When a client hires Big Nerd Ranch to build their product, they entrust us to build the best experience for their own customers. The Design team is responsible for ensuring that the product meets and exceeds the needs of the users. This, in turn, helps our clients attract and retain their customers.
If creating an application is like building a house, it doesn’t make sense to pick out the paint and the fixtures until the walls, plumbing, and electrical are in. User Experience Design does not begin with the user interface. Rather, it concerns itself with how the user will complete the most important tasks, what data they will need, what data they will provide, and the path(s) that navigates them to their goals.
There are various methods of User Experience Design. An essential first step is to document the user flow. User flows communicate how the user will interact with the system and how the system itself can help the user complete a task. User flows are typically in a diagram format. They do not necessarily show how the user interface will support the completion of a task, rather they help the designer understand the steps and decisions points that are necessary for a user to complete a task.
User flows are based on prior knowledge of the domain and the user, gathered in the Discovery phase. Conducting user research is an essential part of being able to accurately document the user flow, and it is so essential that entire industries have been created around this goal. With either found research or freshly conducted research, the designer can start documenting how the user should move through the experience at a very high level.
From user flows, the designer can then move on to creating a sitemap or app map. This map is a way of organizing the sections of the application and all of the individual screens that support the needs of the user and the features that support them. From this, it is possible to decide on the best navigation for the application. Should it be a hierarchical navigation? A flat navigation or experience-driven navigation? These decisions cannot be made until a detailed map is rendered.
Without the user flows and app map, hastily drawn conclusions could result in a confusing navigation and an untidy collection of screens that place undue burden on the user. It should be fast, easy, and intuitive for a user to get content and complete tasks.
Finally, once the app map is created. The designer can start the task of designing wireframes. Wireframes are like the blueprints of the actual house. The wireframes do not concern themselves with color, typography, button styles, or other types of graphic content. Wireframes, rather, communicate the details of the screens that are required for the user to accomplish the tasks and where all of the content will appear on the screen. In keeping with our analogy, the designer is deciding on where to place certain walls, closets, doors, and so forth. But not deciding about the style of door, paint colors, fixtures and other things that make the house livable. That will get designed during the UI phase.
The wireframes are ultimately the most important deliverable of the UX Design phase. They will be used by the developers to start building the product. Many placeholders can be used at this time, but it is good practice for the designer to try to use as much real copy language and have as much information about the content as possible. This is where the product begins to really take shape. The designer may even create low-fidelity prototypes at this stage to validate certain design decisions.
If the user experience is hastily designed, there is great risk that the app will not meet your customer’s expectations. The navigation, content organization, and essential features of the app require careful thought so that the user can begin the process of engaging and trusting your product. It is the designer’s job to design the best foundation possible.
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