User research is a crucial part in the design process. By getting to know the customer, design teams can create more effective and desirable experiences. At Mercadolibre, Latin-America's leading e-commerce marketplace, I lead quantitative and qualitative research studies and conducted frequent usability studies at different fidelity levels, from paper prototypes to eye-tracking software.
When working on the fuzzy front-end of design, people rarely have a shared understanding of the desired product. The best way to deal with this is by talking to stakeholders and immersing yourself in the subject through interviews, market research and testing out reference products and services. Once all this input is gathered, the team can synthesize these inputs into insights with the purpose to inform creative explorations.
In the discovery phase of a project, it is helpful to move fluidly between ideation and strategy. Good insights can inform great ideas and visa versa. As ideas become more crystalized, they can be rated against a set of evaluation criteria. By looking at ideas from different lenses, creative territories will emerge. This is one of the most exciting and crucial moments in the design process, as choosing the right territory to focus on has a major impact on the trajectory of the product and business going forward.
There are many ways to go about executing a product. With an abundance of ideas and feature requests, it is key to organize them so that you can engage in a strategic discussion. User stories sessions are a great way to accomplish this. By putting all ideas in front of key decision makers, an MVP and product roadmap can start to take shape. At this moment you'll realize how the product looks like in everyone's head, which will be reflected in the way they talk about and prioritize the user stories. Doing this right will set the project up for success and help manage expectations during execution.
Before diving into the weeds and working out all the specs and designing the final solution, it is a good practice to stay one level higher conceptually and look at the entire journey. This will enable you to identify the key moments in the experience. Where will people spend most time? What are they expected to do before and after engaging with the product? Can we create habits, or make something worth talking about? By sketching these sequences out in user journeys, it is easy to evaluate and compare multiple approaches.
Wireframing is one of the main work outputs of an Experience Designer. It communicates the desired content, flows and actions with visual designers, developers and business stakeholders, and can be used for early-stage user testing. It is recommended to use as much real content as possible. The goal is to communicate how the content and functionalities should be presented to the user. Content hierarchy and copy will greatly impact what users will notice and understand.
Prototyping is a key component of the design process. The desired fidelity is different depending on the purpose. Low fidelity click-through prototypes are great for evaluating a flow and test whether you are presenting the right content at the right time, and whether people understand a navigation architecture. Higher fidelity prototypes are great to test more complex interactions and animation. Only by interacting with it you will notice how to tweak and fine tune the interactions. Once the prototype behaves as desired, it can be handed-off to developers so that they can properly plan how to build the interaction.
Thorough documentation is key to effective collaboration. It exposes the underlying structure of content and data. The goal is not just to document the intentions behind a design, but to collaborate with developers and designers to identify where data is coming from and how it is stored. Design documentation will help guide developers to successfully identify requirements for APIs, CMS and front and back-end infrastructures early-on in the process.