User Experience Design Process

First, a few notes:

What’s below mostly applies to a waterfall methodology. In Agile Experience Design, portions of this process can be applied in short sprints but there are additional concerns that are not addressed here. In general, all of these steps still happen, but often in parallel to each other, where this article makes it sound sequential.

Identifying a need in the market is a critical first step but won’t be addressed here as that is generally driven by Product Management.


1. Requirements Analysis

In many companies, requirements analysis is entirely handled by Product Management (with input from sales, marketing, and executive management.)

But a killer user interface can be a key differentiator from other competitive products and the field of UI Design looks at product requirements from a unique perspective that can help provide some secret sauce to the product!

Careful field observation and analysis can lead to critical breakthroughs in the feature sets that are delivered to the market place, providing competitive advantage and sometimes buzz in the marketplace. This is a strategic aspect of the user experience design which many companies neglect.

2. Know Who Your User Is (and Isn’t!)

Persona-based design principles help fine tune an applications features and functionality. Designing products for generic “users” will tend to create applications that don’t work well for anyone.

Designing good personas requires user research. Field research is especially useful for business applications.

Understanding user skills, background, goals, needs, demographics, and psychographics drives application requirements.


1. Site Maps or Screen Layouts

At the highest level, for a new application, laying out an overall map of the application can be helpful.

Site maps include flow diagrams that show how users move through different parts of the application and complete tasks.

This step can be difficult in an Agile environment but to the extent possible, it’s a useful endeavor even if the requirements and features are part of a shifting landscape.

2. Low Fidelity Prototypes

Working in sketchy software like Balsamiq or using other low fidelity tools like Axure, Visio, Omnigraffle help to start laying individual screens out. It can be helpful to start by just putting notes on each screen. From there, it becomes easier to begin to layout controls, forms and other portions of the screen.

3. High Fidelity Prototypes

Once the interactions have been determined, it’s time to start to put the visual design together.Though this can be the “fun” part, in a new application or significant new functionality, but it still needs to wait until the screens are well defined.

Usability Testing

If you wait to usability test until the product is built, you’re probably too late. In the mythos of UXD waterfall methodology, you build the software, rent a lab, and then test the software. Findings are applied to the application before it’s released into the marketplace.

In real life? I have never known this to happen! At best, the findings are fed into the next release but by that time, new features have come along, potentially changing the entire application anyway.

Usability testing should begin at the low or high fidelity prototype stage. I will be writing more about this in an upcoming article. But the time to test is before it’s built, not after.

Utilizing co-design during the design process, by bringing customers into design sessions, can also help the usability of the application.

This is a high level introduction to my UI Design process. Much of it will vary depending on the team. The best deliverables are ones that allow the team to communicate well with each other. That high level requirement may dictate some changes to the process outlined above.

Kayla Block has more than a decade of experience creating user interfaces for enterprise and business needs.

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