The first step in each project is to understand the challenges we are facing as designers and precise expectations of our work.
To get there, we must understand:
- The brief we get from our clients
- The business perspective and requirements
- The views and behaviour of the end-users
- How the market breathes
- The scope of the project
- The team involved in the project
Whatever you find out in the research phase is an excellent ground for future ideas and decision making.
At the beginning of a project, there is always a set of requirements. It is usually in the form of a Word document or e-mail, sometimes a flowchart and sometimes even wireframe sketches.
Most of the time, these "briefs" will provide enough information about the project, but almost certainly there will be many unknowns in these instructions. It mostly happens because the clients have a lot of background information and knowledge these text documents and charts are not able to communicate.
That is why we usually organize discovery workshops to kick off a project and analyze the requirements together with clients. If the workshop is not an option, you can always hop on a call with the clients and ask them similar questions.
Here is what you need to find out:
- What problem needs to be solved?
- Who is going to need the solution for this problem? Is it a business issue, or is it related to user needs?
- What is the context of usage? (Is it a crowded location, specific situation or something else)?
- What is the area of specialization? (health, finance, retail, etc.)
- Who is the key stakeholder, a decision-maker?
- What are the main business requirements?
- What are the important user requirements?
- What is the short-term and long-term goal of the project?
- How do you think this project might fail? What can go wrong?
- Do you have a roadmap for feature development?
- Are there any direct competitors for this project?
- What are the competitor's advantages and disadvantages?
- How do you want to position yourself on the market?
- What communication tone&voice would you like to use?
- Is there already a visual identity (a brand) for this project, or it also needs to be done?
Once you get the answers from the clients, spend some extra time researching and collecting insights about the area, context, users and competitors yourself.
Deliver all of your findings to the project team (colleagues and clients) in the form of a research report.
Here are some useful research resources:
Current state analysis
If you're working on a mobile app redesign project, also dig through App Store and Play Store ratings and reviews. If possible, do a round of usability testing with current app users, to catch all the issues they are experiencing.
To get the big picture of the market where the future digital product will grow, find as many similar products, companies and startups.
You can rank them by relevance to this project and then analyze the UX and UI of these products. Compare the results to the project requirements. In the new project, you can improve on the best practices these products use or avoid bad practices you come across.
Browse the app stores for similar apps, but also browse for concepts and design examples on Behance or Dribbble. Often, design companies and agencies have great case studies on their websites, and it's worth finding insights on similar products there as well.
Learning about users
There are many methods you can use to get close to the target audience. It is essential to do this if you are aiming for the success of a digital product. Depending on the project type and requirements, you can use:
- user interviews
- focus groups
- field study
- diary study
- card sorting
- A/B testing
- desirability study
- usability testing
- participative design workshops
You can find more details about each method in this presentation.
If there are many stakeholders in the company, equally relevant to the project (i.e. in a telco corporation or a bank), it would be great to get a chance to talk to them about project requirements, goals and their vision of the final product.
Usually, these companies have different specialized departments, so it's crucial to get input from all of them.
We usually do this in form or live or remote interview session which takes no longer than 45-60 minutes per person.
These interviews help us see the general attitude and vision of the future product.
If you got yourself in any of the research methods, the affinity diagram information sorting would help clear your head and pull out the most valuable facts for the project. This NNGroup's article will help you to grasp the concept of affinity diagramming.