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One of the most critical steps in design is to project ideas and solutions to a specific problem and then keep iterating it to perfect it to the maximum – something usually referred to as design thinking.
You might be familiar with the term. Still, just in case, I’ll tell you more about how I usually brainstorm and structure my ideas into possible products/solutions with the methods found in that design thinking.
What is design thinking?
“We moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. We have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before.” — David Kelley
Design Thinking is an analytic and creative process where anyone has a chance to experiment, create and test out their designs and gather feedback to resign them later. It is an iterative methodology that enables people and teams to be on the same page, challenges their presumptions of a problem, and understands new ways to come up with a solution to it.
The whole idea is to have the team generating as many ideas as possible and then cut out the excess to stay with the suitable solution for the problem stated. Likewise, everything that I’ll tackle in this can be done using platforms like Miro, Invison, Milanote, Mural, or other Whiteboard/ Prototype platform.
Finding your problem
According to the definition of ISO, usability is a “degree to which specified users can use a product or system to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” Meaning that, to create something that is supposed to be used by someone, we need to identify a specific context (a problem), specific users (our audience), and specific goals that the users want to achieve by using this product create.
Even though there always seems to be some problem waiting to be tackled down, some can be easily solved by breaking it down into tiny pieces:
- Identify your situation/theme: usually, it’s easier to identify a more prominent theme (like the media) and then breaking down to situations you’ve experienced or noticed in the news or other reports/articles. For example, themes like “entertainment and the rise of online events” or “how to make media more accessible for anyone.”
- Who is affected by it? What kind of people, what is their age, do they have special attributes, how are they affected by it? For instance, people during the pandemic started to have a greater affinity for online content: they started working remotely, buying more online, attending more social gatherings with video calls, or consuming more content on streaming platforms.
- What influenced the situation or made it happen? As stated on the previous point, the pandemic was one of the main things that deployed the situation exemplified.
- Is there any evidence of solutions or of how this problem exists? Collect articles or visual references that show the solution for the problem stated or that proves that the problem exists.
Now is time to grab your pen and paper and point out your ideas and findings in post-its so that you can reorganize them later into groups and maps:
- Affinity Maps: cluster similar ideas into big categories! It’s great to organize all the concepts, articles, and either finding in their proper shelf, thus simplifying the complexity of a problem.
- Mind Map: staring in the macro and start looking for the micro! Mind map usually begins with the main theme that ramifies into subthemes. These are words, verbs, or concepts that you and your team consider to be a part of the main theme. There is no connection between the subthemes.
- Concept Map: organize the concepts presented on the affinity map hierarchically! This is used to represent tacit knowledge and cross-link concepts and subthemes with occasional information described through this map.
- Cognitive map: Similar to the concept map, but it doesn’t have a rigid structure. It represents the “maze” of our mind where you can group concepts alike and how they link with each other and other major groups of the map.
With your ideas organized, it’s the moment to come up with our personas and their story.
Choosing your persona with design thinking
Before telling the story of how your target audience comes in contact with your product and interacts with it, you need to identify them as one of these three options:
- User Personas: based on real people interviewed by you or your team.
- Proto-personas: based on data from your research, not on real people. They tend to become stereotypes of your target audience, representing your “ideal” one.
- Focus Groups: based on interviews of 5-10 people with a specific script with distinct questions to see what tendencies your target audience might have.
The ideal is to have a persona but to achieve that it’s necessary to have many responses: the more answers you have, the more accurate the persona. Ideally, the sample should be between 30 to 100 people.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to write your own protocol to find the following properties and to build your persona using design thinking.
- What are their goals?
- What are their pains/frustrations?
- What are their needs?
- What kind of personality and traits do they have?
- What motivates them?
- What technologies or channels do they use?
Additionally, you can question about:
- What skills do they have that might be put to the test on your product.
- What do they do in their free time, also known as hobbies.
- To whom they are in touch (associated with the question of the channels).
- What kind of devices or objects do they use on their daily basis.
Storytelling time in design thinking
After having the persona identified, you need to imagine scenarios of their interaction with your product:
- How did they get in touch with your product?
- Where did they hear about it?
- When will they use your product?
