I’ve been a UX designer for many years, and have also served as a web developer and Scrum Project Owner. I pride myself on creating user-centered designs which are also technically feasible and financially valuable. I like to think of my Unique Value Proposition (UVP) the following way:

While the majority of my time is spent focusing on the orange circle, my mind is always on the intersection of all three. Here’s how my design process works.

The “Five Planes” Approach

Jesse James Garrett’s book, “The Elements of User Experience” describes the user experience as a stack of 5 layers, or planes – each plane more “concrete” than the more abstract one below.

It’s critical to make design decisions working from the bottom up, because mistakes become more costly to fix as you work your way up the stack. You never want to make changes more than one plane below where you are currently focused. This principle provides the fundamental foundation of my approach to UX and Interaction Design, which I break down into distinct phases based on each plane.

The Strategy Phase

“What are we trying to accomplish?”

The very first thing I do when taking on a design project is make sure that all project stakeholders are aligned on what the goal of the project is. This is accomplished via the crafting of a problem statement.

A problem statement contains the answers to two questions:

  • What problem(s) are we trying to solve?
  • How will we know when we are successful?

The problem statement should be focused on business goals, not on the details of what will actually be built. In the real business world, someone above my pay level may have already decided that (for example) the end result of a project will be a mobile app, but even if this decision is out of my control, I still need to at least decide what problem the app is going to solve. (By the way, a mobile app is not the solution to every problem!)

During this phase I’m talking to executives, VP’s, program managers, or project managers, depending on the nature of the project. And this really is just a conversation. I’m not trying to solve anything at this point - I’m just trying to make sure I’m clear on why someone felt they needed to hire (or engage) a designer in the first place. In an agency or freelancing scenario, this exercise should be completed even before a contract is signed. Not being clear about the goals of a project is a sure way to ensure failure before the project even begins.

Once everyone is in agreement on what the project goals are, it’s time to enter the Discovery Phase. This is when I try to learn everything I can about the current state of things, so I am well equipped to understand what needs to be changed. This process will involve some or all of the the following activities:

  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Landscape Analysis
  • Analytics Review
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • User Interviews
  • Current State Analysis

The Scope Phase

“What features do we need?”

The Scope phase is when I take what I learned in the Strategy phase and start to figure out how to make those findings actionable. The goal of this phase is to take what I learned about users and hypothesize about what it changes will be needed to help

This process will involve some or all of the following:

  • Persona Development
  • Scenario Mapping
  • User Story Development

The Structure Phase

“How does everything fit together?”

Now that you have an idea of what you want to offer, you need to start thinking about how your new or modified functionality will fit together. This is when your ideas begin to take concrete form and your final design begins to take shape.

This process will involve some or all of the following:

  • Card Sorting
  • Site Mapping / Architecture Diagramming

The Skeleton Phase

“How will people interact with this?”

The skeleton phase is when you finally start thinking about what individual screens or pages in an app or website will look like, and what the UI elements will be.