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StrategyDec 30, 2015

Visual Prototyping, Data-Driven Design, and Other Trends in Digital

Justin Bell

One of my favorite things about working at Credera is that every day I get to collaborate with our amazing team on a wide variety of challenges.  When a client asks me “what do you know about (fill in the blank technology or digital topic)?”, I almost always have a few talented colleagues that I can turn to for help.  We get together, talk about that client situation / problem / question and put our collective experience and skill sets together to help.

With the continued emergence of digital, the overall user experience is more important than ever. I thought it might be helpful to share some interesting perspectives from some of Credera’s top user experience leaders here regarding the topic of trends and tools within the user experience space.

What new trend or development in User Experience are you most excited about?

Jason Booker, Creative Director

Prototyping. Which conveniently you asked more about in the next questions. Good thinking, Justin. I love to be able to show my work in an actual browser or on an actual mobile phone, clicking and tapping to bring it to life…the context makes it far more relevant and real.

I’m seeing more commoditization of UI styling – just getting a great-looking website is faster and cheaper to do than ever with platforms like Squarespace, the proliferation of inexpensive WordPress and Bootstrap themes, and coming soon, The Grid, which uses AI to create a website, and which some designers seem to regard as the Terminator for web design. But it has all pushed us as designers out of the role of making pretty pictures and into more holistic creative thinking and strategy, sometimes going as far as designing whole product experiences. And there’s more of a future there for us.

Also, gradients. Who knew they would come back in style? The CSS property linear-gradient now lets us add it right into the code. Boom. I love gradients.

Gabe Macias, Art Director

Designing omni-channel web solutions with an emphasis on mobile has become a major differentiator. Companies are recognizing the value in having user experience play a major role in the overall strategy of an online solution. With mobile usage trending upward we need to be thinking about experiences holistically and how we can deliver a meaningful experience on all devices and not force users into using a specific device. We have a real opportunity to create digital solutions for the masses without being bound to device specific requirements.

Manish Limaye, Principal and User Experience Practice Leader

Don Norman coined the term User Experience years ago defining it as ‘all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.’  I’ve seen a recent trend or emphasis on the concept of Service Design.  Service Design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and interaction between service provider and customer.

Service Design plays a significant role in user experience as it begins to address the various interactions outlined in Norman’s definition.  Effective Service Design aims to provide a consistent experience to end users throughout an entire process that involves multiple touchpoints with systems, employees, and processes.  A classic example of service design would be air travel. The process involves several discreet steps from booking a flight to printing a boarding pass to boarding a plan that contain several small intermediate steps that may involve systems (e.g., kiosk, website, etc.), people (e.g., security personnel, flight attendant, etc.) and processes (must go through security prior to boarding a plane).  Service design looks at the entire process and attempts to design solutions that deliver a consistent experience from start to finish.

How would you describe the process you use to help empathize with a particular brand’s customer / user as you are designing the user experience?

Jason Booker, Creative Director

Imagination helps, but there’s no substitute for creating opportunities to tangibly interact with the brand and try to gain firsthand insight into a user’s perspective and needs. Kind of like a method actor, but you don’t have to pretend to be Abraham Lincoln for three straight months. When creating a digital storefront, I’ve gone to the brick-and-mortar to experience it; when building back-office software, we talk to the actual employees that will use it. The most powerful motivator to me for doing good work, though (beyond what empathy gives you), is to find and focus on the real benefit you’re providing: not moving more product, but helping bring down the cost of healthcare, or helping people connect, or helping people do their job easier and better. There’s always a purpose to the work that resonates if you dig deep enough.

Gabe Macias

I am all about the numbers. Data-driven design is the best way to make qualitative decisions for the best possible user experience. When we are able to get our hands on analytics it drives our strategy and helps us connect a brand with their customers from a functional standpoint. The other side of making a connection is designing for emotion and learning how to tell the brand story in a way that visually communicates with the users. If you can tell a compelling story then your customers will become repeat customers and you start to build a user base.

Manish Limaye

Empathy by definition attempts to relate to or understand the feelings of another individual.  For us this means identifying with end-users, customers, guests, etc. that are interacting with a product we develop.  The best way to do this is to talk to real end-users of a system or product and compare those results to the experience our clients hope to provide.  End-users do an amazingly good job describing how they feel when interacting with a website, native application, or other digital product.  The trick is to not be prescriptive or ‘lead the witness’ when engaging users.

