Design with users in mind
UX — by Marta Izquierdo Bayà
UX is an immensely large field and full of exciting challenges. Methods can vary, tools… Everything is interchangeable in order to fit every specific project’s need. No project is identical in terms of UX research due to the varying factors involved, including user diversity, project objectives, and the iterative nature of the design process. By recognizing these differences, designers can tailor their research approaches to gain valuable insights and create user-centered design solutions.
In BB Agency no project is the same. We understand that each client and project has unique goals, users, contexts, and challenges. Everything changes BUT one thing: our Design Thinking approach. By embracing the principles of Design Thinking, we approach each project with a deep understanding of the need for customized research methods to uncover user insights and create meaningful experiences.
How, you may ask? By focusing always on the users and with tons of interviews, surveys, usability testing, or any other necessary research technique. This is how we build the foundation for designing solutions that resonate with our client’s users.
Now you will have to keep on reading if you want to know more about it…
First things first, what is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a methodology which provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is frequently utilized in product and service design, but it can also be used in general problem-solving and decision-making. Really, any problem can be potentially solved by applying it.
At its core, design thinking is centered around understanding and addressing the needs of users. It involves a human-centered approach, where designers seek to gain deep insights into the experiences, emotions, and motivations of the people we are designing for.
It’s extremely useful when used to tackle complex problems because it serves to understand the human needs involved, reframe the problem in human-centric ways, and adopt a hands-on approach to prototyping and testing. Which makes it fun and practical, not just about “thinking”.
Hence, Design thinking is applicable no matter what industry is involved. Whether a company works in business, tech, education, or nonprofit, design thinking can help develop innovative solutions based on the real needs of their customers.
If done right, Design Thinking could lead to innovative solutions starting with something as simple as a quick, low-fidelity wireframe experiment. Also it has the potential to encourage organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for, which leads to better products, services, and processes. And unleashing the creativity of every team member involved!
Phases of Design Thinking (and how to link them to the UX process)
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the d.school) describes Design Thinking as a five-stage process. Yet these five phases are not always sequential, in that they do not necessarily need to follow any specific order and can repeat iteratively to refine your solutions through the process. Please avoid the perception that phases are hierarchical or linear. Instead, think of them as a journey, sometimes with side stops, shortcuts, or plenty of issues along the way, but with a direction and a particular destination in mind.
Now let’s briefly explore each of these 5 phases and also how they can be effectively integrated within the UX design process to enhance the development of user-centered and innovative solutions.
Phase 1: Empathize
Phase 2: Define
In this phase, it is your turn to organise all the information you have collected during the Empathize phase and systematise it. It will be key to analyse all your data and various observations to formulate a clear problem statement in a human-centered manner.
An accurate definition will help the team establish features, functions, workflows and other elements to resolve the problem that you are all trying to work out. Thus this is a phase that requires clarity, focus and definition (as its name implies). Here you are working with experiences, cultural influences… And you will have to create solutions out of all this landscape of lived realities you have explored.
Here is where the UX team has the opportunity to clearly articulate the design challenge, ensuring that it aligns with the insights gathered, as well as guiding the team through the doubts (there are always new questions, insecurities…) that may rise.
Phase 3: Ideate
Congratulations! So far you’ve established your project goals, grown to understand your users and their needs, and you’ve analyzed your insights in the Define stage to create a user-centric problem statement. With this solid background, you and your team can start to look at the problem and ideate innovative solutions to your problem statement.
There are hundreds of ideation techniques you can use such as Brainstorm, Worst Possible Idea, How Might We, or SCAMPER, and many more. Pick your techniques wisely in order to help you investigate and test your ideas.
During the Ideation phase, you are ready to generate ideas. With your acquired deep understanding of your users and a well-articulated challenge to solve, it’s time to start developing potential solutions. Unleash your creativity!
