Building world-class products starts with good design habits, and having a consistent UX workflow is one of the most important.
What is a UX workflow?
A UX workflow is a repeatable, step-by-step process your team follows during the product development and iteration lifecycle.
A well-architected workflow brings structure and clarity to UX projects, empowering your team to create meaningful goals, effortlessly collaborate across functions and boost efficiency—with the ultimate aim of supercharging UX outcomes.
Why is it important to create an effective UX workflow?
A great user experience might feel effortless to the end user, but it takes a lot of effort behind the scenes. To delight users, improve conversion rates and generate business value, you're going to need a solid process in place.
As Leonard Bernstein succinctly put it: "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
Most designers would probably agree they need more time. But strangely, research shows that thorough plans (workflows) are few and far between. McKinsey research shows 40% of companies don't actually talk to end-users during development, while half struggle to set objectives for design team output.
By missing out on these critical steps, UX teams sell themselves short. Their designs are based on guesswork rather than insight, and the user experience suffers as a result.
We've crafted a step-by-step guide to help you establish a highly-effective UX workflow.
Of course, every business is unique. That's why this article is comprised high-level guidelines. You can tweak it as you need—adding, removing or switching up the order of steps depending on your business' resources, objectives and culture.
UX workflow steps for UX designers to follow
One of the best things organizations can do is infuse user research into the design lifecycle as early as possible. It's a surefire way to create designs that wow customers, prospects, and even hard-to-please internal stakeholders.
Here are our 13 key workflow steps:
- Clarify your project purpose
- Craft your blueprint
- Explore your questions
- Choose your research methods
- Recruit your users
- Ready, set, test
- Collate your insights
- Validation and iteration
- Share your product and findings
- Embrace continuous improvement
- Level up
1. Clarify your project purpose
First things first, you've got to figure out your project's why. What triggered the ask? Why are users struggling? How can you help? Uncover the answers to these questions by holding kickoff calls, gathering stakeholder input and running brainstorms.
Be mindful of keeping your business hat on as you generate potential solutions. You want to design an experience that balances user needs with broader business objectives for maximum value.
2. Craft your blueprint
With project goals in mind, you're ready to move on to your blueprint. This is your workflow within the workflow, so to speak: a game plan that explains how and when you'll achieve your deliverables, step-by-step.
Having this in place sets you up for success, bringing much-needed accountability and transparency to your project. Each team member will know what they need to contribute and who's working on what within a defined timeline.
"For UX research to fulfill its business-critical function, it needs to be embedded throughout the product development lifecycle."
- Alfonso de la Nuez, Co-Founder of UserZoom
3. Explore your research questions
Data-driven insights are game-changing for product and design teams, so you'll want to kickstart UX research as quickly as possible. Start by uncovering the questions you need to ask. Look at historical analyses and market research to understand competitors' online experiences and remind yourself of previous internal iterations.
In doing this, you'll quickly identify gaps in your knowledge, which you can use to inform your research questions.
As UX researcher Elizabeth Chesters notes, you'll want to clarify whether you "need to find the right design or get the design right.”
Your answer will inform your whole research approach. It will determine whether you focus on testing different solutions and observing user behaviors or lean towards usability testing of a singular design to improve it.
No researchers? No problem. UserTesting's research delivery team works as an extension of your organization, becoming your on-demand, virtual research arm.
4. Choose your research methods
Now you've got your questions, it's time to figure out the best ways to ask them. The methodologies you select will depend on the types of questions you've come up with.
Exploratory questions are perfect for face-to-face interviews and moderated usability tests, enabling you to foster empathy with users first-hand. For numerically-driven results, you'll want to go for quantitative methods like tree tests or surveys.
Ideally, you'll use a combination of methods to gain an in-depth understanding of your users and their pain points.
"Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task."
— Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm, IDEO]
5. Recruit your users
Naturally, the next step is recruitment: finding and inviting users from your target audience to participate in your research.
Make recruitment easier by using an automated recruitment engine like UserTesting. We have access to over 120 million users worldwide.
6. Ready, set, test
With all this prep done, you're ready to press play on your research. And when we say "press play", we mean it literally.
Manually conducting research is no longer a necessity. With UserTesting's platform, you can automate numerous aspects of the research process, enabling your team to work more efficiently and accurately.
