My Process

Every design tells a story and every story should flow naturally from beginning to end. With an educational background in English and journalism, I have approached user experience with the same storyteller’s eye I brought to my writing. You have characters (personas) with unique motivations and attributes. You take them on a journey to what is hopefully a happy conclusion. This narrative can be deconstructed into three fundamental phases.

The Concept.

The story has to start somewhere. Maybe it's on the back of a cocktail napkin. Or scrawled out on a whiteboard. Wherever the idea comes from, this is the time to build on it. Who are the characters; the people who are going to use your application? What is their story? This is also my time to do research. That can take a lot of different forms. For some projects, it's helpful to do a comparative analysis of other players in the space. Sometimes, conducting card sorting and other exercises can help organize ideas into logical groupings.

Deliverables: User stories, user journey maps, requirements gathering and competitive analysis documentation

The Plot.

Once I've established my characters and where I want to take them, I have to figure out how I'm going to get them to their destination. This is when the story takes structure. In writing the mechanisms necessary to advance the plot are called literary devices. In design, they manifest in the elements that comprise the experience: menus, controls and visualizations. And, like a good story, there are many different and effective ways to tell it. I like to start with some rudimentary sketches. Once I have a general strategy in mind, I'll move on to wireframes — low resolution mock ups to get a sense of flow. Spreading my artboards out across my Sketch window, I'll start connecting the dots, carving out "happy paths."

Deliverables: User flows, wireframes.

The Prose.

The characters and the plot drive the story, but the prose gives it life. In that regard, it's very similar to the visual design of an application. And, like a writer uses syntax and diction to craft a compelling literary journey, a designer uses styling, choreography and color to inform and enrich the experience. The style depends on the intended mood of the application, but, generally speaking, I approach design the way Hemingway approached writing: minimalistic, direct and precise.

Deliverables: High-resolution mock-ups, non-functional prototypes

Crafting an effective experience starts with understanding your audience.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve grown in this industry is to know who you’re designing for. AARP could create the slickest, most revolutionary experience imaginable, only to befuddle and alienate their audience of retirees. Therefore, it’s imperative to have a good understanding of your project’s objectives and its user base.

So how do I gain an understanding of the audience? In many cases it’s easier said than done.

If I have a pre-existing user base, it’s oftentimes possible, and highly helpful, to get demographic information directly from the user accounts. This can tell you the ratio of male/female users, age, interests, spending habits and other useful information.

With every project, I like to go through a discovery phase, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, where I meet with stakeholders, and, when possible, users themselves. By asking the right questions, I begin to get a sense of the motivations and behaviors of the user.


User Journeys

User journey maps, like the one to the right, can take many different forms. I’ve done very literal journey maps, where a user progresses through an experience one screen at a time. I’ve also done those similar to the aforementioned example, which maps a user’s emotional state and/or interest over the entirety of an experience. What’s most important here is to attempt to identify frustrations or barriers to entry before the occur.



Taking into consideration the primary objectives and demographic information I’ve gathered, I then begin to develop archetypical personas to embody them. This is not unlike crafting a character for a novel. I imagine their personality, their likes and dislikes, their background. There are some educated assumptions that are made here, but it helps to visualize the journey if you have an actual person in your head.

I’ve found it helpful to build personas out across a number of core attributes — things that are common across users. As I compose a person through these various qualities, archetypes, like the one below, become apparent.



Archetype Example: The Spender

Technological Competency
Brand Loyalty

Design is a constant process...

Moving from discovery to design, I like to start with some quick sketches to get the creative juices flowing. I used to do this the old-fashioned way — with my favorite pencil and a sturdy notepad, but recently I’ve made the transition to digital. Not only does sketching on the iPad Pro feel natural, but I can quickly and easily duplicate or remove elements and move things around without having to erase and redraw.



Now onto the best (and most challenging) part — wireframing. There are so many different ways to arrive at the same point. For a designer, a blank wireframe canvas is the ultimate sandbox. I like to open my sketch file and spread my artboards out across multiple displays. In this way, I can  explore different methods to move the needle, linking screens together like a giant game of connect the dots. It’s fun to watch the pieces of the puzzle come together.


Visual Design

Visual design is probably the most misunderstood element of the design process. Especially today, visual design encompasses not only the colors and styles but also the choreography, accessibility and optimization — all of the living, breathing movement of the experience. I believe in rapid iteration — getting my designs in front of stakeholders (and potentially users) and gathering feedback.



The role of prototyping in the design process continues to expand, as companies try to bridge the gap between designer and developer (and give clients a taste of the final product without busting the budget). To give stakeholders a sense of flow, Invision can’t be beat. It’s quick, effective and boasts a robust set of collaboration features. As technology improves, UX choreography plays an ever-increasing role in telling the story. I like using Principle to emphasize the moving parts of an experience. I can choreograph complex interactions and animations all within a clickable/touchable prototype.