Everyone has a unique process that they use to work through complex challenges. My process has been honed and refined over the past 10 years — incorporating new methods, being inspired by other incredible designers, adjusting from my missteps, and adapting it to an ever-changing technological atmosphere. I have a living and flexible process where the core principles have remained steadfast. I will describing the first part of my process that I use every day — Understanding who I am designing for.

A deep understanding of the user is fundamental.

I don’t view the end user, the person who is going to use the product or service I create, as the only user to be concerned about. There are many different stakeholders within an ecosystem that a product/service will be used in — but to be fair, the end-user may be the easiest to access and recognizable, but may be the most difficult to understand. Within the ecosystem that the product/service lives in, there may be primary, secondary, and even tertiary user groups that will be affected by any design decision (form factor, usability, color, etc) that is made and all of these must be considered up-front.

For me, this means meeting the various user groups face-to-face that are connected to the product at any point in it’s life-cycle. The “research” phase of my process includes various ethnographic methods and tools that I have successfully used to discover user needs (both spoken and unspoken). The unspoken needs are the gold “nuggets” that can make or break a new product experience and it is important to look for these. For a new product that I’m designing may include meeting with internal stakeholders such as:

  1. Manufacturing operators to understand pain points in current processes.
  2. Product managers to understand the overall strategy that the product is part of and how what factors are important to the business.
  3. Engineering teams to understand how existing designs were created, why they were created, and opportunities for improvement.
  4. IT departments to understand how a cloud solution may be currently designed and maintained and what the effect would be to them if changes were made for a new product addition.

Depending on the scope of the project, I may also talk to external stakeholders that have significant influence in the process as well. For different industries, these external stakeholders may be more difficult to access due to security concerns or schedule conflicts, etc. but any opportunity to meet with them face-to-face is invaluable.  Some of these external stakeholders may include:

  1. End users to understand how they currently use products, what their entire experience from launching/unpacking the product <–> using the product <–> maintaining the product <–> replacing the product. This input is generally the most significant because this user usually interacts with the product the most.
  2. Sales teams to understand what their process is like, how they interact with customers, what is helpful/not helpful, what tools they use, and how they generate new leads.
  3. Distributors/Channel Partners to understand how they stock inventory, how they communicate with end users, and what would improve their interactions with the internal stakeholders.

After understanding who each of the customers are, I create a stakeholder infographic to help align the team to clearly communicate and have a shared understanding of who we are designing for and what they feel. This is an example of one of the stakeholder analyses that I created for a recent project.