In addition to meeting with end-users we try to ‘walk a day’ in their shoes.  If we are building a site for a yoga studio we go and do yoga.  If we are working on creative for a restaurant we go and eat a cheeseburger.  We learn a lot from stepping into the role of a persona.  Call it research, field studies, or something else.  There is a lot of knowledge to garner by just being a user like everyone else.

What user experience tools do you use for collaboration and reviews?

Jason Booker

Our UX team has spent most of the past year exclusively using InVision to prototype and demo design solutions we create. I’m amazed by its simplicity, speed, and flexibility…not to mention the pace at which they release new features into the software. It has completely changed the way I show clients my ideas. For years I emailed PDF files and asked people to use their imagination, or clumsily put screen mockups into a browser with Dreamweaver hotspots…this is 1,000 times better. The prototyping, commenting, and collaboration features were enough to make me a user for life, but they keep adding things like animation, Photoshop artboard support, and project management tools, and cover everything in awesomesauce.

Gabe Macias

InVision App sets the standard for collaboration and reviews. It takes email out of the equation and allows clients to comment directly on the design. There is a live share feature that allows you to lead a design review remotely and share your designs with multiple participants at the same time. InVision is so easy to use and it takes multiple devices into account for presentation.

Manish Limaye

For clients interaction and collaboration we use InVision App extensively within the practice.  Not only does it serve as a repository of sorts for our creative it also provides an easy mechanism for collecting feedback on designs and posting iterations.

Internally our collaboration methods are a bit low tech and take the form of simple communication.  Personally I am a big advocate of this approach.  Our studio environment allows for simple easy interaction between designers and everyone is encouraged to share what they are working on with everyone else in the spirit of crafting a better product.  Director level team members provide more structured oversight from project to project but anyone can give suggestions.

What role does visual prototyping play in your process? 

Jason Booker

There’s a great quote I read on one of InVision’s blog posts: “Tangible items force everyone to react, which helps you guide crucial conversations.” This is so true with prototyping – whether it’s a client or team that has to react to the prototype, or just you as the designer. So much of what we create is no more than a hypothesis; we think it’s a good idea for the app to function this way or the site to be structured that way. Maybe the ideas are good, but prototyping helps poke holes in ideas faster, whether it’s realizing a button on a mobile screen is too small to tap, or controls are taking up too much space in a software tool. As designers we enjoy this rare power of being able to create beautiful things that get people to pay attention. And with prototyping we can use that to help clients understand the potential of ideas we have for them…and also better refine those ideas as they take shape.

Manish Limaye

We are huge fans of visual prototyping and use it on all of our projects.  InVision App makes this easy allowing a designer to create ‘hot spots’ or touch points to simulate interaction and flow.  Prototyping is extremely valuable for us and allows our team to iterate with clients quickly to not only address the visual design but the process a typical user would follow when interacting with the site.  InVision also allows for the inclusion of interactions such as a sticky header or off canvas element to make the experience as realistic a possible.  The tools are so good that we have even conducted usability studies without informing the user that they are interacting with a prototype.

Still, expectations need to be managed.  There can be a tendency to anchor to a process or flow based on a prototype that when put into practice may no longer make sense.  It is important to point these things out early and to continue communicating the intent of the prototype, what it is trying to address, and its limitations.

Justin Bell

I have started incorporating visual prototypes into a lot of projects that aren’t straight user experience work.  For instance, when working with a client on a digital strategy project, I’ve found visual prototyping to be one of the key factors in helping to refine and crystalize the vision for how the organization will use technology to better reach there customers.  We define personas, describe their attributes and goals and then develop visual prototypes that help everyone on the team, from CEO to developers, to see how technology can be used to meet the needs of each persona.  The visual prototype is never the final design, but it helps to crystalize the vision far better than any powerpoint or excel spreadsheet ever can.

I know this works because I’ve sat in many meetings with CEOs and other senior executives and heard them say “So this will help the (persona name here) experience” and gives the entire team something visual to respond to and to serve as a guide for the more detailed product requirements and user experience design activities.