Ideate, Combine and Iterate: The Ultimate Process to Create a Better User Interface
At the beginning of a project, I sometimes find myself trying to solve problems as soon as I discover them. I start by doing my research, and gathering all the findings together. I then try to discover where problems exist so I can create a concept that addresses them. It would be great if my mind would focus only on discovering the issues first, but not act on them immediately.
But my critical thinking skills activate as soon as I find a new problem that needs solving. Due to prior experiences and maybe some subject matter knowledge, my mind offers solutions immediately, based on known facts.
But as new facts unfold, they often lead to new use cases, impacting the viability of my initial solution.
Therefore, I start tweaking the concept to match the new use case that crops up. Then, I move on to the next problem, slowly refining my concept through mental iterations, but still using my first idea as the foundation.
Should I be tweaking an old solution or try to come up with a totally new concept as new information surfaces?
I’m not sure yet, but what I do know is that I trick myself into thinking that I’m working in fast and incremental short sprints towards the best result. If I build on previous iterations when new information arises, I work iteratively towards the best possible outcome. Right?
The problem here is, in the words of famous German scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, truths that are slightly distorted are the most dangerous untruths.
I’m partially right I think to myself. I work iteratively yes, but not towards the best possible outcome, and this is what matters in the end. If the process is flawed, the result will most likely be disappointing.
Initial concepts are usually based on many assumptions as they have yet to pass our mental validation tests. These assumptions can often be proven wrong after more research is done.
What might be the “obvious” answer at the beginning, an answer based on standard design patterns and usability guidelines isn’t always the best solution. Even if you loved it.
How we as designers can move beyond our first love and come up with a better concept?
The answer is right in the design thinking ideology’s handbook. After conducting research and defining the problem, designers need to ideate in order to address the creative challenges and to push initial ideas into fully developed concepts.
Ideation, in its most basic definition is the formation of ideas or concepts.
We need as many concepts as possible. We need to ideate a vast range of possible solutions for the issues found in the research and discovery phase. This is the one place in the design thinking ideology where quantity overrides quality.
By increasing the number of possible solutions to our problem, the probability of one idea becoming the seed for a good solution increases.
After ideating a wide range of possible ideas, we have to test them with our team. We can discuss each one at a time, after the reasoning behind each decision has been explained.
Running each version by our team helps us see which designs better solve the problem we are trying to address. More than often, with each new testing session, we’ll discover both good and bad parts in each of them.
After these sessions, we can gather that feedback and create a single version that encompasses all the good solutions from those initial concepts. This version can finally become the foundation of our final concept.
This foundation will support our efforts to find the best answer to our design challenge, and these efforts are the bricks that we place on top of this foundation. Each brick is another iteration of the design and it has to be subjected to subsequent rounds of user testing in order to flush out any possible issues with the revised versions.
In my projects I found the first iteration to be the most challenging. As requirements become clearer, the design needs to adapt in order to meet them. After the second iteration, the only thing that might be challenged here or there is the copy.
The process of achieving the best UI for any design challenge can be broken down into three steps:
- Ideate: We need to start off with the ideation process. Ideation helps us generate diverse ideas and allows us to explore several approaches without having to think about possible constraints or edge cases. By ideating freely, we’re tackling the design challenge from many angles and we reveal more potential approaches to the solution.
- Combine: The next step is to test the rough concepts that resulted from the ideation process. By testing them, we make sure the best ideas are recognized and integrated into the first version of the design. By evaluating each concept and extracting the good parts, we start off with a combined design that will most likely satisfy the end user’s needs.
- Iterate: The iterative process is the last step and repeats itself until the desired outcome is achieved. The iterative process is a cyclic process of testing and refining the design. As changes are made gradually, with each iteration the quality and functionality of our design improves.
If there’s one thing to take away from all of the above, it would be that by following this process we reward ourselves. The reward we get from ideating is the wide range of exciting ideas from which we can choose the ones that are worthy of further pursuing.