One of the more interesting things I’ve been able to do in my career is establishing a user experience team’s design process. Obviously, there are standard phases and steps all UX processes share – some form of discovery and research, iteration, documentation – but how you approach these phases, how much time and “weight” you apply to each part of the design journey… defining this detail is a challenge.
A key decision I made, and the most impactful thing about the process I set up, was the idea of a checklist. It was helpful, simple and gave everyone an easy to understand baseline of what steps were involved along the way.
Checklists allow team members to start from something, a simple task list that can be extended or revised as needed. This lets people extend the process as much as much as they feel is appropriate, and that “stretching” feeds back to the core process, making it more effective.
Here’s an excerpt of some of checklist items we defined for a particular project stage:
Review legacy user research to extract/validate insights from research (all sources)
Review high level requirements
Review personas (if they exist)
Identify and document initial thoughts on core user needs/drivers/desires
Create a conceptual model/design that represents initial design ideas around the experience
Identify research needs
Here’s the key values a UX (project) checklist brings you:
Keeping things simple helps you focus on the work
Just because you have a simple checklist of the steps to follow means the work is simplified. Far from it: A simple checklist allows you to “self-check” you are doing the right things and focus on the work itself. Too often a process is/becomes an excuse to do the work – people get tied up with unnecessary complexity that gets in the way – you end up managing the process, not designing solutions.
It’s easy to manage and maintain
A checklist item is binary: Either you did a peer review of the design concept or didn’t. Unlike online tools like basecamp or desktop project management tools like Microsoft Project, a checklist can be a poster, a word document – whatever makes sense for the way the team, works.
It provides obvious visibility
Checking the step off the list also provides great visibility to the team – where are you at in the project? Look at what is checked off the list. I prefer to set up the checklist as a “poster” in your project room/area so everyone can see the status of the work.
It lists more than just design tasks
One crucial checklist was all about expectations and engagement,. What makes a successful project? A big part of success involves both how you interact with the customer and how you set expectations. An “engagement” section of your checklist allows you to make sure that the key touch points that needs to occur with the client always occur.
It provides structure for creative people to be creative
The right design process is focused but not restrictive – set, but flexible. By having all the steps in the process set, it frees up the team to be creative and approach each project as a set thing – the checklist gives a structure to do the work, but the level of effort – how much time to spend on each step, and who does what – that is set by the team, so they can bring the right mix of talent and focus to bear.
Just because you have a checklist for a project doesn’t mean it has to be rigidly followed – the old saying “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy” deals with warfare, but you can paraphrase it as “no design checklist survives contact with the client.”
Think of the checklist as a guide, not dogma – look at the checklist activities at the beginning of the project to identify the appropriate activities the project needs, and get consensus around this with the team (and, depending on the relationship, with the client/customer). “Cross out” the items that are not needed, and revisit the checklist on regular intervals to make sure everything is on track.
Checklists are a great tool to help people work, no matter what the domain – complex or simple. Leverage this to make your design process more effective and obvious, and you will quickly see the power that this approach provides.