1. Understand human needs
When designing for use, you have to identify the intrinsic need that is required. You also have to balance “use” with outside factors like cultural characteristics, the environment, time, mode of use, and inherent biases.
Leveraging different ways of performing research early and often helps to ensure you are designing solutions with the right amount of insight and empathy.
When it comes to individual tactics it's important to use a balance of quantitative and qualitative methods. Leverage quantitative analysis methods, including surveys, questionnaires to understand the scope of the given problem space and to understand the data around what customers do and want.
Leverage qualitative exploratory methods in the form of interviews and ethnographic studies to gain valuable insight into the "Why" and "How" of what our customers do, how they live, how they use things, and what they need.
“An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.”
— Jef Raskin
2. Define a direction based on those needs and insights
Next, you need to synthesize the insight gained from the research to determine an initial direction. Often times this is referred to as an MVP or Most Viable Product. From a UX perspective, designers like to think of MVP as the most valuable product, or what is absolutely necessary to meet the identified need or needs.
In order to find a balance between viable and valuable, it is important to collaborate with stakeholders addressing the problem space from different perspectives. The key with this step is to identify a starting point that can be translated into workable solutions. The goal is to move quickly through iterations to validate your assumptions as efficiently as possible and with as little financial impact.
3. Brainstorm multiple solutions through iterative design
Collaboration becomes key in helping capture as many ideas as possible. Ideas are the fuel that drives solution definition. To get to the best ideas I use design thinking techniques that allow team members the ability to envision scenarios, develop concepts and identify prioritization collectively.
Using post-it notes, sketches or other means to quickly capture the essence of a concept, team members prepare and present these materials to the greater team. These concepts are then analyzed and voted on. The narrowed down concepts are then expanded upon to identify further opportunities for on-going evaluation and analysis.
4. Build out prototypes to test and learn
It's important to move the ideas and concepts beyond your internal teams and get them in front of real users. This can be done with low-fidelity or higher fidelity prototypes depending on the complexity of the concept and scenario your solution is covering.
With today's technology it is fairly straight forward and easy to put together workable prototypes that give prospective customers access to your ideas in a way that provides as close to real-life products as needed.
This enables you to evaluate your assumptions much more effectively and without the high costs of building a fully functional product that may in-fact not event address the correct needs.
5. Validate your assumptions with real customers
Leveraging qualitative research techniques present your concepts to representative customers to evaluate the design concepts against your internal assumptions, user needs and overall effectiveness of the potential solution.
Putting your ideas and concepts in front of prospective users gives you an opportunity to validate your assumptions and fine-tune your understanding, which ultimately allows you to deliver a product that has a much better chance of hitting the mark.
This insight gets digested back into the process and valuable learnings are understood by the team. This knowledge is then transferred back into the next iteration.
The design process loop ensures you are constantly moving through quick efficient iterations with as minimal costs as possible.