business vision and values, and most importantly on people who are going to be using that product.
The Zero Phase
This is our empty headspace zone. It’s where we take a step back and try to process and understand the client brief, sometimes even before signing on the project. From this phase in the design process, we start interacting with the project outline. During this phase, we take in all that the client has to offer - from the product brief to the project in hand as well as the people we’ll be working with. This helps us know each other on a very human level and enables us to better understand client requirements.
The Zero Phase requires a collaborative approach to the project brief. It helps us find answers to some important questions and understand the why what and how of the project at hand. During this phase, our team of UX designers starts brainstorming around the product at hand. We kick-off this phase through:
A collaborative creative briefing
This is when we take everything in and document every tiny detail coming our way. This includes finding answers to some very important questions like - what is the product about? what are its goals? who are the target users? what are the product’s business goals? Gaining knowledge on these insightful questions and creating a live document helps us stay focused and on the same page. Any and every change that’s decided upon is agreed upon by everyone and the brief is updated accordingly.
Putting together all the hopes and fears
This is similar to a post-it exercise wherein the whole team puts all of their hopes and fears out on the table. In doing this, we can put together those points that are a matter of concern to us. This can include baggage from other projects and other competing priorities. By putting them out on the table, it becomes much easier to avoid them. Secondly, it puts into perspective all the different ideas everyone has and what each individual is excited about.
Planning and Strategising
Post the Zero Phase, we move into the Planning and Strategising Phase. This Phase helps us understand why the project exists and who will benefit from it.
We conduct this phase with the client through -
- Time Frame
The idea is to understand people better. And the only way to do that is by being inclusive. In the Planning and Strategising phase we look into the requirements and timeframe needed to build and conduct a design research and project plan. In this stage, we try to understand better by asking more questions to real users and listening to them carefully. This typically acts as our product research phase, wherein we conduct different research methodologies including individual in-depth interviews and workshops with stakeholders.
We move on to creating a design strategy that focuses on helping your business decide the next plan of action. A Design strategy allows us to clearly define who the target audience is, what they need, and how what we create can add value to them.
Some of the deliverables that are a result of this step are -
Creating a research document
The research document helps us to understand the people we are designing the service for and the reason behind the existence of the product. During the creation of a research document, our team of UX designers begins to brainstorm around the idea and share the same with the potential stakeholders. This document contains data collected through - value proposition mapping and concept sketching. It includes an overview of the product's objective, team setup (who will design and develop the project), communication channels (how they will collaborate), and the expectations of stakeholders (such as KPIs and measuring the success of the product).
We usually end the planning and strategising phase with a project kick-off meeting. The kick-off meeting brings together all key players, to set proper expectations from both the client as well as the product team.
A comprehensive strategic presentation
The strategic presentation would be a modified version of the design brief stage that was started in the previous stage. It helps to give vision and kick-start the creative journey. This phase provides answers to certain key questions, such as - what is our POV in the project, who are our target users, the relevance of the project, how we plan on overcoming unforeseen obstacles, the position of the product in the current landscape, what are the key insights and what are we trying to achieve.
This is a single source of truth that we keep coming back and referring to and one that clients too keep in handy so that they’re able to share with potential investors and new teammates.
Image Abstract and Conceptualising
With a set foundation in place, we move on to conceptualising and sketching. This is a ‘no barriers’ phase that gives us a design direction, so all sorts of off-beat ideas, small and big, weird and unique are put out. This allows us to dream big and focus less on the constraints that are equally present but can be dealt with later, one step at a time.
Eventually, after consulting with the stakeholders, certain concepts emerge that are taken forward for further exploring. In this phase, we look into creating -
User personas — fictional characters that depict real users that will be interacting with the service being designed. We refer to these personas as a realistic representation of target users, when designing the product.
User stories/scenarios — a casual and relaxed user story or scenarios about individual product features written from the perspective of the people it’s designed for. They create a bridge to explain the user experience in a real situation through textual representation.
Storyboarding — storyboards are a way to explore and illustrate user stories or scenarios visually. They help identify a problem that may come later while prototyping, testing, and developing the idea.
