Within the last couple of years, digital design tools have undergone several positive changes. This has e.g., left people like us, User Interface Designers, with great abilities to engage in important conversations and collaborations. In this article, I will share some of the principles and tools that I use to ensure the best possible design process.
Nobody can do it alone
The best UI design – along with the best digital solution – is generally achieved through professional collaboration. During this process, the most rewarding aspect is the different skill sets that come together. A good design process is defined by openness and transparency. Furthermore, it is important that all parties agree that having knowledge within different fields can be beneficial for the process.
The user interface of a digital solution is the result of an alliance between user needs, business goals, the brand, and technological possibilities. In order to get a good result, the designer must know e.g., which functions are essential for the primary and secondary stakeholder groups; which business-critical functions must be emphasised; and which technological possibilities are available on mobile and the web.
In connection with the development process of any digital product, it is necessary to include employees that are specialists within every relevant field. It is not the designer’s job to know everything. Their job is to bring different skill sets to the forefront.
Our main assignment is to gather knowledge and translate it. Of course, the designer decides how the website’s menu should look – but in order to get the best product, we need to use the correct inputs to structure the menu, the communication, the icons, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to reflect on how different skills are included in the decision-making process for the final design.
Use your insights
I want to emphasise once more that it is extremely important to include the UX design (user experience) and analysis in your user-interface design. It would be a disaster if the final UI design is detached from the existing knowledge and analysis results. If the analysis is not used, it has been a waste of time and you will blindly design the solution – likely causing you to experience problems and inconsistencies.
Remember that UI design is the product of several different insights into the users, business, and technology. Therefore, it is important to closely link the analyses and results to the design work. It is not always worth the trouble to visualise analysis results in the design tool. However, you get far by incorporating sketches, pictures from workshops, or the important design principle in text.
All of this is part of the same overall topic of including teams, colleagues, and perhaps customers in the design process. If they need to be an active participant in the development of the user interface, it can be beneficial for them to know the different business goals, user stories, and personas that were compiled in a phase of the project that they may not have been a part of.
The inclusion of the analysis work is also another way to identify the single source of truth for your UI design. Not only does everyone know where they can find the newest design. They also know which knowledge the design proposals come from. This allows for a productive and healthy process with big potential for value-creating iterations and further development.
The design should not be presented – it should be discussed!
Long gone are the days, when the designer was given a task and then retreated into their cave, only to appear 3 weeks later with a finished design. This way of working is not compatible with the modern approach to digital solutions. Here we focus on agility, adaptability, and the (often overused but still relevant) idiom: Fail often – Fail early.
The design process must be clear and accessible to the parties involved. The decision-making process needs to be included and transparent from the beginning to avoid pervasive design changes and a great loss of time later on in the project.
Therefore, it is essential to give your partners a voice, they can use when talking about UI design. Furthermore, it is just as important to communicate the design together. Then you avoid having to collect tidbits of conversations from e-mails, physical meetings, and slack channels. Make sure that everyone on the team uses the built-in communication function within the design tool to give feedback.
Comments can be pinned to the relevant subject and the communication can therefore become simpler and more unambiguous. This also helps you stay clear of complicated sentences like: “The icon at the bottom of the little navigation bar in the lower right corner on screen nr. 4 - Should we change that?”. At Combine, we use a simple flowchart to ‘force’ ourselves to use this communication function.
This approach also ensures that people do not ask the same question over and over again. Therefore you do not need to repeat the same answer again and again. When new people are attached to the project, they can quickly find the answers to many of their questions from the already-existing comments and discussions.
A single source of truth
The designer has the task of ensuring that all involved parties always discuss the same subject – meaning that everyone has access to the newest design.
Essentially, the key is to say goodbye to local design files and convert them to cloud-based files. As a bonus, it forces the designers to keep their designs structured and manageable because everyone has access to them.
A single source of truth ensures that every employee connected to the project discusses the same design. This reduces the risk of expensive miscommunications.