Our platform can support any test you'd like to run at any stage of development. With visual, automated reporting capabilities, it's easier than ever to find the insights that matter.
7. Collate your insights
Speaking of insights, that's the next step. Collate your data-driven insights and share them with your design colleagues and stakeholders.
Try explaining your findings like a story: demonstrate how your users feel and why, the issues they've come across, and your suggestions on what could be improved.
At this stage, you could even craft an ideal user journey, mapping out the exact steps you'd like users to take when using your solution.
This is when designers can unleash their imaginations and sketch some innovative UX ideas for the product. Be bold, courageous and solutions-focused.
Sketches complete, translate your ideas into wireframes. Share these with your researchers, so they can use your mock-ups for rapid user feedback rounds via methods like heat maps, click tests, and surveys.
We highly recommend holding fire on building your prototype until you've gathered this crucial feedback. Each test you do further validates that you're on the right track, saving you time and money in the long run.
Once you've built enough confidence in your design, you can develop your prototype and, you guessed it, test the user experience again.
Find out how UserTesting helps you test prototypes in no time.
"More iterations are better: I've never seen anyone iterate so much that there were no usability improvements to be had from the last iterations."
- Jakob Nielsen, Nielson Norman Group
9. Validate and iterate
Approach the validation and iteration stage cyclically: gather feedback, make changes, gather feedback on those changes, repeat.
Of course, time constraints and resources will dictate how many research-driven iterations you move through. But more is always better. Research shows that insight-driven iterative design improves the user experience by over 165% over the course of four iterations.
UserTesting can help you gather user feedback at speed. In fact, many of our clients go from research brief to delivering valuable insights in a week or less.
10. Share your product and findings
Because you involved your stakeholders throughout the research and design process, gaining their approval should be pretty straightforward. As always, remember to talk in the same language as your executives and harness the power of visuals for persuasion.
As Jared Forney, UX Researcher at Okta notes: "Meet your stakeholders where they are. Different stakeholders require different levels of summary."
"Some want a full report to comb through, others prefer a high-level executive summary of the findings, and some just want it distilled to a few bullet points in an email. The important thing is to be able to scale up and scale down your findings to what's most approachable for your audience.”
Remember, too, that your research is valuable to teams across your organization: marketing, sales, and so on. Everyone can benefit from seeing users interact with your solution or product–it's the best way to build empathy. Brainstorm ways you can highlight your findings to different departments.
Congratulations, your product is ready to go. In most cases, we recommend a "soft launch" approach, where you release your new design to a sample group of users and gather their feedback.
Once you've incorporated these insights into your solution, repeat the process a couple of times to make your product is as impressive as possible. And then, share your new design with your whole user base.
Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding
- Donald A. Norman, Author - The Design of Everyday Things
12. Embrace continuous improvement
There's no finish line. Just a cycle of continuous improvement.
So, after you've launched your product, continue with user research and iterations: discover user problems, generate thoughtful solutions, and enhance the user experience time and time again.
By infusing this workflow into your UX operations, you'll supercharge team productivity, boost design outcomes, and demonstrate the intrinsic value of UX research to your stakeholders.
Over time, you'll see a shift start to occur. Your team will feel more proactive, strategic, and impactful.
When you reach this stage of maturity, it's time to level up. We recommend implementing a ResearchOps program to make your workflow even more efficient. You could also explore ways to democratize UX research and empower teams from other departments to run their own projects.
Create a workflow that optimizes your UX design process
UX research and design are like yin and yang. You simply can't have one without the other. With so many moving parts to the UX process, implementing a solid workflow is a must for success.
Finally, just as iterations are vital for design, they're crucial for optimizing your workflow too. See what works and what doesn't over time, and adapt your processes as necessary. The ultimate aim, after all, is to create a blueprint that helps you, your team and your products flourish.
1. How do I create a user flow in UX?
Creating a user flow starts with gathering insights about your user. Conduct research to understand users' pain points when interacting with your website. Use these to create a flow chart, showcasing the ideal user journey step-by-step. And there you have it! You've created a simple user flow.
2. Do you really need a UX flow?
In a word, yes! User flows are an essential part of the UX design process. They help you visualize your ideas, enhance the research process and, ultimately, optimize the user's journey.
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