How we approach UX @ MichiganLabs

July 29, 2019

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At Michi­gan Soft­ware Labs, we focus on build­ing supe­ri­or user expe­ri­ences (UX) for our clients and their cus­tomers. While there are count­less ways to define the UX design process, this one stands out: Design is the process design teams use to cre­ate prod­ucts that pro­vide mean­ing­ful and rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences to users.” This all-encom­pass­ing process includes every­thing from brand­ing and usabil­i­ty to acces­si­bil­i­ty and function.

To break the UX process down fur­ther, there are three basic P’s to keep in mind: Peo­ple, Prod­uct, and Process. Let’s start with the first.

The Prod­uct

For a prod­uct to suc­ceed, it needs to be attrac­tive and easy to use. We avoid a beau­ty for beauty’s sake” design men­tal­i­ty in favor of sim­plic­i­ty and sub­stance and sim­plic­i­ty. To get there, we believe the UX and soft­ware devel­op­ment process­es should almost always go hand in hand.

At Michi­gan­Labs this means:

  • Under­stand­ing our clients’ pri­or­i­ties first
  • Solic­it­ing user feedback
  • Design­ing in a man­ner that opti­mizes the soft­ware imple­men­ta­tion process
  • Employ­ing, and often exceed­ing, UX design standards
  • Sup­port­ing and help­ing clients under­stand how the prod­uct will evolve over time

The Process

There’s no sub­sti­tute for a but­toned-up UX design process. At Michi­gan­Labs, we fol­low these steps:

  • Once we under­stand what suc­cess looks like for the prod­uct owner(s), we write user sto­ries and/​or gath­er design requirements
  • Cre­ate wire­frames or low-fideli­ty designs, if needed
  • Seek user-feed­back at all stages
  • Begin the high-fideli­ty design process
  • Fol­low an iter­a­tive, Agile process to get ongo­ing feed­back from users and prod­uct owners
  • Make updates based on user and devel­op­er feedback

Note that design isn’t sim­ply hand­ed off” to the devel­op­ment team — it is a liv­ing, con­tin­u­al process of updat­ing. While design is a means to an end prod­uct, it’s doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mir­ror the final prod­uct. Rather, it offers a use­ful path.

To bet­ter under­stand that path, here are 6 Lean UX process stages we tend to follow:

  • Solve prob­lems togeth­er: Ensure every mem­ber of your team is present dur­ing brain­storm­ing for new projects. 
  • Give your teams prob­lems to solve, not solu­tions to imple­ment. The out­come will be a far more effi­cient and pro­duc­tive team cre­at­ing high­er qual­i­ty prod­ucts and experiences. 
  • Sketch: Intro­duce the team to sketch­ing in order to help them visu­al­ize their ideas and come to a consensus. 
  • Pro­to­type: Get to a prod­uct expe­ri­ence as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. Use pro­to­types of vary­ing fideli­ties to get a sense of what your product’s expe­ri­ence will be and val­i­date that with cus­tomers to ensure you’re head­ed down the right path. 
  • Pair your devel­op­ers and design­ers: Have devel­op­ers and design­ers pair up to cre­ate the user inter­faces. Each will learn from the oth­er and build the trust nec­es­sary for greater team col­lab­o­ra­tion and productivity. 
  • Cre­ate a style guide: Cod­i­fy your design ele­ments in pat­tern libraries and code repos­i­to­ries so cre­at­ing new pages and work­flows in your prod­uct is as easy as pick­ing the pieces from the style guide. It also allows the team to quick­ly piece togeth­er expe­ri­ences for pro­to­types and empow­ers your devel­op­ers to build inter­faces with­out con­stant review with the UX designer.

The Peo­ple

The process and final prod­uct are only as good as the peo­ple work­ing on it. To max­i­mize results, we define the design and deliv­ery lead roles a bit dif­fer­ent­ly than oth­er companies:

  • A UX design­er pairs with a deliv­ery lead on every project 
  • The deliv­ery lead works close­ly with the prod­uct owner(s) and soft­ware devel­op­ers, while the UX design­er offers tech­ni­cal support
  • The UX design­er uses research to under­stand the user and the prob­lem to be solved. This includes client strat­e­gy sessions.
  • The UX design­er also stew­ards the design process. This means using appro­pri­ate fonts, brand­ing ele­ments, col­ors, acces­si­bil­i­ty, and more.

Con­tin­u­al­ly learning

A strong UX process is high­ly adapt­able, nev­er rigid. Agile and iter­a­tive in nature, it is capa­ble of new learn­ings and cre­ative solu­tions not only between, but also with­in, each project we under­take. The end result is design that is usable, acces­si­ble, and attractive.

For more UX think­ing from our team, check out this acces­si­bil­i­ty post by Iulia Rontu. 

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