In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our expert panel considers how UX professionals can create a narrative that connects their learnings about business and user needs to a design solution, in a way that is comprehensible to all project team members, regardless of their role. Our experts also discuss what artifacts a UX team should create during a design project to best enable the team to understand the design problem, then provide an optimal solution for it.
Every month in Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
Mike Murphy—Senior Design Director at GfK
Rick Omanson—Vice President of UX at GfK
Baruch Sachs—Senior Director, User Experience at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist
Amanda Stockwell—VP of UX at 352 Inc.
Daniel Szuc—Principal and Co-Founder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Jo Wong—Principal and Co-Founder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: What artifacts are core to a UX design project for a team to better understand a design problem and deliver a better solution?—from a UXmatters reader
“See project artifacts as a way to connect a narrative to a project,” suggest Dan and Jo. “Communication is hard work—and clear communication is even harder work. Important requirements sometimes get lost in project documentation if they are not sufficiently visible.
“Project artifacts might take the form of posters that teams place on the walls of project spaces, so they are highly visible and team members and stakeholders can see what they’re working on and why. Examples could include the project purpose, customer or user profiles, design principles, journey maps, assumptions, questions, core task models, and designs—whether sketches, concepts, or finished designs.
“Project artifacts need to connect with one another to form a narrative about how customers or users interact with a business and how the new designs or design improvements will help them. Unfortunately, all too often, multidisciplinary teams do not understand project artifacts, and the artifacts do not remain visible to help people on the project to better understand the narrative or their role in achieving an optimal solution. When team members from different disciplines gather around project artifacts with the intention of iteratively improving a design over time, they create a common language that helps them to chart their course.”
Understanding the Design Problem and the Proposed Solution
Clarifying the question, Mike and Rick answer, “This is actually two questions:
What artifacts do you need to create to help your team understand a design problem?
What artifacts do you need to create to enable your team to understand the proposed design solution?
“To understand a design problem, you need to provide a summary of what you learned during discovery. You might also include personas, but ultimately, you need a list of user needs or requirements.
“To deliver a design solution, you must document each layer of the user interface, including its
information architecture—which you might represent as a site map
page layouts—perhaps by creating wireframes, which include the navigation system
page interactions and controls—for which you could create an interactive prototype
visual design—by depicting compositions comprising graphic elements
textual and pictorial content—for which you may need to create a content inventory
“Although you could create a specific artifact for each layer, in many cases, you can omit specific artifacts or combine them. For example:
If a site or application is simple or small in scope, the global navigation that appears in the wireframes or prototype may be sufficient to document its structure.
If you create a prototype, wireframes are often unnecessary.
If you’re redesigning a site or application, you may be able to incorporate the existing visual design into either wireframes or a prototype.
If a site or application is relatively small or highly transactional, you may be able to document the content you need to include in the wireframes or prototype.”
Visualize Design Solutions, Coupling Them with Business Goals
“Pictures, of any level of fidelity, are key,” asserts Baruch. “However, you need to couple these with the business goals to gain a better understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. You need to annotate the design visuals and continually tie them to business goals. Otherwise, the artifacts become fodder for people just arguing about designs based on their individual opinions.”
The Right Artifacts Depend on the Team
“I don’t think there is any one right set of artifacts,” advises Amanda. “It depends on a team’s structure and maturity, the development environment, and whether you’re working on an internal project or serving external clients. For instance, if you’re working on a cross-functional, internal team that has been together for several months, and the whole team was able to watch some research sessions, you can get away with creating much less documentation than if you’re in the first phase of a new project for a client.
“That said, there are a few categories of artifacts that I’ve found help every team work more effectively together:
artifacts that define context
sketches, mockups, and prototypes
Defining personas or user profiles provides a shared understanding of who you’re serving. These don’t have to be fancy documents—even a best-guess proto-persona that isn’t based on research is better than not having anything at all. A shared understanding of the primary target persona can help you to prioritize features and make design decisions based on what you know about who you’re trying to serve.
Artifacts That Define Context
Artifacts that are very helpful in understanding and solving design problems put context around the personas. These artifacts help you to understand the context in which users interact with your product, what issues or challenges they might have, their motivations, and how what you’re building would fit into their existing life or work. Such artifacts include user stories, use cases, scenarios, user journeys, touchpoint blueprints, experience maps, or whatever else you might need. Again, these don’t need to be polished documents. They just need to enable your team to gain a shared understanding of users’ challenges, motivations, and context, so you can craft solutions most effectively.
Sketches, Mockups, and Prototypes
Representing your design ideas visually helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page, you can get feedback from users and your team, and you can resolve inconsistencies or areas of confusion. You might begin with a sketch on a notepad or whiteboard or a site map, then create a pixel-perfect comp or an interactive prototype. While the level of fidelity that is necessary depends on your organization and the audience to which you’re communicating your design ideas, you’ll always need visual ways of communicating your ideas, so you can represent them tangibly.
You need to document and share the findings from your research. Typically, the best way to get the whole team invested in research is to include as many team members as you can in the research process. But realistically, your whole team isn’t always going to be able to observe every interview or watch every usability test. I find the next best thing is to hold a debrief meeting with everyone, immediately following your research, so everyone can share whatever they’ve observed, and you can discuss the most important takeaways and their impact on the project.
You can then document both the takeaways and impacts—whether on a whiteboard, on a wiki, or in an email message. While research findings might not actually take the form of a stand-alone artifact, the discussions and recaps of the findings are what I’ve found to be most effective in creating a true shared understanding of the importance of key takeaways from the research.”
As Principal of Lone Star Interaction Design in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters. Read More