It's worth noting that every designer and company will have their own process, tools, approaches, and methodologies. In UX design, processes are often adapted and adopted from major schools of thought around human-centered design, design thinking, and Lean UX. Other organizations and companies will create their own toolkits! There's no right or wrong approach to design, but you'll notice some common themes and elements among the approaches.
Qualities of the design process
Design is an iterative process. Getting everything right on the first attempt is not the goal. Rather, it's best to start with lots of ideas and to test them in order to find the best solution. What tweaks or changes can be made to refine an idea? Think of iterating as creating different versions to see what works best.
Design is not a linear process. Just because the research phase is complete, doesn't mean it cannot be revisited later. Perhaps you will discover that a new concept being explored requires additional research.
Design is a collaborative process. The best solutions emerge when key stakeholders and even "unlikely suspects" who are not typically involved in the creative process are included to explore a wide range of perspectives and different habits. As a designer, you'll also need to work with other designers, developers, managers, and others to implement and bring ideas to life.
Design is participatory. It is not a passive process. Rather participants are actively engaged and take part in ideation (coming up with lots of ideas) and prototyping (imagining the possibilities) directly.
The other thing to keep in mind is that UX has elements of qualitative research (information collected through interviews and usability testing) and quantitative data (information drawn from analytics). To better understand the full picture, It's a good idea to consider both sides of the spectrum whenever possible. The need for changes is often justified through data and metrics, while qualitative research ensures we're designing for real users.
Human-centered design [HCD] is an approach to design where design happens with end users, not just for them. It's a participatory process which involves direct responses and feedback of users.
Human-centered design by IDEO.org [1:55 min]
IDEO.org org describes human-centered design as a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions. It's both how you think, and what you do with it. This means you can't be afraid to think differently, and try out some new ideas. This process is broken down into three phases: inspiration (opening yourself to creative possibilities), ideation (coming up with different kinds of ideas), and implementation (getting your idea out into the world).
Divergent thinking happens when you explore as many solutions as possible. Convergent thinking is when you narrow down the number of options to focus on no more than a few. You can see this process in action with the OpenIDEO challenges and the Design Kit case studies.
Human-centered design by the Grameen Foundation [2:26 min]
The Grameen Foundation works to find solutions that meet the needs of the poor. The organization sees human-centered design as a set of methods and guiding principles to discover and address the needs of end users. Their goal is to create products that are both scalable and sustainable. The Grameen Foundation considers HCD to be:
grounded in knowledge about users
Design thinking is another way of articulating a design process which is human centric. The focus of design thinking is on the process, not the outcome. The first stage, empathy, is what makes this approach unique.
Design thinking is broken down into different phases:
Empathize - Empathy refers to understanding users from their perspective. This is a key step when learning about the audience you're designing for.
Define - There are a million problems in the world that can be solved, but the catch is clearly defining the goal or desired outcome.
Ideate – Brainstorm numerous ideas (withhold judgement).
Prototype – Build physical or digital mock-ups to get a better sense of the look and feel of your product or service.
Test - Get prototypes in front of users to see if everything functions as intended.
Design thinking process visualized by Stanford's d.School.
Any step of the process can be revisited at anytime.
Designers are constantly trying to figure out how they can challenge the status quo and disrupt the way things are done. Think Wrong is an approach from Future Partners that looks at the design process through a series of exercises that encourage participants to think wrong. Rather than phases, they use the "mantras" be bold, get out, let go, make stuff, bet small, and move fast in order move beyond the predictable path. Each mantra has a workshop or activity to help elicit creative responses.
Lean UX describes a process that starts with ideas, then cycles through the following pages: build, product, measure, data, and learn. The process is fast and keeps repeating until there is no new feedback. Designers are looking to create a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which means creating the most basic version of a product. This ensures the entire budget for a project is not spent before getting an early version built. Lean is designed to keep design teams moving forward, and moving fast.