The Design Process (Part 1)

I have a pretty good handle on the technical skills I need. I build websites and applications for a small workforce-education partnership. I know HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I’ve used jQuery. I know VB, C#, and ASP.NET. I’ve built web apps using PHP, Java and Ruby on Rails. I’m not saying that I’m any sort of expert. I’m continuously striving to learn more, but the basic skill set is there.

What I’m lacking are design skills, and more specifically a solid design process that can guide me from an initial idea to incredible digital product. I know some things. I’ve done some rudimentary task analysis; I’ve done some inhouse usability testing using a Mac, Balsamiq mockups, and Clearleft’s Silverback; I’ve read Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think; but mostly I’ve myopically focused on the technical aspects of creating and been oblivious to the larger design process. And it shows.

My eyes were opened when I attended An Event Apart, San Francisco this past year. Kristina Halvorson’s talk on “Content Strategy” and Luke Wroblewski’s “Mobile First” talk, in particular, made me realize there is so much more to creating a website/app/whatever than just the technical implementation. The design of the product is what makes or breaks it. I’ve always know this at some level, but for some reason I’ve never put that knowledge to use. To the user, the user interface is the product. It doesn’t matter what amazing things it can do, if the user experience sucks, the product sucks. Period. Design is king.

So now I find myself at a good point to take proactive steps to improve my skill set. We’ve recently started a project to create a tablet-based (iPad) app for paperless contract signing. I plan on documenting our design process each step of the way and posting what we did and what we learned from it. I’m also reading up on every design and UX resource I can get my hands on, so I’ll be posting my thoughts and recommendations about anything I find useful.

I’m doing this mainly for my own benefit – to try and develop a design process blueprint/roadmap – but hopefully some of the lessons learned along the way will be helpful to someone else too. My writing skills are also pretty poor, so hopefully these posts can serve double duty and help me there as well.

In my next post I’ll talk about our initial research and requirements gathering.

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