Design is a flow of creativity and novelty. We, designers, are humans with our own beliefs, ideas, experience, expertise, and views that ultimately shape our designs. Those personal lenses we have in seeing and sensing the world determine the ways and directions of our creativities’ flows. Just like every designer, my design process and values also form my designs in every way. In this design manifesto, I summarize the five key points that define my design process: respecting and empathizing with users, sticking to the design goals, conducting research in relevant fields and products, having multiple user-testings and prototypes, and being open-minded and creative in terms of technologies. Toegther, I believe that my design process is a process of constant learning and being determined about my designs.
Respect & Empathize Users
Design is user-centered, and users should always be put in the first place. Without knowing the targeted users, the design will never meet users’ needs and wants. Thus, my design process always starts with knowing the users. Particularly, I believe that “knowing” users is in fact “respecting” and “empathizing” them. As I am trying to meet their needs, I need to put away my prejudice about the users (sometimes might be stereotypes) and really dig into who they actually are because I will be restricted to my experience and knowledge in knowing about the targeted users. I will always be open-minded in learning about my users, and be respectful to them and my findings, even if I learned that they are the direct opposite of what I was thinking mind. Additionally, since I am the designer designing for them, I believe that I should be able to feel them, empathize with them, and thus totally and deeply know them. As EMPATHY FIELDGUIDE stated, to emphasize users is to “immerse, observe, and engage”, which means to experience what users experience, to understand them in the context of their lives, and to engage with them during the interviews. Those will be the stages I take to emphasize users with my respect. Therefore, respect and empathy are the two key factors for me to understand my users and thus be able to design things for them.
I started designing interfaces when I was in high school. When there was a self or school project that involves programming a website or an app, I was always the one to be contacted at my school or within my friend circle. This was because I was a graphic designer for my high school’s yearbook for four years, and I learned some basics in building websites. Nevertheless, back then, I did not know nor value the step of knowing my users. I never had the idea of users in mind. Instead, I just designed the websites for my own will. Sometimes, I felt odd in just designing it as I or the team wished, but I did not understand why. For example, I designed a pet adoption app in high school for a business plan competition. We did not have the idea of users in mind and just went with our thoughts and copied similar apps. Eventually, our business plan did not even pass the first round.
Thus, when I was first introduced to the conventional design process of understanding users in college’s HCI course, I suddenly realized the key idea that I had been lacking: the users. In a design sprint, I was asked to find the needs of users in terms of their airport experience. I focused on the airport ground transportation and expected to find something like hard to find taxi/subway because that was what I experienced. Nevertheless, through the interview process with the users, I found a huge difference between what I expected and what truly happened. In fact, most people do not have a problem with finding the right place to take taxis or subways. The problem, however, usually comes in finding a place to take ride-sharings. Moreover, I also found that users behave differently in the airports they are familiar with and unfamiliar with. Based on my findings, I shifted my original thought and designed a prototype that meets the above needs of users. Thus, understanding users helped me to largely improve my design. [Read more about the airport ground transportation app @ HERE]
Stick to the Goals
After finding users’ needs, the next step is to set sophisticated goals for meeting their needs. In terms of setting goals, I believe that it includes both stating the goals and adding the priorities for each goal. This leads to the second belief I have, which is to stick to the goals of the design. The design process is a long process, with many different stages and constantly changing prototypes and ideas. Personally, I found this the hardest process for me to stick with, as it requires me to follow throughout all stages of the design. It is very difficult to always remember the goals of the design, particularly when focusing on a narrow aspect of the design. As a designer, I need to always follow the goals as principles in my design.
Specifically, in a design sprint on Data Visualization, my team almost deviated from our goals. Our goal is to create a persuasive data visualization using a story-telling technique, and our data set in on the things lost (but not found yet) on the NYC subways. We had an idea of including a subway train to make the persuasive visualization more attractive to the audience. However, after we came up with the train idea, we seemed to be stuck in the idea of including a train and found a picture of it. We further found background music, a GIF, icons, and many other things to make the train more attractive. However, we forgot about our initial goal, which is data visualization, not train visualization. The first draft of our data visualization was by using pure text to display the number of things lost. However, after I reflected back on the design goals, I found that we need to visualize DATA, and pure text is NOT a way to visualize data. Finally, we changed the visualization into an animated bar graph. [Read more about data visualization of NYC subway lost things @ HERE]
I have always been constantly checking and sometimes updating my design goals. In a design sprint that required designing a physical prototype, our team found the need for children in forgetting to get off when reaching their destinations on MATRA. Therefore, we designed an interactive map that allows children to input their destination, and had reminders about how many stations were left to their destination. However, I found that might not be enough to REMIND kids, as our primary function is a reminding system (our goal). We were too focused on creating the map and had almost forgotten about our primary function. Thus, I suggested putting a vibrating motor and a light, where when the destination had been reached, both the motor and the light would be turned on. [Read more about The Chair @ HERE]
Do A LOT OF Research
Doing research always helps. I believe that there were no pure novel ideas in the real world now. All of our designs are somehow partially based on/can be found in previous designs in other products, but we have our novel modifications and considerations. We can find inspiration from others’ designs. Thus, I am a strong believer in studying other designs and selectively applying them to my designs. I believe that researching in the field is crucial for design. For me to take on a design project, I will make sure to thoroughly research the related field so that I can gain some experience and insights from the previous designs, as well as avoid producing a very similar product.