- Why would they use your product?
- What kind of actions will they need to do to fulfill their goals?
- How do they feel in each stage of interaction?
- What do they think in each stage of interaction?
Finally, you can start creating User Journeys to know which part of their “journey” will they get in touch with your product, how they interact with it, what they feel, and what they think. Keep in mind it can be as complex as adding all of those steps or simpler where you illustrate the touchpoints and what people do in those.
Likewise, you can create User Flows, which are diagrams where you see how each element from your product (interface) can take the user to other screens or elements. It can include wireframes from your product’s interface (Wireflows) or purely being a diagram with shapes and connectors — similar to the flowcharts do for the architecture of information.
Equally important are the Storyboards. Borrowed from the cinema industry, storyboards consist of a comic strip that represents the users’ actions and circumstances that come with it, mimicking the effect of almost watching the movie of that journey.
For that reason, they are great tools to help your teammates or clients visualize each step of the user’s journey through the product you are ideating and to apply practically the theory of design thinking.
They don’t need to be perfect drawings. Storyboards are meant to be quick sketches or patched up really quickly, so you can promptly portray all the interaction possibilities. The important thing is that the message and interaction are represented concisely and clearly. Here are some storyboards you can do:
- Stick figures.
- Simple sketches.
- Finalized sketches.
- A mixture of photography and sketch.
Wireframes and prototypes
After designing your scenery of interaction and agree on the flow of the user time, it’s your chance to sketch out the structure of your product, like books, apps, websites, or other products.
The wireframes are the first blueprint to your solution and a way for your users to experiment and feel what works and what doesn’t.
Then you can start to iterate and adding the visual elements to continue the prototype phase.
It all starts in a low-fidelity prototype (the so-called wireframes presented previously) that is usually drawn with pencil/pen and paper and outlined boxes/shapes. Here you test out the structure of your interface based on the scenarios described in the previous chapter:
- What kind of elements need to be displayed?
- How will the elements be displayed?
- What kind of interactions do the elements have or activate?
- How do you go from one screen to the other?
Always keep in mind the usability heuristics when doing these steps, and explore as many alternatives as possible but have at least two solutions ready for A/B testing.
You can also try to question people and do a Think Aloud test with one person at a time or a group. There you go through your prototype with them and ask specific questions so your testes can verbalize their thought process by telling:
- To go to a specific page, where would they click?
- To see a piece of specific information, what would they do?
- What they think will happen when you click on a specific button?
- Did the action happen the way they expected?
- What do they feel/think about a specific feature of your product?
- Did they feel that it was too dull to perform the task? Why?
It’s essential to clarify that the testers aren’t being evaluated. What is being evaluated is the product. Also, do not interrupt people’s thoughts. If they are quiet, try to ask specific questions; if they refuse to say anything, go to the next question on your protocol.
With all the feedback received from the testing period, you can make all the necessary changes and start implementing visual elements and reorganize your structure to be closed to the final product. The goal is to get as close as possible to the final product envisioned – a High-Fidelity Prototypes.
You can create a Design System (usually in the form of a style guide) with all the visuals of the components necessary, colors, fonts, illustrations, animations, and others for your team or anyone that uses your product can use and unify its identity. Don’t forget to create a mood board filled with visual references or other solutions you think might work well for your product/system as you are creating that Style Guide.
During the prototype phase, you can also create video simulations to exemplify possible animations or transitions of your product. Still, it’s simpler to create prototypes using tools like Adobe XD, Sketch, or Figma.
Then go back to testing and iterating again until you reach a balanced version of your final project. Think of it as an Alpha version or a Gold version of a game.
After that is a matter to discuss with the developers to help implement your product/system and continuing iterating necessary changes according to their feedback.
To sum up, the more you iterate your design based on the feedback of others — be it your team, client, testers, or users that will end up using your system — the better it will become.
I dare to say this it is the same old story of “practice makes perfection”: the more you do something, the better you become, but with a twist — it’s not about repeating and doing it, over and over again; it is about coming back to the thing and by adding, removing, change it. Then, you end up with something that feels complete, concise, and coherent. Almost a perfect product… that will always continue evolving through that process of iteration.