Once we’ve worked on our concept, the next step is to put together a system to ensure all the details are in place. This includes finding solutions on - how to ensure the system stays organised, the detailing on every page, how the experience might vary for new users and existing users, and the like. The solution stage typically includes an information architecture and locating of user flows.
The information architecture includes the product and marketing of the design service. This is the stage where all the pieces of an app or service come together. It acts as a precise and organising principle to help people easily interact with the product and scale it according to requirements.
The user flows help us take into consideration secondary and temporary flows that might arise depending on the experience of a user. While the Image Abstraction phase gives us a glimpse of the primary flows that include the most common path taken by a user when interacting with the product, the Solution Building phase enables us to counter the remaining unforeseen flows that might surface. It usually takes a significant amount of time to deal with these flows, depending on the number and intricacy of the pages.
This is when we begin to design and work on the concepts we’ve decided to focus on. The product team starts by creating the actual information architecture and UI design. This is an iterative and collaborative phase wherein all team members participate and validate their ideas.
During this phase -
Sketching — helps to visualize the ideas we have in mind. By sketching all our ideas on a board, or on paper we can visualise a broad range of solutions before finally choosing to go ahead with one or more of them.
Create Wireframes — this helps us in visualising the basic conceptual structure of a page along with key elements, to understand how they’d all fit together. Using wireframes helps us when creating prototypes and mockups of the product.
Prototypes — helps to understand how the user’s actual interaction experience with the product. We opt for both low-fidelity (clickable wireframes) to high-fidelity (coded prototypes), depending on project requirements and specifications.
Once the concepts are figured out, it’s time to move over to the testing phase. This phase works in tandem with the concrete phase. It helps to validate the concepts decided and look into the usability and feasibility studies of the product being designed.
The usability studies are usually conducted on the product with the prototypes. These can both be formal as well as informal. This is sometimes an ongoing process and can take place throughout various stages in the design process as per our requirements.
The feasibility studies are conducted for future-proofing the brand. We take into consideration, various scenarios and conduct thorough experiments by focusing on the future of the product and the brand. The business landscape is ever-changing, which is why it helps in staying prepared for all sorts of unforeseen situations.
In order to consider the feasibility studies, we try our designs ideas to actual real-world situations which are relevant to our clients. This helps in looking at the solutions to problems that exist today and might exist in the future as well. It enables our clients to visualise the future of their brand if facilitated properly.
Other than the feasibility and usability studies, the testing phase also helps us to consider invaluable insight into both quantitative and qualitative data.
We conduct -
Internal Test Sessions — once our design team has iterated a product wherein it has reached a stage of usability, we begin to test the product in-house. Our team members interact with the product to help us discover major usability flaws that need further work.
External Testing Sessions — user testing sessions with people that represent our target users help us in trying out a variety of formats, moderated and unmoderated usability testing, A/B testing, focus group testing as well as beta testing.
Analytics — uncovering quantitative data using an analytical tool aids us in a better understanding of how a user interacts with a product.
Surveys — provide us with accurate qualitative and quantitative data of real-time users as they interact with the product we have designed. We often add open-ended questions to the surveys to user opinions on certain specific features.
This is the step wherein we finalise the assets. It includes the delivery of the documentation as well as the outlining of all the important components of the design. This makes future design compositions relatively easy to create. This is the final stage where our team of designers works to -
Create Design Specifications — this includes all sorts of visual design assets that are necessary for our product developers to turn a prototype into a working solution.
Create a Design System — this is the tool kit we use going forward. The intricacy of the design system varies from one project to another. However, there are reusable bits that our team of designers creates consisting of styles, components, and patterns that aid both our developers and designers to be in agreement regarding the design. These reusable aspects help to ensure the present implementation stays solid and future endeavors have an easy start for both design and development teams.
Finally, once we’ve looked into the design guidelines and worked out the UX outline, we do an in-person hand-off with the client team so that in case they have any queries that require answering and further elaboration, it is done there itself. This aids in helping the team further setup itself up for success while going forward.
If there is any other doubt or in-depth understanding or analysis necessary, we provide a masterclass or sorts, wherein enhanced guidance that includes an overall brand overview, design sprint, and hands-on tactical training is provided. This helps the client to not just test the brand with the help of real-world references but also gives them answers to all possible questions they might have.
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