Digital Technology
Sep 12, 2018

From research to reality: great user experience design in six steps

Journey-driven transformation is a powerful, end-to-end approach for creating exceptional customer experiences that drive revenue, profitability, and sustainable competitive advantage.

Of course, a customer-centered digital strategy must come first. This phase involves rigorous qualitative and quantitative research to help ensure that experiences map to needs across touch points, channels, and devices.

But how do you translate what you learn from research into an experience design that exceeds user expectations? The following six steps can help smooth the path between the discovery phase and the design phase.

  1. Create personas. Personas are powerful tools for distilling and visualizing your research findings. Strong personas communicate important information across multiple dimensions, empowering you to design new experiences that truly meet the needs of each user. A well-crafted persona should go beyond basic personality traits and demographics to include behavioral insights and other variables. (See my post, 5 signs You are Creating Personas That Won't be Effective, for more advice.)
  2. Prioritize personas that benefit the most important ones. Make sure to collaborate with others on the project team, including business, user experience, visual design, content, and technology professionals, to get diverse perspectives and to confirm that everyone aligns with the vision.
  3. Write scenarios and task flows. Scenarios are stories that provide context for user tasks. This process lets you layer in additional background about user preferences and actions and clarifies steps in the journey. Telling the story of what users go through from their point of view helps team members provide multiple perspectives. A task flow can be a simple diagram of user tasks, with color commentary and insightful questions at each point along the continuum. Scenarios and task flows are particularly helpful when research is limited or non-existent, or when others did the work. Although it isn't always feasible, conducting research with target customers before beginning design work is always best. Start by gathering information and creating a team that includes a researcher, product manager, and other subject matter experts who are knowledgeable about users and the broader initiative. From there, craft your scenarios and task flows and conduct usability testing on designs.
  4. Map the user journey. Each user journey is a collection of tasks and scenarios, with integrated insights from qualitative research and quantitative metrics. User journeys can include scenarios that provide broader context, or that summarize actions and behaviors. They're especially helpful for designing experiences that require multiple steps, more than one visit to an app or website, or that take place across multiple touch points over time. User journeys complement personas by arming the project team with a succinct visualization of the user's perspective. During Genpact's recent engagement with a top bank, for example, mapping the home-buying journey and mortgage process highlighted the need for consistency across different devices and features. That way, users could easily pick up where they left off. (See my post, How to Use Journey Maps to Design Digital Experiences.)
  5. Gather inspiration. Once you have a solid understanding of user needs, you're ready to move to design. Consider what others are thinking and working on to help focus design discussions, brainstorming sessions, or design thinking workshops. Look for ways they're creatively solving applicable problems and gathering design patterns. Don't limit the scope of your explorations to the project at hand because seemingly unrelated work can spark new ideas or metaphors that will inspire designs.The most powerful inspiration often comes from real-world ideas. For instance, during a recent redesign of a movie and TV streaming website, old-school TV remote controls inspired us to design filters that help find content of interest to users. Examples of useful sites for ideas and prototypes include webbyawards.com, dribble.com, and UI-patterns.com.
  6. Create a site map or screen flows. Designing the overall flow of content and features helps illuminate the big picture of an aspirational design. Business issues, technical constraints and other details can bog projects down, so it's important to keep the user's goals in mind throughout the process. When you have lots of content or market messaging is called for, it can help to create a strategy diagram — that is, a concept of the page with placeholders for different content and features. Refer back to your personas, journeys or scenarios to help create the flow through the application, placing steps in the order users expect, with appropriate language for navigation.

Pulling it all together

When it all comes together, you'll find that you're infusing user knowledge directly into your design. Anticipate and answer user questions on each relevant page or step in the process. Apply their language to guide them along the way. Ensure they can smoothly accomplish the tasks they expect of your app or website. Select design patterns and interaction metaphors to create concepts. And sketch, review, revise! You can do this in a collaborative design-thinking workshop, or on your own. Put your ideas down on paper or go straight to your favorite wireframing or drawing tool, like Sketch or Axure.

Most clients want to choose from multiple concepts, so explore many ideas before narrowing it down to at least two different ideas that solve the problem. Solicit feedback from stakeholders and other designers. Even better, test the concepts with real users. Concepts may undergo revisions several times before they meet the goals and requirements of both the business and users. But now you're on track to create the best user experience possible based on what you've learned from people who will actually use the tool you've created.

I would love to hear about your design process and the tips and tricks you use to move from research to great design.

About the author

Katrina Berlin Benco

Katrina Berlin Benco

Design leader, TandemSeven, a Genpact company

Follow Katrina Berlin Benco on LinkedIn