Research is the bedrock of our process. With enough research to begin, we launch a rapid cycle of incremental changes. The iterative process allows us to explore lightweight and innovative concepts as quickly as possible.
This mitigates risk because we develop only the best ideas. As the process moves forward, we incorporate feedback, continue research, test possibilities, and increase attention to detail as we narrow in on a final solution.
Often, the understanding phase of the process actually generates the data that needs to be communicated. If the data has already been generated, the understanding phase gives a team time to become expert in it.
Talking to experts is often the shortest path to the richest information.
There is a lot to learn by taking things apart.
Observing behaviors and interactions goes beyond asking direct questions. Observation can add insights that users themselves cannot or would not think to.
State of the art
Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to. Take a look at how other people and products have addressed similar issues.
These accounts of observational research help build empathy, which is key in building meaningful user experiences.
Doctors have a culture. Bankers have a culture. Understanding these cultures, and how they participate in the larger culture, is often insightful.
Make sure the team has shared assumptions before embarking further on the process. It’s hard enough even if you do have the same understanding of the topic and the data.
Considering your audience, context, and scope will help give shape to problems and define goals. Who will be using the product or service to do what?
Thinking of the end users can help focus your vision. Who are they? What do they need?
Once you have your end-users in mind, group them into profiles. These will make it easier to understand and spot overarching trends.
Beyond your users may lie other groups, equally and possibly more important. Will your users present at a conference of peers or to senior management? This is a useful filter for what and how to present.
As you define the goals for your visualization, you can also define what information it must contain, and how that it uses that info.
Identify needs independently of solutions.
As the problem takes shape, the needs, goals, and objectives can come together in a brief that sets the stage for the work to be done.
Manufactured users that typify a particular segment or type of user.
Incorporate larger goals in the goals of the visualization. It offers useful contextualization and reminds audiences why they care.
Generate as many possibilities as you can. The point here is not to find the answer yet, but to pursue options that might lead you to the answer. Go for diversity and variety – you’ll have time to narrow the options soon enough.
Visualization is important, but so are the words you use to explain what you are thinking. Seek a balance between images and words.
Patterns in data can summarize more information effectively if they are visual.
You can’t always tell which ideas are better than others until you try them out and compare them. It helps to develop an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
Flows help account for each step in a process and can help unearth problems and opportunities.
Scripts provide the narrative of the story. This allows people who have not been immersed in the details to follow along.
Wireframes are quick ways to represent screens and functionality. They are generally easy to make and edit.
Storyboards are an important tool for storytelling. You can use them to see how your piece of the puzzle fits into a larger story.
These ideas are not final yet. Sketching lets you try many ideas quickly and noncommittally – learn and move on.
Prototyping just means creating more polished drafts of the most promising concepts from your conceptualization. More than just ideas of how our visualization might look, these should fully communicate your ideas.
Go simple. Make silhouettes of things, trace photographs. Go for subtle over highly stylized. See what kind of visual assets you might have access to.
Apply brand guidelines
Brands are useful filters. Things fit or they don’t; they belong or they don’t. If there is a brand involved, your visualizations should be brand-appropriate to emphasize a good fit.
This is about visual fundamentals: colors, lines, planes, etc. Experiment with basic visual tools that imply relationships simply and powerfully.
For uniting a team and communicating strategy, it helps to have visualizations of big-picture information that everyone can share and refer back to.
Establishing rules can help maintain a consistent user experience.
Make sure that the most important information looks the most important.
“Test” your designs to judge effectiveness. Watch people reviewing your work and try to discern where they experience difficulty. Ask them to explain the work in their own words. Compare your findings to the goals established earlier. Have you achieved the goals, or is another “rev” needed?
Put it all together and show it to a test audience. It is a primary way of learning what you have communicated.
Does the code live up to the established standards?
Is the brand’s voice reflected in the copy? Is it clear and concise?
Does the artwork support the brand and experience?
Find + fix problems
Make adjustments to your work based on feedback. Learn and adapt.
Have people walk through specific scenarios. Make the experience as real as possible.
By this point, you are familiar with what you want to say, but you aren’t an objective judge of whether you’ve communicated clearly. Ask others for feedback. Listen.
Do it all again. Revisit goals. Brainstorm solutions to any issues that have been exposed. Make adjustments. Incorporate appropriate feedback. Polish, polish, polish.
Capture all of the decisions and rules for use in future iterations.
Make final changes.
Record the process, decisions, and work.
Generate visually rich specifications that demonstrate the experience, along with all of the technical information to build the product or experience.
Make a list of the changes to be made. You may want to sort your checklist from smallest changes to biggest changes.
Attend to details around the presentation, finishing, and entry and exit points of the process.
Make the final product. Or at least final for now…