User Experience - laying the right foundations
Proper consideration of the foundational elements of great design lies at the core of good user experience. Assesment and documentation of these core features should be addressed before, not as part of the creative design process; for complex projects, they're too involved for a first brief and too important to leave to chance. Consequently, user experience as a function is critical to modern digital design.
Once we understand the project and page level objectives, we can structure information around them. "Looking through the eyes of a customer" is an integral part of this journey and helps us to design around "information scent". Guiding the user through the body of content in a balanced way that both fulfils your objectives and segments in a way that makes sense to the customer (or persona) under consideration is the primary goal. With tasks, customer grouping and content aligned effectively, we can separate that content into 'high value' and 'support' work and create top-level sitemaps and copy plans from which to build. At this point, we have a sound starting point to begin working on interaction with the user.
User Flow & Process Mapping
With information architecture set and objectives understood, we can then consider "user flows". User flows differ from user journeys as each is viewed as a linear flow through a task to a defined outcome. Principal flows are established to develop a deep understanding of the content, tools and design elements that will be required to enable the user to make their way from the point of entry to an endpoint. We consider and document each user flow in isolation to bring complete clarity to individual tasks. The resulting body of work provides planners with the fundamental information necessary to define and create optimal user journeys. Such a deep dive technique is not required for more straightforward projects, though it is invaluable to complex and enterprise work.
It is at this juncture where we bring the information architecture, and user flows together. We document each user journey as a high-level flowchart or page 'scamp' combining all user flows for each of the site objectives into a suite of consolidated journies, with all of their possible outcomes noted. This is a critical component of every project, whether documented or merely considered because this is where the creative thinking that marries the internal objectives of our clients, with the aspirations of their users is done.
The process provides ample opportunity for all parties to consider the needs of the user and to build consensus on the direction that the final design piece needs to follow, and often the technologies that will be required to fulfil the project.
We assess critical and routine tasks and begin to plan essential features, page layouts, navigation structure and in-page tools in the context of documented user journeys. These components are built out into design free prototypes (wireframes) that allow you and us to get a feel for a product in use, before committing design and development resources to a project. The wireframes enable us to check for completeness of information and structure, allow us to look objectively at how the piece will fit together and provides an easy to follow starting point for technical and creative teams to begin their work. We publish wireframes in a collaborative, online environment with live presentation, whiteboards and comment functions available, to facilitate iterative amendments as early as possible into the creative process. The same setting is used throughout the early design phases meaning all stakeholders can have a clear view of what it is that is being developed and how the thinking progresses in near real time.
Software Requirements Document
By the time these processes are complete, and any additional workshops and planning meetings have taken place, we'll have everything we need to generate a comprehensive software requirements document (SRD). The SRD lists the project purpose, a system overview, architecture, all features, an extensive list of user stories, technologies being used to deploy the project, a testing program, effort and resource requirements to complete and a framework timetable for delivery. The SRD forms the schedule in our development contracts so you as a client can be satisfied that what we state is to be delivered in the SRD is what we are contractually obliged to provide.
Conversely, if you have instructed us purely for a UX task, the SRD and supporting documentation will provide an external development team with everything they need to quote and deliver the work accurately.
Who To Talk To
If you've a UX or consultancy project you'd like to discus with us, please call Karl Baxter on 0121 616 0093 during office hours. Alternatively, ping us a message via the button below and we'll call you back at a time to suit you.