Designing any product takes a certain skill set. Whether it’s a physical product like the latest smart phone or a digital product like a website, designers have to do a large amount of research and testing. In this new blog series, we’re taking a look at some of the techniques and tools we use here at DEG in order to design and test out the user experiences we create for our clients.
Why it’s important
Before we dive into the first tactic we use, it helps to reflect on why we test while designing. We design experiences based on the research we obtain during the course of our relationship with any client. From stakeholder and user interviews to user tests and secondary research, we work to understand who the users of the product are, what they need from it, and how to best meet those needs. That’s a user’s basic needs from any product, digital or tactile. However, as designers, we also strive to raise the bar so users are delighted and not just content. The only way to benchmark this is to test early and often. Without being in the process from the beginning, we may quickly find ourselves off course to the point of it being costly to rework and still meet deadlines.
Sketching & paper prototyping
When it comes to designing, very few things come earlier than sketching on paper or a white board. It might sound odd to say we test a user’s digital experience from sketches, but sketches have a number of advantages:
- They’re quickly created and serve as easy starting points for discussion
- They’re low fidelity enough to allow us to focus on a specific scenario
- Disposable to the point where there is very little emotional attachment
Design is a collaborative exercise and, as Roebalin Bustamante said, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sketching a design informally during a discussion provides context and allows for a storyboard of the user experience to happen faster than when simply focusing on a static image. Likewise, sketching in a more formal sketching studio allows for multiple people to get their ideas validated faster.
But sometimes, sketches on paper or a whiteboard aren’t enough. Sometimes you need to know how it will feel on your smartphone itself. When testing to this degree, we use apps like POPapp and ProtoSketch to help us organize our sketches into an interactive prototype on a device. This allows us to validate the sketches even more and is less daunting when we talk to users and peers to get their thoughts on what we’re producing.
All of these cycles of sketch and test happen quickly. It saves the rework from jumping straight into an application to create wireframes. It allows us to get feedback earlier and across a wider range of ideas. In the next installment of this series, we’ll move these sketches into wireframes and look at how new tools are used to widen our potential testing audiences as the design becomes more refined.