How a UI process can help you get the right client feedback, at the right time
Design is a subjective, creative discipline, and feedback is often unpredictable. These are facts of life for any designer. To improve our workflow, we wanted to find a better way to define the best design for each project — making room for both creativity and feedback. With our exploration process, we’ve found a solid middle ground.
At November Five, we have a heart for organisation and always strive to improve our methodology for a better and more effective way-of-working. When it comes to design, we need to find a balance between the freedom to explore our ideas, and capturing the right client feedback, without impacting our deadlines and planning.
Our design methodology is one where we need to balance structure & creativity the most.
On an important side note, the UI process at our company doesn’t start from a blank sheet. The product architecture, features and user experience are locked & readied in the previous step of our methodology. UI design focuses entirely on transforming the delivered wireframes into an on-brand digital user interface — ready to kick-off development.
With our approach, we want to define & validate a design system as soon as possible. We want to make sure our clients get a better understanding of the visual ideas we are presenting by taking them through our creative journey from the start. As a result, we avoid late-stage feedback that would introduce a lot of rework, and impact our deadlines.
Enter: the exploration phase
Exploration is the first step we take when we start with a UI project. Whereas engineers research libraries, designers start to explore and validate their ideas visually. The exploration phase is set at two weeks for every project. During these weeks, we’re dedicating our time to explore plenty of design directions, and collecting as much feedback as possible, from every stakeholder.
It means the first two weeks are high-paced, both for our project team and the client. Therefore, we present our approach to our clients up-front to make sure there is still time to free up agendas and invite the right stakeholders to the meetings. After all, we need to get the design decision-makers around the table to agree on the visual style by the end of these weeks.
There are two types of meetings that make up the exploration phase: daily design reviews & a weekly demo. First of all, we plan daily design reviews within the project team. These feedback moments force the UI team to go broad and avoid getting caught up in the nitty gritty of a design.
At the end of every week, we demo our exploration to all project members, including the key decision-makers. After the first week, we gather their feedback. After the second, we validate our designs. For us, it’s important everyone attends these demos in person so we all approve the final design style. In the end, it’s difficult to step into a thought-process from the other side of a phone call.
This time-boxed exploration phase has been a successful addition to our process. After testing it with a few projects, we’re happy to see that it really resonates with everyone, getting the right feedback, at the right time. And still introducing room to let our creativity run free.
Want to give it a go too? Below you can find the main steps of our exploration phase! Feel free to let us know what you think or how it worked out for you.
1. Selecting the key screens
First things first. After a hand-over from our UX designer, our UI’ers are familiar with the product, its purpose and feature requirements. The first action is to select the key screens of the product. We aim to pick a wide range of components or screens that display differentiating elements, important or difficult screens. It’s clear, for example, we’ll choose to work on dashboard elements, instead of the login screen or settings.
Next up, we challenge ourselves to explore every possible design direction to see what works, and what doesn’t. We involve multiple elements to increase the applicability of our designs from the start. Guided by the style guide from our clients, our task also includes to apply the branding to a digital product.
3. Daily design reviews
Our daily design reviews serve to iterate fast. At the end of every day, we identify whether to abandon an idea or further explore one by including other screens, components, breakpoints or even clarify certain interactions. In these first days, we always involve the UX designer to challenge and enrich our work, and ensure our user interface aligns with the product’s design principles. This immediately introduces the opportunity for the UX designer to learn, and enhance their work too.
Want to know how we structure our design reviews? Check out our blog post here.
By the end of the week, we’ll structure our thought-process and identify the first proposals to demo on Friday. Ideally, we’re able to present a lot of variety. This will allow us to understand & capture feedback better.
4. The feedback demo
With the first demo, we’ll take our clients through our creative journey, presenting the main design decisions made during the week.
We’ll actually start with presenting our first designs, which we know aren’t the best ones. Although that means our designers really have to get out of their comfort zone. By articulating our design decisions step by step, we’ve come to learn our designs resonate more with the team, since everyone understands ‘the why’ behind our proposals.
Naturally, we’ll ask to keep feedback until the end of our story here. The magic is usually in the final proposals. ;)
During these demos, we’re paying a lot of attention to create room for open and honest feedback. It’s crucial we get a good understanding of what our client is looking for. We can learn that both from what they like, and dislike.
Week two, we’re ready to start refining our design. We’ll work out new screens, and involve different breakpoints and design states. By now, we’re talking margins, HEX codes, shading, line height, typography and typescale during the daily design reviews.
6. Validation demo
The main goal of the second demo, and final meeting of our exploration phase, is to get a ‘go’ on our design system.
Again, we’re taking the approach of presenting our day-by-day updates. We’ll start by showing how we applied their feedback, and move into the new screens next. The second demo is still open to as much feedback as necessary, but we do strive to get the general idea right with an official yes from the design decision-makers.
After the exploration, we can start with the detailed designs of every product screen. We still have weekly demos with the core team but we don’t need that high involvement from C-level or board members any longer. Their feedback is already covered.