The research process is continuous and thorough in every design process. However, I believe that the most important time to conduct research is before prototyping or during the prototyping stage. Ideas should be limitless and goals should be unique to the design needs and the users. However, studying previous designs and products can help me to understand the general design of the product quickly. For example, when we tried to redesign the MARTA App, we avoided looking at the original MATRA App which might constrain our ideas. However, we did not know how to build a direction page (maps) that was easy to use and intuitive. Initially, we thought it would be easy to do as other static information pages. However, we soon figured out that the designs of the maps (or the direction page) required more details than ever. Thus, we decided to research similar products such as Google Maps and Apple Maps to understand their UI designs. With modification to the MATRA routes, we quickly built a direction page that functions very well on the basis of other map designs. [Read more about MATRA Redesign@ HERE]
Additionally, research helps me to stay up-to-date and avoid wasting time on infeasible products. When an idea comes up, we are always excited and thought that we have found a new world. When my friends and I tried to figure out a programming project I can possibly do during the summer, we came up with the idea of establishing a website helping college students to find off-campus housing. Previously, the Emory off-campus housing website was very hard to use. However, after researching similar products, we not only found at least 6 similar products with the same targeted users but also found that Emory’s off-campus housing website has improved significantly.
Evolving leads to improvement. Designs are like writings, the more times a person detailedly looks at, thinks about, listens to advice, and changes their writings, the better those writings will become. After researching, the next step in my design process is to prototype and conduct user testing, where the results from testing can be used to improve the prototypes. The evolving process often interwinds with user testing to provide perspectives on prototypes that might be difficult for the designers to see. Luckily, when I design, I always have friends or classmates who are experts in the field and I can listen to their advice. Nevertheless, as many designs are for a universal user group, I often heard back advice from my friends or roommates as well. I will conduct at least one user-testing before finalizing the design, and I truly value that advice and it has helped me a lot in all designs.
I have produced different modalities in terms of prototypes and conducted user testing on them. In the design process, we start with low-fidelity models such as paper prototypes. However, I often found the process not very rewarding. For example, when I conducted paper prototype user testing for the airport transportation app (AirGround), because I needed to move the parts around, users were hard to follow. In addition, I believed that users treated the paper prototypes less seriously than models with higher fidelity. As a result, I usually got less useful feedback in a low-fidelity model. However, this created a dilemma: low-fidelity models should be the basis of high-fidelity models; but since the user-testing results were not quite useful for low-fidelity models, the high-fidelity model that was produced based on the low-fidelity ones was often not ideal and involved a lot of problems that even occurred at the low-fidelity stage. [Read more about the airport ground transportation app @ HERE]
Thus, as a result, I often used mid-fidelity for app user-testing. The prototypes used for testing were digital and easier for users to operate and see more clearly. During the evolving process, I also found that having choices provided to users had more positive results than just providing one model for feedback, which is coherent with the findings of Tohidi et al. in their paper “Getting the Right Design and the Design Right: Testing Many Is Better Than One”. In the MATRA redesign, we first had one version of the homepage. However, I did not receive any useful feedback but “looks great!” “cool” and “Like the colors”. But after we provided three designs for the homepage of the app and tested which one is better, we started to receive more constructive feedback, including on how to improve based on the three designs. Additionally, when I designed the data visualization for things lost but not found yet on the NYC subway, I didn’t receive any useful feedback when I first showed the persuasive page. However, after I showed two versions of the pages, I received more opinions on which one was better and the reasons. Built upon that, I will try to produce multiple versions for my future designs for user-testings. [Read more about MATRA Redesign@ HERE]
The last but not the least belief in my design process is to be open-minded and creative in terms of technologies in implementation, which is the final stage of the design process. Indeed, some technologies are created for their own purpose, such as R for data analysis. However, I believe that using technologies can also be creative. I will not be framed into the rules that certain software or technology is for certain specific purposes.
Additionally, our team produced a chatbot that quizzed others on their knowledge of women’s health to educate people about women’s health. I never considered that chatbots can be used as a way to take a quiz, and in fact, it was quite successful in terms of their user-friendliness. In my design journey, I will never restain myself to the current technologies’ traditional functions, but to explore and bring novelty to using them. [Read more about Women’s Health Bot @ HERE]
In conclusion, I elaborate and provided evidence for my five design principles: respecting and empathizing with users, sticking to the design goals, conducting research in relevant fields and products, having multiple user-testings and prototypes, and being open-minded and creative in terms of technologies. Respecting and empathizing with users, conducting research, and having user testings are in fact a learning process: learning the users, the products’ market, and the product I designed; sticking to the design goals and being creative in technologies are in fact being determined: aimed at producing the actual design that fits the goal and realizes it in any way we can. I will follow my design principles in any design that I will produce and become a designer with empathy, creativity, motivation, determination, and humbleness.
Designer ☆ Yijun Liu
Developer ☆ Yijun Liu