The Point of Models and Explaining your UX process

Posted February 08, 2021

Explaining one’s UX process can prove very difficult. Most UX professionals can agree that the UX process is not linear. The process even struggles to follow the more complex, fancy, circular or diamond-like diagrams out there. While models can serve as jumping point to organize our thoughts, they seldom reflect reality. But beyond the problems with diagrams, another difficulty with explaining our process is that the question of process has two layers: 1) what is the project’s/product’s development process? 2) and how did you fit into the whole?

Take UX research for example, while an important part of the development lifecycle, research is only one small component. To explain what we did during research, we must first consider at what stage of the product/process we came in, how did we contribute to that stage, and how that impacted the rest of the development process.

That’s where diagrams and standard methods help. While every project is different, we can conceptualize what we need to do as a way to decide what actions to take, and later explain what we did. But we may need to draw more than one diagram.

Personally, I like to approach the research process with the Service Design Model in mind. In summary this model describes 4 overlapping design and research stages for the cycle of a product: Discover, Explore, Test, and Listen. As Susan Farrell suggests in her NN article “UX Research Cheat Sheet,”there are research methods that are better suited for specific parts of a project. We can think of each stage as a way of answering a different overarching question:

  1. Discover: What is the audience and business context we are working with?
  2. Explore: What are some solutions and how realistic are they?
  3. Test: Do these solutions actually work?
  4. Listen: The solution is out there, what are people saying about it?

Having this idea in mind can often help me craft a clearer research plan, and explain to stakeholders the logic behind this plan. However, what I do specifically does not necessarily map out to the Service Design Model. A research process may not take me personally from the discovery to the listening phase. I may come in only during the discovery phase, but my work would hopefully impact the other phases. Yet there are key processes that I will aim to follow while in the discovery phase.

My personal process within this phase can also look like a cycle of events, which can be summarized in four phases:

  1. Planning Research
  2. Conducting Research
  3. Understanding Findings
  4. Socializing Findings

These four phases are not clear cut. They often overlap, and sometimes hurdles come up. Nevertheless, keeping this model in mind along with the Service Design Model, I am able to make better decisions and communicate my work with others.

UXers don’t need to know all the models out there and all the nuances to every research method. Frankly, there are too many to know. But time, practice, and some familiarity with models and methods can make us communicators. Even if we do have to mix and match ideas.