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Get the best from your design tools without losing your way

Designing a successful product requires a perfect understanding of the requirements. The exercise entails a realistic visualization of various parts that make up the product, signifying its usability. How these elements work together determines the product’s functionality and whether it meets the user’s needs.

Conventional paper-and-pen methods can no longer keep pace with rapidly changing customer and business expectations. Today, digital tools are revolutionizing design tasks, with modern UI/UX design companies employing the principles of service design to streamline and manage projects. The process involves identifying stakeholders, defining their roles and actions, and representing the physical and logical elements that will constitute the final product.

Digital tools offer UI/UX design agencies the freedom to innovate and arrive at data-backed design decisions. With personas, stakeholder maps, and journey maps, designers get better insights with which they can enhance the user experience.

Design tools, with their compelling advantages, have become indispensable for modern UX design. However, it’s essential to examine what they can do for you and how they may quickly turn into roadblocks that can derail your efforts. This calls for an objective analysis. If we are familiar with a specific approach, relying on it for all our projects, our experience may cloud an open-minded assessment of its capabilities and limitations. Understanding how design tools work and how they can be utilized more effectively are the keys to a productive workflow. 

Understanding design tools

Digital tools help UI/UX design studios create a scaled-down representation of the actual product. When we look closely at the design principles, we can see that they’re attempts at condensing the elements into reduced, simpler versions. For example:

  • The customer’s profile is captured into a persona that attempts to describe the objectives and actions of users, which may be generated from market research, CSAT surveys, and interviews. A persona reflects the customer’s common behavioral aspects and possible reservations, hypothesized from various inputs.
  • Competitive mapping provides insights into what is offered by competitors in the industry. It examines their strengths and weaknesses, USPs, and marketing methods. Competitive analysis reveals gaps in the landscape that can be converted into opportunities, aiding in the calibration of sales strategies for maximum impact.
  • The relationship and interaction among the people associated with the product are depicted as a stakeholder map. It shows who controls the project, who’ll manage its life cycle, and who’ll ultimately use it. This visual representation immediately brings to light the contribution of each stakeholder and how their perceptions may be influenced by others.
  • Journey maps outline the user’s anticipated experience with the product. It illustrates the user’s actions, laid out on a timeline, with emotional factors added to create a narrative. It describes the persona, the scenario, and their expectations and mindset. Customer maps facilitate design teams to identify the opportunities to be converted.

All these are exercises in simplification. UI/UX design companies count on this reduction to understand a variety of factors, most of which are abstract at the start of the design process. Creating a template encompassing the key components is the first step that will lead us toward the goal.

The end-product is usually a moving target. The aim is to capture a static snapshot that gives us visual cues, helps us discover lacunae, and indicates how different subsystems are interrelated. Thus, design tools enable the internalization of several critical aspects without which a holistic approach is impossible.

Tools accelerate development processes when used in a collaborative environment. When members use common frameworks in a UI/UX design studio, perception- and ideation silos break down. The resultant synergy empowers designers to envision, work on, and validate shared conceptual models.

Where can the tools go wrong?

The design process is an approximation, albeit an intelligent attempt at reducing the model to smaller, representative, manageable building blocks. As we have seen, this simplification offers insights into the requirements, minimizes uncertainties, and streamlines the workflow.

However, this comes at a cost. While envisaging the project’s scope and objectives, we omit a few insignificant-looking aspects. Creating a flawless model is impractical (and, in most cases, unnecessary). Some factors don’t lend themselves to a simpler representation, while some are outliers.

Abstractive visualization tries to confine a dynamic system into a static wireframe. It’s important to realize that our understanding may be skewed by our presumptions, which end up introducing biases in the approach. When we use a design tool, it forces a view that highlights specific parts while blurring others. Naturally, we direct our attention toward the prominent facets.

How much can such a less-than-perfect model impact the final product? In some ways, it depends on the individual designer’s skillsets and experience. This is understandable, but what’s usually not so apparent is the fact that the tool’s characteristics can play a more significant role. When we use a tool, it may lead us to certain decisions that we know worked well for another requirement. But the results could be much different for the current project.

