The Ideal, Yet Long, Product Design Process

New product design involves collaboration between Product Managers, UX Designers and Software Engineering.  In real-life situations it is important to keep the ideal UX design process in mind as a guideline.  Marcin Treder’s observations written in a Smashing Magazine article are a good reminder.  Here, I’ve written out my own ideal Product Design process from a UX perspective, combining my own real-life experiences with a number of UX process documents found online.

1. Prepare

Initial kick-off to introduce and understand the context of the project.  What is the background story and motivation?   Review the brand, guiding principles, and long-term vision of the organization.  Gather information.  Define the project.

2. Plan

Develop a strategy, roadmap and vision for the project.  What research, competitive analysis, customer feedback, stakeholder interviews, and other information is needed to gather into the requirements for the project?  Begin to define and list expectations and goals.  How high are we aiming, how big is the project?  What is it we want to accomplish?  Product Management should have at least a draft vision the Product Requirements Document (PRD).

3. Research & Analyze

Compile data and statistics gathered from field research and ethnography, user and stakeholder interviews, usability tests, goal and task analysis, site and search analytics, content and metadata audits, and competitive analysis.  Understanding why we want this.  Incorporate results and conclusions into PRD.

4. Define Product Requirements

A good PRD defines the purpose, describes features, sets release criteria and sketches rough timing.  Review and analyze the results of research, gather needs and ideas.  Refine ideas into requirements and content of the project.  Requirements are written out, often as stories in the Agile process, or as a larger document that may include lo-fi sketches or wireframes gathered from whiteboard sessions.  Here is good article about writing good product requirements documents.

5. Sketches

Whiteboard or paper sketches will help visualize a variety of UI options and workflows. Review with team, note changes and decisions to drive wireframes and UX Design specification document.

6. UX Design Specification

Refine the PRD and sketch meeting decisions into a UX Design PDF document with wireframes, workflows, storyboards with accompanying descriptions.  This shared with the product team: product management, engineering and user experience for review and refinements.  Typically this phase is not shared with the user community.  It is iteratively refined leading towards a spec that will be referred to in building, implementing the end product.

7. Prototype & Design Iterations

This is the most collaborative and iterative stage in the process.  It is the “How does it look and feel?” phase.  “The design phase is to put ideas in front of users, get their feedback, refine them, and repeat.  These ideas may be represented by paper prototypes, interactive wireframes, or semi-functioning prototypes, all deliberately created in low-fidelity to delay any conversation relating to graphic identity, branding or visual details.” [from]  The UX Design Specification is refined to include high fidelity mockups for review and approval for the next phase.  It makes sense to get user feedback during this phase, since once in the implementation stage it’s costly and disruptive to make numerous changes.

8. Implementation & Production

High fidelity, final visual design elements such as icons, GUI elements and CSS stylesheets are created by the UX design team and delivered to software engineering to implement.  Quality assurance plays an important role in testing and verifying the accuracy of the software’s UI in matching the UX design spec.  QA review until evaluated ready for release and deployment by the product team.

In conclusion, this Product UX design process is traditional, and likely to be time consuming.  Jeff Gothelf’s concept of Lean UX may be an alternative methodology applying a tighter cycle of prototyping and validation.  I’ve come up with an Efficient UX Design Process outlined in another blog article.