Mastering The Design Process



The advice given here is to help manage the design process.

Design projects can be challenging. Everyone has an opinion on design.

The four key areas of focus for the course:

  1. Running a Design Project: Organization, structure, processes to prevent things like push-back.
  2. Producing Initial Designs: Reducing the amount of conflict, friction and disagreement.
  3. Presentations and Feedback: How do you present it in a compelling way and managing the feedback.
  4. Ensuring the Design Flourishes: Often build process introduces compromises, but how to ensure it survives that process and survives post-launch.

Section 1: Process Issues

Design Project & Avoiding Pitfalls

Why do design projects struggle?

  1. Scope creep: it is not until a client can see the website that they will think of what else can be done and spot what is "missing". If you're working on fixed timelines and pricing, this is your biggest enemy. Having a great idea halfway through a build is more expensive than having it at the start.
  2. Subjectiveness: design is subjective and each stakeholder will see it differently leading to endless iterations and Frankenstein design. Subjectiveness leads to iteration - this can be things like "I don't like that shade of blue" etc. and you cannot get out of this loop of design.
  3. Iteration hell: "Something feels wrong about the design.", "Requests change hoping it make the design better.", "Change isn't the answer but they won't admit it."

Avoiding the pitfalls

  1. Introducing objectivity: design decisions should be made with data, not opinion. Design cannot appeal to everybody, so who should your design appeal to? This helps to avoid design by committee.
  2. Involving the client often: it sounds counter-intuitive, but if we get to the clients more often, we provide a sense of ownership. Educate them and help to flush out ideas early.
  3. Providing reassurance: design feels dangerously close to art and art is sometimes seen as "airy fairy". Client's interfere because they don't trust you to deliver. You can build trust with a robust process.

Design Principles

Agree on a set of design principles: short statements that define how you're going to go about making decisions during the design process.

Example: "we make design decisions with data and not opinion", "we do testing", "we value accessibility". This moves people towards a framework of educated feedback and decision-making.

How do you do this? Could be things such as running a design workshop with the team and coming up with principles. Sometimes you could upvote design principles, etc and then can choice between them.

Introducing a better design process

"Whenever a client is micromanaging, they're not trusting of you to get it delivered."

Take stakeholders through the process of getting through things from start to end. This means that we won't get aimless iterations, but iterations that make real change.

The current process in a nutshell

  1. Some form of kickoff
  2. You produce an initial design concept.
  3. You present the design.
  4. You go through multiple rounds of iterations.
  5. You design additional templates (almost due to the amount of previous iterations).
  6. The design is built.
  7. Content is added.

What's the problem with this?

  • You are forced to design without content.
  • The design will come as a surprise.
  • Clients lack the knowledge to provide quality feedback.
  • Iterations are hard to predict and waste time.
  • The final site often looks very different from the designs.
  • The project involves a lot of risks.

An inside about speculative design

The practice of producing unpaid design work to prove your ability.


  • It costs everybody money.
  • It is about selling, not delivering.
  • It is wasteful.
  • It is uninformed.
  • It is not collaborative.

Process solutions

A better design process

The process is described in steps:

  1. Discovery
  2. Prototyping
  3. Build
  4. Live

Here is the thing: each phase is a separate project that defines the next.

This makes things a lot easier to speculate on the cost.

The benefits to stakeholders and clients:

  1. It reduces the risk. It enables them to try out the working relationship with you. The level of risk for different pricing margins is low if you pitch for the initial discovery phase. The same happens for the other stages.
  2. Accurate costing. There will be much more controlled costing.
  3. Reducing failure. Because it is broken into self-contained phases the chances of building something that generates a return on investment increase considerably.

Discovery phase

What? The period of time to define the problem that needs to be solved and the scope.

Why? It reduces scope creep and uncover any constraints to the design, and provide the context for better decision-marking during the project.

How? User research, stakeholder interviews, competitive analysis, research constraints, review existing website/app.

What is the minimum for a discovery phase? You could do something like an empathy map. The other thing to do is to define some key performance indicators.

Maybe around a total cost, about 10% for a discovery phase.

Prototyping phase

What? Set the design direction and establish the scope of the build.

Why? Helps to validate the design approach to avoid costly changes during build. It also helps to define what the build involves for more accurate costing.

How? Establish aesthetics, hi-def mocks ups, site wire-framing, user testing, aesthetic testing.

The minimum: testing aesthetics and usability. The minimum is likely the grayscale wireframe and the hi-def mockup. If you are really, really tight, create the pages in notion with bullet points.

Build phases

What? When website is converted into a functional website.

Why? It is better to finalize a design in the browser where you can see it become fully interactive.

How? Fully responsive design. Button and form states. Error messages. Design systems. Animations. Usability testing.

Live phases

What? Going live should not be the end of the project. Once the website has been launched, it is necessary to monitor user behavior and adjust the design to maximize conversion and engagement.

Why? Until a website goes live we only have theoretical knowledge of how users will respond. The live phase allows us the chance to observe user behavior and ensure the design is working well.

How? Analytics, session recordings, heat tests, session testing, user testing.

Defining the stakeholders role

Why? Stakeholders often provide irrelevant feedback or attempt to micro-manage the design process. It can be beneficial to define their role and your own to prevent this from happening.

What is suggested as their role:

  • They find problems, you find solutions.
  • They champion the business needs.
  • They defend the user.

Before you start checklist

  1. Define both your role and that of the client.
  2. Outline the project process and its benefits.
  3. Agree on a set of design principles to aid decision making.
  4. Carry out as much user research as you can and turn it into empathy maps.
  5. Agree on a list of key performance indicators for defining success.
  6. Identify and speak to as many key stakeholders as possible.

Section 2: Content

Initial Design & Content

Techniques to keep in mind when designing:

  1. Involve the client. Clients are likely to reject designs they have not been involved with.
  2. Separate aesthetics and structure. Why? A stakeholder can reject an entire design because they don't like the aesthetics.
  3. Work with real content. The design process should begin with actual content.

Things to focus on:

  1. Making content findable with good navigation.
  2. How to approach content when you aren't a copywriter? Identify it (content needed). Structure it (put it into the hierarchy). Draft it (if it gets to marketing copy, this does require collaboration with other stakeholders). Even for marketing, you can write up copy that helps with "agreeing on the value proposition" (strap-line, benefits, features).
  3. Discovering questions, objections and tasks. What do people want to know, what do they want to do, what would they question? How to find this out? Speak to sales, customer services and analyze search terms, ask users, monitor social media, run a question and answers workshop.

Content Process & Content Blocks