So you have an idea – what now? Divergent and convergent thinking in prototyping processes

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You are walking down the street and all of a sudden, you have an idea for a mobile app or a new type of wearable technology. How does that idea come to life? How do you make sure that you shape that idea into the best version of itself?

Phase 1: Ideation/Brainstorming

You have a few options to expand your idea, which is what ideation is all about. This is not the time to narrow your focus – this is the time to think about everything your product can offer. This is your “blue sky” phase where you do not limit yourself to budget or time constraints, but you think about your ideal product.

Within a UX team, brainstorming techniques may be the best way to gain a lot of fantastical ideas in a short period of time. This could be verbal brainstorming in the team environment, with a moderator keeping everyone focused and providing prompts during any lulls. There are other techniques such as brainwriting, which is useful for small groups of people or less extroverted team members.

Without a core team, the ideation phase can be used to sketch out ideas individually. This could include sketching out user needs or the context they would use your product. Additionally, you could sketch out potential features or icons or diagrams of data that would be syncing with your app (i.e. calendar in, social media out).

Lastly, you may want to consider interviewing possible future users to understand their perception of the problem that you want to address with your product. Interview questions should be open-ended, focused at getting a broad view of a user’s experience in a certain realm. For instance, if you are building a product to support a user’s commute, you would want to start by having the user tell you about their commute in general, their biggest pain points, other products they might use, and what would their magic product be to fix their problems.

In the ideation phase, you should come up with a large set of ideas that aim to solve a user problem. Once you have come up with these ideas, you can start to think about ways to narrow the scope for your initial design.

Phase 2: Problem Definition and Requirements

Think about what your product needs: the requirements. Come up with a problem statement that expresses exactly what the user encounters in order to address these needs in your requirements. As you pull ideas and interview data together, think about your typical user: their characteristics, motivations, and barriers. This will help guide your design.

Build a scenario in which the typical user would use your product. Think about their experience end-to-end.

For example:

Connie the Commuter needs to make sure she is at work on time, but the public transportation system is not always on schedule. Therefore, Connie knows that she needs to wake up between 6:30 and 7:00, depending on the volume of the commute. She would set this time range in her new mobile app, and the app would use city and GPS data to ensure that Connie wakes up with enough time to get ready and walk to her bus stop. If the bus is delayed 15 minutes, the alarm would go off at 6:45. If the bus is on time, the alarm would go off at 7:00 am.

What would the experience feel like? In what context (when and where) will your product be used? What user characteristics will affect the design? The answers to these questions will guide your requirements and design principles.

Requirements should address the needs you have identified and outline what the product will actually do. They will revolve around: (1) the experience, (2) the function, (3) the interaction with other systems and data involved, (4) the business/brand, and (5) the device or operating system.

For example, the commuter app might have the following requirements:

  1. The experience will allow the user the maximum amount of leisure/personal time
  2. The app will utilize the public transportation alerts and GPS data to predict commute length

Typically, a product should initially start the design phase when 4-8 requirements have been established.

In addition to requirements, you must also consider design principles, which are statements that apply across the overall design of the product, not specific features. These will be the key differentiators for your product. For example, due to the “alarm” piece of this app, it would have to be running on the user’s phone without being actively opened by the user and it should also not strain the cell battery. Therefore, one of the design requirements might be:

  1. The application will be non-intrusive: the user does not have to engage with it minus the initial set-up.

The problem statement, requirements, and design principles may change throughout the design process, but they should be used to identify a starting point for design and an initial scope. This document will drive your design and allow stakeholders outside of the UX or design world to understand your vision. After devising a problem statement, you may decide to re-visit ideation with a clearer picture of your space: remember that this is a flexible process that you can tailor to meet your needs.

 

Additional information:

http://www.maketools.com/articles-papers/HarnessingPeople’sCreativity_Sanders_William_01.pdf

http://www.uxforthemasses.com/great-ux-ideas/

http://52weeksofux.com/post/332642757/solutions-are-easy-if-you-know-the-problem

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