Let’s look at a few examples: a journey map, as defined by the tool, may assume a linear path, while the actual steps followed by the customer may be arbitrary and unpredictable. Empathy maps concentrate on the user, ignoring other stakeholders who may alter the UX directly or indirectly. Storyboarding does not factor in the underlying technical aspects while visualizing the user’s experience.

True, design applications are getting better every day, becoming less vulnerable to user-centric and process-centric shortcomings. But we aren’t discussing how to create perfect, flawless tools – it may be impossible anyway. The objective is to enhance our awareness of how our tools may actually work against us and learn to make the best use of what we have.

How to get what we need from design tools?

UI/UX design agencies must aim to strike a perfect balance between the two seemingly disparate variables – user’s needs and the expected business outcome – and their tools must support this endeavor. Here are three approaches that will transform your design tasks. Adopt these techniques to enhance the design tools’ utility while sidestepping the pitfalls that come with them.

  1. Focus on the objective
    Every project strives to achieve a specific goal, and the design may get off track if the efforts are not sensitized toward it. Designers must pick the right set of tools that offer the required features while keeping the intended results firmly in mind. Envisioning a design without the relevant tools is as purposeless as installing the greatest of applications without a clear objective.This is particularly crucial for projects where a holistic perception is needed. For instance, optimizing the design for commercial results is vital for a business. However, a wholly different approach is required if the project is related to a social cause such as sustainability, poverty alleviation, or public health. Common design frameworks may not facilitate evaluating the impact on stakeholders who indirectly contribute to the initiative or on its beneficiaries. Moreover, such tools can introduce biases that can undermine the results.This is not to say UI/UX design studios go wrong when they stick to standard tools and methods. What’s important is to be judicious in picking which design factors to concentrate on and what can be left out. Being intentional and prudent with such choices can make a huge difference in whether the selected tool helps or hurts your project.
  1. Be curious to explore options
    One of the characteristics of successful UI/UX design companies is the team’s undying passion for learning something new. Though their designers may rely on a few popular frameworks, they’re not afraid to step outside their comfort zone and acquire new perspectives. This is essential for creative ideation; it helps you visualize refreshingly new concepts.In many cases, no single framework can offer all the required features. To tackle this, try mixing and matching elements from various tools. This is useful in two ways: it ensures your project fulfills the needs without compromises. The second is that your design keeps pace with contemporary trends, incorporating the best ideas from multiple sources. However, it’s crucial to be aware of how the aspects accentuate or suppress one another and the additional biases they may introduce.As designers get more skilled, they can create their own design elements to beef up their inventory. A constantly expanding toolbox, when shared among team members in a UI/UX design studio, boosts the quality and range of the agency’s portfolio.
  1. Be pragmatic
    As a project takes shape, UI/UX designers grapple with creating and evaluating models that represent the user’s experience. As we discussed earlier, these are inherently imperfect. By their very nature, they cannot be expected to encompass all the knowledge acquired by the team on the product or its intended functionality. However, it’s not uncommon to find designers getting carried away, trying to assemble a model with near-100% accuracy. This is not just futile but also an expensive exercise that drains the team of time and resources. Once designers internalize the fact that tools have limitations and can never be perfect, the obsession over the littlest of details can give way to a rational approach. Design efforts yield quicker and better results when the view zooms out to reveal what’s critical and what can be dispensed with. A clearer picture facilitates better visualization and, in turn, yields successful products.

Looking for top-notch UX ideas that deliver? Talk to us. Ambian Studio is among the top UI/UX design companies in India. Our team is driven by a passion for excellence. We love building new-age user experience strategies for businesses keen to benefit from futuristic thinking. With our customer-focused approach, agility, and positive attitude, we fulfill the exacting needs of global organizations. Our services span the entire UX spectrum, addressing the unique challenges and expectations of startups, mid-size companies, and enterprises.

Author avatar
Mathuram N, Lead UX Strategist, Ambian

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