Early-Stage Design Questions
Many of the projects I’ve worked on recently have involved new applications or Web sites, and the project teams have had lots of questions early on. These questions typically relate to the overall usefulness of a design, an audience’s preference for one approach over another, a product’s potential for success, whether certain features resonate with an audience, and how well a design meets their expectations. The specific questions depend on the context of a design, but here are a few examples of such questions.
- Where can we best position productivity tips and Help buttons within the application to ensure their utilization?
- What is the optimal level of personalization and customization that people would actually use?
- Is there a market for this application?
- What content is missing that would help overcome people’s objections or answer their critical questions?
- How do branded labeling and content themes contribute to the overall experience or detract from it?
- What are the levels and types of promotions and interstitials that would be acceptable to the target audience?
- How do different audience personas prefer to consume information about our domain?
- What are the optimal rates of point accumulation and alignment with prize levels?
- What is the best use of social media within or around the game?
- What is the audience’s tolerance for viewing ads and interstitials during game play and when registering to begin playing?
- What are the most compelling and appealing topics or categories for conversations?
- What level of involvement should the sponsoring company have in the social experience, if any?
- How should we balance branded and non-branded elements of the experience to engender optimal trust through the design?
- What elements should support commenting and reviewing and what are their attributes?
- What are the most persuasive elements that would compel the target audience to register?
- What is the design’s impact on a user’s perception of the brand?
- How do the positioning and messaging compare against the company’s competitors?
- What content is missing that would help the target audience make an informed decision about a product?
But wait, you say. Aren’t these market research questions—or design questions that you should answer during up-front research before design actually starts? Perhaps.
In a perfect world, early market research or a full user-centered design (UCD) process might uncover the needs of the audience, the value of satisfying them, and functional requirements for features—whether through contextual inquiry, ethnography, or other UX research methods. But, in practice, I have found that there are several reasons such ideal situations don’t always play out. First, it may be difficult for participants to articulate what their needs are without their being able to react to some concept—that is, without having context. A design artifact gives participants something specific they can react to, triggering ideas. With a sketch or a low-fidelity prototype before them, participants can respond to your specific questions about your design direction. Second, being realistic, projects don’t always have the time or budget for foundational research. We sometimes need to quickly get into sketching and get immediate feedback. Finally, I find that a business and your project team often need something to react to as much as research participants do.