The essential stages of the UX design process for software products
As the “UX Design Trends” book says, “The UI is the paint, the canvas, the types of strokes and colors. The UX is the wonder you feel when you see the girl in the pearl earring”. And this quote captures the essence of UI and UX perfectly.
While user interface implies the way a user interacts with a software product, user experience focuses on the overall experience from using it. Thus, it is important to have a well-structured UX design process in order to ensure the end product meets the customers’ expectations and business goals.
The first step towards creating a perfect UX is collecting the data in order to understand what exactly the client wants. The data collection includes:
Study of brand identity: this is important for understanding the nature of the brand and the message that needs to be communicated to the users,
Study of existing products: for better understanding of the desired style and visual elements,
Business goals: it is important to learn what exactly the client wishes to achieve with the help of this product and what value it is intended to bring to the users.
At the stage of data collection, a designer or a business analytic learns about the brand and tries to capture its essence in order to come up with a suitable visual solution.
Once the data is collected, a designer or a BA proceeds to its analysis. At this stage, the main goal is to get a 360-degree view of a product, understand its potential, strengths, and weaknesses and get a clear portrait of an average customer.
The competition analysis
The UX design should bring a unique experience to the users. Thus, it is important to analyze what products are already in the market and how you can make your product different. For that, one needs to have a look at the competition, its benefits, and weak points. Based on this research, a designer can come up with an innovative solution that will correspond to the brand’s identity and make the product stand out from the competition.
A user persona is a fictional portrait of a potential product user. By creating a user persona, a designer can better understand the possible interests of a user, his or her motivation, possible behavior and goals.
The creation of a user persona requires extensive research, starting from the basics like demographics and moving on to more advanced characteristics like hobbies, fears, typical activities on the weekend, favorite shows, etc. Once you have a detailed portrait of a target audience, you will be able to design a product that will perfectly suit this specific category of the users.
Outline of the product’s logic
At this stage, the business analyst (or the designer) already collected the information about the brand, did research on the competition and the market and created a portrait of a target audience. Now it is time to start outlining the product’s logic and build user journeys.
The information architecture implies the logic of interaction between the content of the product. It helps structure the product’s elements in a user-centric manner and understand how the users will navigate through these elements and how these elements are related.
A sitemap is a visual representation of a product structure that shows the hierarchy of the elements. When having a sitemap at their disposal, designers can better understand the user journeys and see the key points of interaction between the user and the product. As well, a sitemap helps better arrange the visual elements according to the desired structure.
Once having a ready information architecture and a sitemap at the disposal, a designer or a business analyst can create user flows to outline the possible customer journeys.
A user flow is a visual representation of a possible customer journey: from the starting point when the user taps on the “Start app” button to quitting the app. Despite all the possible journeys a user can take, every user flow should include the visual representation of touchpoints and outline the key decision-making points.
Wireframing and prototyping
When the information is collected and assembled in a certain logic, an analyst or a designer can start with wireframing and prototyping.
A wireframe is a visual representation of an intended product. It can be in the form of a sketch on paper or in the digital format. As well, a wireframe can be a low-fidelity (with little details) or a high-fidelity (highly detailed) one. It is recommended to start with lo-fi wireframes in order to save time and resources on implementing any needed changes.
After the wireframe is done and the designer understands how a product should look and function, the next step would be the creation of a prototype. A prototype is a basic functioning version of a product and its main purpose is to test the product with real users. Same as the wireframe, a prototype can be either a lo-fi or a high-fi one.
Both the wireframe and the prototype provide the concept of the product and give the designer a better idea of the intended functionality and appearance. By studying the wireframe and the prototype, the designer sees what can be optimized in terms of UX and how to improve the product in a way that will bring value to the end-users.
Realization of the requirements
The steps above can be performed by either a designer or a business analyst, depending on the company and the availability of the specialists. But the stage of the requirements’ realization is solely the designer’s responsibility.
After receiving the information about the brand identity, target audience and competition and after studying the wireframes and prototypes, a designer can identify the areas that call for UX optimization and arrange the visual elements in a way that best serves the users’ needs. At the same time, the designer needs to keep the UX in correspondence with the brand’s identity so it translates the right message to the users.
Testing and product launch
Throughout the process of design creation, you will need to constantly test your product in order to ensure that everything functions as intended. Designers especially love the A/B tests and the reason for that is simple - the perception of the designer and the user may differ drastically. In order to satisfy the user (and not the own sense of beauty), a designer needs to test his ideas with the real users and see the responses in order to adjust the product correspondingly.
Once everything is done, the product is ready for the launch - though edits and corrections may still take place.
The key thing to remember is that UX and UI go in conjunction and one cannot be implemented without another. As well, in order to create a really interesting and engaging product, a designer must always keep the brand’s values in mind and retain them at every stage of the design process.