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A Story about Process

Many years ago, I was leading a good-sized team of software and hardware engineers. The company hired a new CEO. Shortly thereafter, I ran into a colleague of mine in the hallway. He had a panicked look on his face: “I just ran into the new CEO. He pulled me into his office and asked me to describe my principles of leadership. I don’t think he liked my answer.”

After that encounter, I decided I had better be ready with a thoughtful answer. So, I dusted the cobwebs out of my brain and internally recited the US Army Ranger Leadership Principles (I had to Google it - who remembers that stuff?). I adapted them to a corporate climate, of course, and recited a few times to be sure I could parrot the lines. You know, “lead from the front”, “adapt to and overcome adversity” and something like: “have a vision” (as opposed to stay on mission), or whatever. I had the privilege of working closely with that CEO, later on, and I still laugh when I think of that anecdote.

Fast forward to today. We are a small team of talented creatives and developers, and the same question comes from clients: “...tell us about your process or design principles.”

We are going to do something far more valuable: write about what has worked and what has not worked.

In the weeks ahead, KRUTSCH will post a series of bite-sized articles that encapsulate a decade of experience leading the life-cycle of product design and user experience (UX), across a variety of industries, with clients both large and small, including consumer and commercial projects.

Writing these provided a nice retrospective. Trust me: you will have fun reading these and you will learn something new.

Follow us on LinkedIn to see the next chapter in your feed.

Upcoming Topics

1. Understand The Problem

Great design solves a problem for someone. Make sure you understand the problem you are going to solve. More importantly, make sure all of the stakeholders are aligned on the same problem.

You are spending a lot of someone else’s time and money. Make sure you are giving the client what they want. Seems like common sense, but...mistakes made here are a loss of ship event, to quote that CEO mentioned above. 

We will tell you about some mistakes we’ve made, along the way.

2. Watch, Listen and Learn

Get up to speed with the folks that live in the problem domain; customer research demands competency.

Effective interviews of end-users (existing or potential) require that you understand their world. Imagine trying to impress an auto mechanic with your knowledge of cars... but you’ve never worked on a car.  Everyone thinks everyone else’s job is easy. If you think like that, find a new career, because UX Design isn’t for you.

We will share some tips on being a better listener.

3. Define the Feature Set and Workflow 

In our experience, a major hindrance to product usability is the wrong feature set.

This may mean too many unused features that clutter the user experience, making the system hard to comprehend. In other occasions, it may mean one or more key features are missing or are poorly implemented.

A correct, prioritized feature set is the first step to designing a winning customer experience.

A simplified workflow is close behind when designing a customer experience that is rewarding and generates positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Ever use the fish scaler on a Swiss Army knife? Neither have we and we will show you how to keep unnecessary features off the table. 

4. Choose Design Patterns and Sketch Out A Story

Don't start from scratch, trust proven, reusable design patterns. More than visual templates, design patterns are tested human interaction models. They slash the time required to assemble early versions of your digital story.

Using your chosen patterns, build-out a story using one of your happy-path workflows.

We have achieved remarkable results, getting an early preview and giving candid feedback, using simple sketch-style outlines. Sometimes feedback may be collected from customers and real end-users, or it is limited to internal stakeholders.

There is a place for each and we will share some anecdotes that highlight effective user testing.

5. Establish a Visual Language

Sketches that leverage successful patterns are then illustrated as hi-fidelity storyboards. A visual language establishes visual cues used across the entire application or system. 

We have learned to do this early on in the creative process; clients are busy, and you are competing for their attention.

We will talk about how to make life easy for your clients, when trying to visualize your design of their product vision.

6. Prototype Main/Secondary Scenarios

Wireframes, a visual language and a best-fit workflow/feature set come together into a hi-fidelity prototype.

Built as a Demo Front-end – we often use Axure to mock-up designs into an interactive prototype; coupled with high-fidelity design collaterals hosted with Zeplin.io.

Sometimes the client wants their own developers to quickly translate the design into their own working code, using the CSS styling provided by Zeplin.io, or we do that part for them, using our own front-end development team.

We will dive into the details on how this works well and what pitfalls to avoid.

7. Deliver and Test the Design

Going from concept to delivery, on-time, and on-budget, requires a lot of compromise. Having been on the other side of the aisle, we know what it takes to build and ship a complex, commercial product.

Being a seasoned advocate for the customer experience is crucial here.

Our best user experience stories come from this phase – stay tuned.


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Ken Krutsch is Founder & Managing Principal of KRUTSCH, a digital product design firm, specializing in commercial product vision and realization, including customer research, roadmap development and full-stack user experience design.

Follow KRUTSCH on LinkedIn to read the follow-up posts in the series.

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