Using design best practices ensures your user experience (UX) design and development process is focused and efficient. These four best practices — ensuring visibility of the process, following logical steps, taking ownership of work, and communicating effectively — are a must for any successful UX team.
Successful Collaboration Requires a Plan
Team collaboration is always a challenge, both within a UX team itself and between UX designers, engineers and stakeholders. To be sure, you need effective working practices to achieve good outcomes. Process methodologies such as Agile, Lean and Extreme offer a generalized structure for collaborative work to occur, which you can then customize to be more specific to the requirements of a user interface (UI)/UX project. How you do that matters. A lot.
When adapting a process methodology for UX design and development, drawing on traditional design practices such as graphic design and industrial design is incredibly valuable. Tried and true design practices can improve the quality of the final outcome. Maybe even rescue a project from failure.
Here are four practices for effective collaboration that I’ve applied to UX design and development projects with great success.
1. Enable visibility of the process, design, and implementation
Enable a truly “shared vision” of a project by making everything easily visible to everyone on the team. A robust document-sharing system is a must. Until they are implemented, designs can only be understood by the multiplicity of documents that represent them, such as user stories, lists of requirements, storyboards, visual concepts, wireframes, finished screen mockups and flow diagrams. So be sure to keep your system up to date.
Expend the effort to make the working implementations accessible even to those who do not have access to code repositories, so that the UX team and stakeholders can try out the product early, and can review each stage of progress. This may involve developing the code in an order that favors the UI, so that the UX can be evaluated and tweaked early in the process.
A stakeholder’s greatest fear, next to project failure, is that they will not end up with what they bargained for. They must have a window into the project in order to monitor progress, as do all members of the team. By sharing, modifying and agreeing on documents, they act as informal contracts with stakeholders. (Read more about working effectively with stakeholders here.)
2. Follow a logical sequence of steps
Designing has a logic to it, progressing from fuzzy ideas, to general concepts, to requirements and guidelines, and finally to specific details. Violating this logic can get you in trouble.
True, it’s not always possible to follow this ideal order, and there can be creative and practical benefits to following a non-logical order. For example, exploring a particular part of a project in detail up front or developing an early prototype can inform the overall design problem. But, too often a non-logical order occurs due to poor planning or miscommunication. Say, a design is created before the UX strategy is agreed upon or details are nailed down before the overall concept is created. That doesn't make sense as it often means work is thrown out and confusion ensues.
By working in a logical order, you can get sign-off from stakeholders at progressive milestones. The result is that you can build a design from basics to details that you are sure the stakeholders are satisfied with.
And yes, while it's typically best for design to start before implementation, many of times I’ve seen design and development start at the same time. It can work if they proceed in parallel with design staying ahead of development by an appropriate time frame.
3. Empower ownership in areas of expertise
Be clear about who is responsible for the quality and completeness of each piece of work, and empower them to — in fact, insist that they — take responsibility for it.
What I’m trying to avoid is the “throw-it-over-the-wall” problem. The UX team creates a design spec and throws it over the wall to development. Development implements to spec as best they understand it, then throws it over the wall to QA. By the time it’s released, the final product is quite different than the original design for no good reason except misinterpretations and lack of communication. No one “owned” the piece they worked on.
Make sure that the appropriate professionals on your team have final sign-off on the parts of the implementation that they are responsible for. Graphic designers need to sign off on the visual quality; information architects need to sign off on the menu text and messaging; UX designers need to sign off on the usability, etc. By doing this, you'll get the maximum benefit from the expertise of your team members.
4. Develop good communication habits
It’s difficult to collaborate effectively without communicating so make communicating part of your daily routine. Schedule regular daily or weekly meetings and conduct the meetings even if you think there's nothing to talk about. If everyone reports his or her status, it will almost always prompt better coordination of work. Inevitably, important issues are revealed and have the opportunity to be resolved early.
Make sure everyone attends and everyone reports. This is especially important if the team is not all working in the same location. Nothing fuels misunderstanding like a lack of communication, which can lead to contentiousness and disharmony among team members.
Make the Extra Effort
These four practices are simple but powerful. Granted there is extra effort in having regular meetings, keeping up-to-date document sharing, making working implementations accessible, and getting appropriate sign-offs. But in the end, you will find that they reduce risk of failures, enhance quality levels of outcomes, and are actually time and money savers.
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