The 5 Processes of User Experience Design

Person using laptop

Ever feel lost when trying to navigate a user experience project? Or, are you a new user experience designer unsure about what exact steps there are? Are you unsure about what should be delivered at each stage? 

As with any kind of job, UX has a certain process - one that is constantly striving to better the product through an iterative methodology. The process itself isn’t a linear path; the steps blend into one another and there’s always room for testing. 

Let’s walk through the five UX processes and see the corresponding deliverables. The deliverables can help both you and the client visualize the process and what comes out of each step.

Define

The core of user experience is understanding your users and seeing what they see. Empathy is key. The design ultimately isn’t what’s best for the designer, but what’s best for the user. A key thing to remember is that you are not the user and you should never make assumptions. Study the user, from their background to their habits, to understand their goals and pain points. 

User experience designers are problem solvers, and to find a solution they first need to understand what the problem is. An easy way to learn more about the user is through stakeholder interviews, to really learn about the company, the product, and the intended goals. This will help you narrow down and define the problem.

Deliverables from this phase: Requirements documentation, stakeholder interviews, surveys, persona development (show their motivations, needs, and expectations)

User persona for user experience design

Research

Negative experiences cost money! So who are the main people who will use the product? You can’t test a bunch of web developers on how a doctor would use a medical portal, just as you can’t test doctors on how they’d use GitHub. By pinning down the type of user, you can narrow down how you should design to help them achieve their goals. In most cases, there are several users that need to be addressed. 

To further understand users, research is key. This stage looks at inspiration and research, both competitive and domain. You have to make sure you’re asking the right questions. Once you learn about the user, you can create stories and flows for their situations and how they work.

Deliverables from this phase: Industry and competitive analysis, user stories, user flows, use cases

Ideate/Analyze/Sketch

In this phase, you compile everything you’ve learned so far and analyze the information architecture. You can’t start building a house unless you have the blueprints.

After you analyze your findings, you can apply what you’ve learned by sketching out preliminary designs. Then it’s time to move onto wireframes, which basically act as a skeleton for your design.

Devoid of design elements like fonts and color, low-fidelity wireframing shows the essence of the piece. It makes it easier to focus on the arrangement of the information and how the user flows through the product. Only once you’ve explored all your options (and shared them with your team) should you move on to high-fidelity wireframes that look more similar to the final project.

Deliverables from this phase: Information architecture, wireframes, sitemaps, UI definition, sketches and brainstorming outcomes

Wireframes for user experience design

Design/Prototype

Now that you’ve synthesized your research into wireframes, it’s time to translate those sketches into designed mockups. Now you get to determine and apply the colors, fonts, images, and theming. Wrap all of those visual elements up into a brand or style guide to make sure you, the developer, and the client are all on the same page about how the product’s design system should look and function. 

Once that’s done, you move on to prototyping the design. At Zivtech we use a combination of Sketch, Craft, and Invision to show our prototypes, but there are countless tools out there, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. With prototyping tools, you can create hotspots with interaction points and animations to simulate how the final product should behave. This is much more effective than documentation. Prototypes really give the user a sense of what you are building.

Deliverables from this phase: Design system, brand and style guides, themes, specifications, interactive prototypes, minimum viable product

Prototype for user experience design

Validation

Test, test, test! In this phase, you put all of your research and designing to the test. By testing, you can see what works and what doesn’t. Things that you thought were intuitive could turn out to be confusing for the user. 

Validation is the only fool-proof way to see how successful your human-centered design actually is. Documentation is key here. The improvement is only as good as the notes taken during testing sessions or personal interviews and the performance results. After testing, consider making updates based on your analysis. It’s important to incorporate feedback and continuously improve the user experience.

Deliverables from this phase: Document user experience test results and user feedback, audit reports, evaluate performance tests and measurements, and continuous improvement documentation

“If you want a great site, you’ve got to test. After you’ve worked on a site for even a few weeks, you can’t see it freshly anymore. You know too much. The only way to find out if it really works is to test it.” - Steve Krug, Author of Don’t Make Me Think

Conclusion

At the heart of it all, constant feedback is key. That means testing from low-fidelity wireframing all the way up to the prototyping phase. Consistent communication means continuous improvement, as the only way to truly design a user experience is to get the users involved in the process. In the end, they are who we design for, not ourselves. 

The UX process is an iterative one; many versions of trial and error will create the optimum result. 
 

Ready to get started?

Tell us about your project