The Dream Scenario

You’ve got a nice inch high stack of research on your desk.  Next to it is a clearly articulated and vetted set of requirements, followed by a reasonable deliverable schedule.  At the opposite end of your desk, there’s a red phone that you can pick up and get access to anybody that you need to answer any question you have.  Your Post-It’s are freshly unwrapped and your Sharpies are sharp as can be.  You are now ready to start designing.  Coincidentally, you are also in your second REM sleep cycle because this scenario only exists in your dreams.

In reality, we struggle with some of those stacks being painfully short, documents are hastily written and some things are missing altogether.  Persona?  Who’s that?

Practical UX design is no stranger to compromise.  Unfortunately much of the time the compromise is made far before we even start designing – it’s due to the lack of discovery.  So what do you do?  The best you can.

If you lack an understanding of your users and don’t have fully formed personas, use your head.  Start by writing down anything you can about your users.  Demographics, goals, attitudes, pain points.  Chances are, some of this information is floating around your halls.  Next, look at what the competition is doing in terms of addressing those issues.  Couple that with some social media diving and see what people are actually talking about.  It’s starting to feel like DIY research now, right?  Right.  That’s the point.

Are you given a set of business requirements that read more like a 7-year old’s Christmas list?  Well, instead of sweating over how you are going to design a giant robot that makes pancakes and does homework, pick up the phone.  Call the stakeholder and just have a frank conversation about it, line by line.  Instead of “how”, ask “Why?”.  Write your notes in the column because that’s where the real business requirements start.

At one time or another, we’ve all heard that something needs to be done “ASAP”.  Well, projects don’t get done that way, so calmly put the red calendar aside for a moment.  Think about the business requirements you’ve just jotted down.  Start to form the design framework in your mind.  Write down the big pieces.  An expert system?  A smart grocery list?  Mechanical arms that beat and stir?  Whatever the components of your project are, write those down and start estimating the time it will take for you to design them.  Add those up, add a third for inevitable overhead and that’s your project calendar as of today.  Sell that through, along with the idea that you will have regular check-ins to modify it.

Now for the special red phone that gets you access to anyone and everyone you could possibly want.  You’re in luck because it’s already on your desk.  Now, your phone may not be red, but it will do the same thing.  Too many times, we designers think of design as “heads down” mode where we lock the door and advance the calendar five days and come out bearing a 30 page wireframe deck that’s fully annotated and glossy.  Design is a conversation.  Treat it that way and you will never go astray.

So the next time you wake up to and realize there is no dream scenario, don’t freak out.  Realize that real design work begins with discovery.

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