User Experience Designer

Sharing design-related articles, quality work that inspires me, and things I've made or am currently tinkering with.

I bet most people think that the design process starts when drawing takes off. Nothing [could be] farther from the truth. The design process starts exactly when there’s a decision that something in the product (or the product itself) must be done. Formulating the business objectives, the customer development process, defining the scope of a project – these are all parts of the design process, just as wireframing and prototyping are.
Great designers aren’t those with the most natural talent, or the smartest, or can draw the best. Great designers are those who’ve designed great products, period.
– Tuhin Kumar in his post Great Designers

Spark Update: Personas, Scenarios, and Sketches

Progress is coming along nicely on Spark, the local buying and selling app that I’ve been working on with Noah Benesch and Anthony Layne. A couple weeks back I wrote of my initial analysis of the user research and some early ideation. From that starting point I have now created personas, scenarios, and some early paper prototypes.

While we have more to learn, Noah’s research was enough for me to create some assumption personas. These are fictional characters who represent groups of users with common goals and behaviors. We use personas to eliminate vague discussions of “the user” – an elastic concept that makes it all-too-easy to include unnecessary features that few people will actually use. Instead, we will design Spark for Amy, Josh, and Tim. Each has specific attributes, goals, concerns, and quotes that are typical of real users who fall in those behavioral categories. This allows us to ask questions like “What concerns will Amy have at this point?” and “Will this feature help Josh sell his laptop?”. It’s a focused and empathetic approach to design that keeps users’ problems at the forefront, rather than technology.


With the personas created, I moved on to drafting a typical scenario that our app can help them with. I’ll rewrite these as paragraph-form stories to include more details; for the time being they are simply flowcharts that briefly describe the scenarios. Still, this was enough to (finally!) begin sketching the app’s user interface.


The benefit of working methodically through user research, personas, and scenarios is that it makes the actual interface design quite simple. For each scenario (aimed clearly at a persona) I quickly sketched out the screens necessary for each step. For example, if Amy is searching for a MacBook there better be a search box front-and-center when she opens the app. Following this process for each scenario resulted in rough interaction flows for three different apps – one to meet the needs of Amy, one for Josh, and one for Tim. Of course, we’re releasing one app that has to satisfy all of our personas, so the next step was to combine these together into a single interface. Amy starts by searching and Josh is looking to post an ad, so the app better make both of those options discoverable immediately. It seems obvious, but of course good design is obvious. This process ensures that we’re mindful of our users’ goals and that they all have a great experience.


What happens next? Writing detailed scenarios and adding more screens to support these will give us a complete paper prototype that we can test with potential users. Then I’ll create a functional prototype for testing on a phone, and craft a visual identity that will appeal to our users and establish trust.

There are so many things, from the simple to the most grandiose in scale, that can be improved in this world; if you can’t find an honest-to-goodness, human-centric, non-rich-white-person problem to solve, even if in your spare time and without financial reward, then perhaps design is not a field you should be working in.
– Cole Peters in his terrific essay Design Culture is a Frozen Shithole
Offering people a choice gives them a sense of control, and people prefer some choice to no choice. But when that choice exceeds a handful of options it becomes a burden, especially when the options are similar.
– Giles Colborne in Simple and Usable
Learn prototyping. It’s your segue to front-end. It’s in its spring right now. Once you master prototyping, you’ll be able to build your own apps and truly innovate the space without compromising your vision as a designer. Additionally, you’ll be able to collaborate better with engineers, who are the strongest links to making your apps functional. They can do the things you can’t even imagine, because they’re passionate about the things that you aren’t.