Beginning a new project is exhilarating. The thrill of discovery, the mystery of the unknown and the potential triumph over upcoming challenges. It almost feels like an epic expedition into the unknown, but even the bravest of pioneers had a foundation of knowledge before beginning their quest. For me, each project starts with one easy to remember, guiding principle derived from a famous quote in the user experience community:
“A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.” — Martin Leblanc
This same principle applies not only to the end-user interface but also the overall user experience. So, how do we nail this ultimate experience?
The answer is dependent on each project. As it turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to gathering partner requirements, aligning with partner expectations, designing a solution and iterating through that solution until your visions are in sync. This is because each project is unique, with different size teams, time constraints, budgets, technologies, etc. These details can often affect the amount of time and level of effort available for a project. However, by following the steps listed below you will be well on your way to victory.
Each project kick-off starts with Partner Discovery. This is a multi-step process for gaining an understanding of requirements, client’s marketplace and target audience / end users. Outlined below are a few touchpoints that guide our team’s Partner Discovery:
1. Stakeholder Interview – Stakeholders are generally anyone who can affect or is affected by the project. Interviews allow you to gain an understanding of the business and technical context surrounding the product. A few examples of questions at this stage: What is the product? Who will use it? How will you define success? Who is your most significant competitor? Why? What information can you provide as foundational knowledge?
2. Proto-Personas – This is the process of identifying each of the individual users that will be using the product and describing their role, intended actions and desired results from those actions. These details will help you think through the action items needed for this product during the design phase.
Design & Feedback
The design portion of any project is my favorite. During this stage, we get to take all the requirements, analyze the industry or market – potentially for the first time – and begin to sculpt a solution. Each step in this process is critical. Jumping too far ahead or committing to an assumption too early in the design process can mean hours of rework. Taking my time here lays the foundation for a pristine project and a seamless partner experience.
It is key to allow your partners the opportunity to critique and review each step in the process, shown below as “Feedback & Iteration”. The idea is to allow your partner to speak directly for their brand and provide feedback to help guide the designs for their end-users. Outlined below are steps that guide our team’s Design & Feedback process:
3. Workflows – This is the foundational step in defining our user experience. Workflows outline the overall navigation of the project and define each view, action and possible results from those actions based on a user’s permission level. Further along in the development phase of our project these workflows will become instrumental for our development team.
4. Feedback & Iteration 1
5. Wireframing or Lo-Fi Mockups – Wireframing or low-fidelity (lo-fi) mockups are your first step to fleshing out the content, placement of actions and the overall general composition of each view in your application. Wireframes are skeletal representations of the framework of the application. Color, accessibility and the overall mood of the application is not as critical during this process. This step gives us the opportunity to get early feedback, catch potential problems and get useful product insights from our client.
6. Feedback & Iteration 2
7. Hi-Fi Mockups – High–fidelity mockups build off the foundation provided by our wireframing stage. We now know where copy should exist, we understand what locations prime real estate for imagery are, etc. This step is about adding real-world context, brand colors and any additional information to be able to deliver the cohesive final vision for our project.
8. Feedback & Iteration 3
9. Interactive Mockups – Interactive mockups can be generated in a number of ways. We can either develop your high-fidelity mockups in a tool like Sketch and then port them into a tool like InVision (not an ad). Alternatively, we can use software like Adobe XD to create your high–fidelity mockups and use the built-in prototyping tool to quickly connect individual components and generate transitions between views, change behaviors or other components. This allows us the ability to then share our interactive prototype with our partner, and in turn, they can share them with their stakeholders for usability testing.
10. Feedback & Iteration 4
11. Quality Assurance – This final step allows us to close any gaps between the original set of requirements and the final design being delivered. Quality assurance helps to verify that a product has met the requirements and is free of any bugs. Typically, this occurs during the end of a development stage for an application. Consider this the real hardening or polish stage.
Each step in the process is essential. Every opportunity to communicate with our partner and gain more feedback and insight into their market is vital to the success of our project. Looking at the set of steps above, you can see that the partner is involved in our project every step of the way. Keeping our partners involved is key to providing a solution with longstanding value for our clients.