Ian Armstrong | UX Design

Process Methodology

“UX is Process” — Ian Armstrong

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso (attribution)

“Everyone is kind of an idiot.” — Adam J. Kurtz

With that in mind, let’s talk about my UX process.

I am Agile

That’s inherently tricky because the entire field of UX relies on a deeply waterfall premise: learn everything you can possibly know about the user before executing a design because you only get one chance at a first impression. The whole idea of Lean UX, at first blush, is a masterclass in cognitive dissonance.

An agile process relies on two important things: a sense of direction and a compelling hypothesis. Without either one, it flounders. The goal of research is to improve the quality of the average hypothesis but all the research under the stars can’t tell a team what they’re supposed to build. That’s the creative leap that makes design work, which leads me to the next thing…

I Practice Dual-Track Design

Dual track design is a phrase that I coined to represent the heartbeat of a design sprint (ideative) and Lean UX (iterative). Through the design sprint, we align on an opportunity, reframe it as a challenge, then draft a blue sky target. Once the target has been validated, Lean UX fleshes out the details over time. The idea behind this concept is something I go into during the back half of my article on The Evolution of UX Process. If you’ve ever heard a designer say to their product owner “if I could write that story I would already have done the design” then you’ve seen the moment when I like to switch tracks.

I Am a Proponent of Pair Design

A traditional UX designer’s job is to tirelessly challenge and reframe assumptions, lending perspective to a team of detail-oriented doers. A classic visual designer’s job is to achieve what managers often call “pixel perfection”. It is all but impossible to hold perspective and perfection in the same mind; the dominant aspiration will always assimilate its reflection. For this reason, I prefer to pair a researcher/wireframer (IxD) with a digital artist (VizD). Fresh creative takes fewer cycles to reach peak effectiveness, negating any perceived loss of efficiency when the two designers are no longer working on two mission critical tasks in their own swim lanes. A/B test this for six months before you argue with me.

I Believe in a Ruthless Pursuit of Value

There are five things I need to know in order to start a design project: the market opportunity, the business goals that work in pursuit of that opportunity, the user behaviors that will quantify our success, the nature of that user, and the value they seek. Value is what connects the user to the opportunity in the form of a choice. “This is a solution, there are many like it but this one is mine.” The pursuit and delivery of value is at the core of what drives a successful business outcome.

Alignment is Our Launchpad

Without alignment, critique and optimization are impossible. In order to drive the creation of breakthrough products we need to be aligned on the five core ideas in the previous section: opportunity, goals, behaviors, personas, and desired value. Without that alignment, every single product decision will devolve into conflict and ineffective compromise.

Process is the Vehicle

A consistent process allows us to understand what has been accomplished, what our next steps are, where we expect to be in the future, and how our work will be measured. Creativity is inherently chaotic and artists are prone to crippling self doubt in a negative workspace. A team’s creative process should be flexible enough to allow for chaos but also firm enough to prevent a team from getting stuck in a rut or lost in the woods.

Insight is the Fuel

Creativity abhors a vacuum. While it is true that design is often a benevolent dictatorship (and not a democracy), every single person from the product owner to the engineers should feel welcome to present design hypotheses. There are no wrong ideas, just differently informed points of view. A designer needs to be emotionally bulletproof when a team member’s ideas contradict their own because a design-lead organization needs to foster a culture of creativity. In that culture the best feedback is often inquisitive, not prescriptive: as in “yes, and how about this?” Anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness are the enemies of insight. Surprise is the engine of innovation. As a consequence, I aim to find something surprising in every day.