Phase 4: Prototype
Now it is the moment to identify the best possible solutions and bring them to life; transforming ideas into tangible realities. They do not have to be perfect, as the refinements and improvements will be done later on. This phase is purely based on producing quick, low-quality and inexpensive potential versions of your solution, to investigate the key solutions generated in the ideation phase.
Experimentation is key here. The solutions will be implemented within prototypes and, one by one, they will be investigated and then accepted, improved or rejected based on their potential by the team. This rapid iterative process allows creatives to be imperfect and embrace collaboration between different sources of ideas and perspectives.
Paper sketches, wireframes, interactive mockups… Anything goes!
Prototyping allows designers to gather early feedback and validate design assumptions before investing significant resources in development. So don’t be afraid to bring a solution to life in unexpected ways since that could be the one!
Phase 5: Test
The moment of truth, time to put your solution in action in a real world setting. The team now will have to test the final solution using the best proposals identified in the Prototype stage. The ultimate goal here is obtain a real and deep understanding of the product and its users. But no worries, this phase is not the end!
In an iterative process such as design thinking, the results generated in the test will be used to redefine the initial problem (or identify even more problems), as well as improve the initial solution proposal. This increased level of understanding may help you investigate the conditions of use and how people think, behave and feel towards the solution (and even lead you to jump back to a previous stages in the design thinking process). Then you can proceed with further iterations and make alterations and refinements to rule out alternative solutions.
Although testing is often relegated to quantitative “benchmarks” or eye-tracking, a qualitative sharing session with users can go much deeper into the “why” of the feedback. Try to ask open questions to your users. Here techniques such as Usability Testing, Cognitive Walkthrough or Think Aloud will become your best friends.
Use the feedback gathered to iterate and refine the design. This creates a continuous feedback loop where you can insert your new learning back into the process and optimize your concepts until you’ve solved the problem!
Overall, you should understand that all these Design Thinking stages are different modes which contribute to the entire design project, rather than sequential steps. Your goal throughout is to gain the deepest understanding of the users and what their ideal solution/product would be so you can work towards that.
How do we approach Design Thinking?
Design thinking’s value as a world-improving, driving force in business is obvious in the fact that global heavyweights such as Google, Apple and Airbnb have wielded it to notable effect. This is not just another process, this is an incredible tool to empower teams to generate ground-breaking solutions in a user-centric way. Without users (aka people), solutions are pointless.
This represents a magnificent way to create stronger teams built upon a key value: empathy. But also it encourages to instill deeper collaboration, foster a more resilient design culture, and most importantly, create potentially monumental solutions that improve the lives of other human beings with a human-centered mindset.
As a creative agency, in BB Agency we place a strong emphasis on integrating Design Thinking into our everyday practice and projects. It is a fundamental approach that guides our process and enables us to create solutions such as scalable websites with modular CMS, design systems, future-proof brand identities, and much more. And much, much more.
Integrating Design Thinking into our everyday may not seem easy, but it certainly is once you set the north star to the right place (your users). This empowers us to deliver innovative and user-centered solutions. It allows BB to approach challenges with empathy, generate diverse ideas, prototype, and collaborate effectively. By embracing Design Thinking, we create design solutions that not only meet user needs but also inspire engagement and drive business success.
Throughout our daily practice, we embrace Design Thinking methods and tools to foster creativity and collaboration among us and our clients. We conduct brainstorming sessions, cross-team workshops, and plenty of user interviews to generate a wide range of ideas and perspectives. On the UX end, user testing is also very present in our toolbox. From testing out current user flows to creating new navigations and even product wireframes!
There isn’t a single and correct way to materialise Design thinking into your work. It’s an idea, a strategy, a method, and a way of seeing the world. Design thinking is a way to solve problems through creativity. Certainly, it isn’t a fail-safe approach; nor is it the only approach. But based on the impact we want to create in the world, this seems the best way to follow.
Do you have better methods? Please let us know! And since you got this far, please check our amazing projects made with (guess what!) Design Thinking at their core.