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When talking about the design process, it helps to understand that “design” means can entail different details in different industries, such as graphic design versus engineering design. However, their creation process shares major similarities. They all have a similar design process definition meant to solve a problem or address an issue efficiently and effectively.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Design processes involve understanding what a problem is and trying to solve it.
The Design Process Stages in UX
UX (or user experience) designers have a slightly different process than, say, engineers or even architects. We'll compare the two processes.
- Empathize: Human-centered design needs designers who can understand the problem that needs solving not just from their own perspective but from the perspective of all those who will use the product.
- Define: Once the problem is understood, it’s time to create parameters around the solution. What is the goal?
- Ideate: Conjuring ideas and solutions can be done through all kinds of methods, like brainstorming, “the worst possible idea,” SCAMPER and other ideation techniques. Allowing for true creativity and outside-the-box thinking can deliver the most inspired results.
- Prototype: Once the solutions have been nailed down, prototypes are built and analyzed.
- Test: Now, the prototypes are rigorously tested to find flaws and improve the offerings. However, this is not the end.
But Wait: More Process
The design process is always nonlinear, though, because the product may require repeated testing and rethinking. After all, once the product has been prototyped and tested, the designers then learn more about their end users, their needs and their thinking.
As a result, designers will empathize anew and have to redefine some of their thinking on the project. Once that happens, they’ll need to ideate some more and make more prototypical offerings, at which point testing is needed again and the whole process may repeat.
Engineering Design Process and Example
This process is very similar to the UX process, but it incorporates more feedback and information gathering.
- Define: Understand the problem and why it needs solving. (Drivers need cup holders in a variety of sizes since not all cups or containers are the same size.)
- Gather information: Visuals like photographs and sketches combined with data are all gathered. These are for improving understanding but also for inspiring. (Photos of consoles are viewed along with examples of cup and container sizes, from the 64-ounce Big Gulp to tiny, narrow cans of Red Bull.)
- Ideate: It’s brainstorming time! Create solutions and options that could solve the problem. (Designers sketch and discuss all kinds of potential cup holders.)
- Create: Developing the solutions from idea stage to sketch, prototype or test module forms this stage. It’s time to see what a solution looks like. (A workable car console or dashboard with a functioning cup holder can now be seen and tested.)
- Seek feedback: From showcasing to friends or investors to running town halls for proposed new builds, there are all sorts of ways that the design process seeks to receive feedback from others so as to outline issues or inefficiencies in the solution. (Everyone gets a look at said cup holders in action and can report on the experience.)
- Improve: Armed with fresh feedback and the tested ideas, it’s time for another kick at the can for improving on what’s been done so far. (Users request a wide-opening mouth that can grip a container so it won't splash around but needs to work with a drink in hand.)
It’s a nonlinear process in that maybe those involved will cycle through all these steps without circling back, but the process is meant to be interruptible and repeatable. If creating a prototype highlights another problem that was overlooked in the defining and ideating stages, then the team needs to circle back to rethink things. Sounds familiar, right?
Whatever the method or medium for these designing processes, the process is never intended to be some stone-written fixed plan of attack. If the design process is creating roadblocks, then change your process. Process isn’t everything — in business, results are.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.