The process is just as important as the product. In fact, it's the process that makes it possible to deliver a good product. So I take my process seriously. While each project has its unique challenges and process tweaks, there's a common thread among all of them, regardless of the scale.
1. Identify the needs of the project. Whether that involves speaking with the client directly, reading the SOW, or speaking to the product manager for a specific project, I always make sure to figure out what the desired end result is. This is where I identify specific goals and deliverables, as well as visual input (and where I try to identify what the stakeholders mean if they say they want something 'clean' and 'modern').
2. Explore ideas. Every project starts manually. I like to get my ideas down right away, and the easiest way to do that is to sketch it. I start with user flows if I don't have experience architecture provided, and rough wireframes to get a sense of screen functionality. I also take this time to explore typography and color options. Mood boards help me organize my ideas during this process — I'm a visual person, after all.
3. Begin iterating on designs. Once I have a few sketches that I feel good about, I mock everything up digitally. This process can take anywhere from an afternoon to a a few weeks, depending on how much time I have to explore and how many problems I need to solve. One of my favorite challenges during this process is running into a dead end and having to re-think things from a much higher level. These types of road blocks are great, because they force me to take a step back from the smaller UI elements of the design and to really look at the app or site as a whole experience to make sure the function is just as precise as the form.
4. Gather feedback and make revisions. Ah, the revision process. It's a crucial part of the life cycle of a project and can be a source of frustration for everyone involved if there isn't a common language when speaking about changes. This is where my communication background gets put to good use: I've got to really understand what all of the stakeholders need in a final product, and what outcome their feedback is working toward. I am communicating with as many people as possible during this phase — the stakeholders, developers, QA engineers, server architects, the project manager, other designers and experience architects — in order to create designs that are as informed and detailed as possible.
5. Pass-off my designs and/or build the product. I don't always build the products I design, but when I hand off resources I try to deliver them exactly as I would need them to be delivered if I were to do it myself. This often includes detailed visuals, sliced assets, redlines and style sheets, whenever applicable. This also means I do not phase out of the project once things are handed off; I believe one of the most important times for a designer to be involved in a project is when it is being built. Developers run into issues that affect the interface of a product no matter how carefully you plan, and it's important to be able to work with them to provide flexibility in the process. Finding a solution that maintains the integrity of the visuals while still respecting the build and keeping implementation relatively straightforward is always the goal, and working directly with the developers has proven to be the best way for me to reach it.
6. Test everything. I always test my designs. I look at them on different operating systems and screens to make sure they appear and function the way they should. My special skill is uncovering bugs that the developers and QA team missed. A former boss used to give me all of our project to test before delivering them to our clients, claiming if there was a way to break something I would find it.
7. Provide support. The project doesn't always end upon delivery. Once you put something out into the world and people start interacting with it, there's going to be a need to make adjustments. Maybe something wasn't thought through completely, or users are interacting with the product in a way we didn't anticipate — regardless of the reason, there's always a reminder to treat products like living organisms. They change and evolve and often need additional attention. I love to dig into data and analytics at this stage and see what patterns emerge. This information makes my job more calculated and logic-based, and informs my visual decisions.