Design Process For Pros
02

Ideation and Concept

Introduction

In this section, you will learn:

  • What ideation is and when to conduct it.
  • How to explain the importance of ideation to a client.
  • The elements of ideation.
  • The elements of a concept.
  • How much time to spend on the ideation & concept.
  • Questions most frequently asked by clients.

The Ideation & Concept phase is the very foundation of the design process. This is the time when the big requirements are agreed upon, and the overall direction for the development is chosen. This is also the moment when the initial idea is turned into a basic draft/prototype. The main goal of the design process is not just to create pretty pictures or satisfy the subjective feelings of various stakeholders – the primary goal is to fit the client’s business goals with users’ goals by delivering an accessible, usable and attractive product. We want to make a product that not only looks great, but, more importantly, also works great, and seamlessly meets (or even exceeds) users’ expectations.

In order to deliver a great product, much effort needs to be taken, and Ideation & Concept marks the first major milestone in this process. This is the stage where many questions will arise, and conducting thorough research will help answer most of them early and will also bring benefits in the latter stages. Not only will research save us time, but it will also give the Product Design team a deep insight into and a better understanding of the product specifics. The client, on the other hand, will benefit from the research too, because challenging a client with the right questions helps them crystallize their vision and may lead to some substantial changes.

Benefits: why is it a good idea to do ideation together as a team?

When doing the ideation & concept phase together, a team can generate ideas faster and verify their ideas in the context of the product. Working in a group also gives you a chance to use the so-called mutual design critique (when one designer contests the ideas of another designer). This technique will allow you to see drawbacks in your thinking process and bring you visual inspirations from others.

What are the benefits of Ideation & Concept?

Benefits for people who will use the product:

  • Value proposition of the product has been considered
  • The product is based on hypotheses and assumptions that have been verified with users; thus, users will be more satisfied with the solution
  • The product is not based on one idea but on an analysis of many possible solutions

Benefits for a Product Designer:

  • You build a strong foundation for future design processes.
  • You don’t waste time on finding the right look for your project during the wireframing and designing phases.
  • A concept document lays a strong foundation for the communication with the client about the style, visuals, etc. at the later stages of the design process. For example, you can show the client that you agreed on something earlier in case the client tries to change previous agreements.
  • The client’s trust in you – a solid concept and ideation phase is the foundation of a good mutual relationship because you prove you understand their product.
  • Having a more comprehensive vision of the product in relation to the market, cultural and user context.
  • Moreover, visual concepts help to gather and create assumptions that can be easily understood by the client and can be later verified with the end user.

Benefits for the client:

  • A solid ideation phase raises the chances of the product’s success because the whole development process is built upon solid data about the market, culture, and competitors.
  • The concept helps the client get a new perspective on their product.
  • The client can see how the product fits the market.
  • At the beginning of the design stage, the client will know the whole spectrum of possible solutions and will be able to find the best one.
  • The client can share the results of your work internally and externally (for example, with investors).
  • A better understanding of the market.
  • Review of direct competitors: their flaws and merits.
  • An insight into the potential obstacles and pitfalls that they should avoid.
  • Information about end users’ expectations.
  • An informed competitive advantage.
  • The wireframing phase will be easier and faster to conduct (recommendations, etc.).

Stakeholders

  • Designers
  • Clients
  • Quality Assurance specialist (QA specialist)
  • Project Manager (PM)

Ideation Phase

At this point in the Product Design Process, you will have already gone through a Strategic Analysis phase, where you will have conducted extensive Workshops, Desk Research, and User Research. At Netguru, we use a UX Review and a Product Design Sprint for these purposes. With a proper UX Review, you can create an information architecture draft and user flows, define user personas (LINK), and develop a report based on a data analysis. A Product Design Sprint allows you to validate the fundamental product assumptions and build the first versions of the product roadmap and user stories. In the following sections, you will learn what to do to conduct successful ideation.

The elements of the ideation phase:

  • Literature review (collecting and reviewing all existing materials relevant to your subject, e.g., academic articles, Google search).
  • Collecting detailed information (existing materials, corporate guidelines) about your client’s business and the services the client offers
  • Information on the target customer base (What do they want, need, and expect?)
  • Analysis of competitors (Who are they? How are they different? How are they similar? How do they advertise or make information available?)
  • Analysis of current or future user behaviors
  • Analysis of the outcomes of workshops and the research

Things to consider:

  • Do you need to run a full design audit? Much like a SWOT analysis, which assesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, a design audit applies the same stringent methodology to analyzing the competitors’ visual presence in the marketplace
A graphic design audit is a fantastic and relatively easy way to get a clear picture of how your competitors are perceived, what key messages they are communicating and how you look when placed alongside them. It’s also a valuable exercise that informs you about the type of communication your customers are receiving on a regular basis from your key competitors.
Clare, 2006e
  • What are the implications of the audience profile in relation to the project goals?
  • What are the most appropriate means of communicating with this audience (i.e., what media and marketing tools should you use)?
  • How do the goals of this project align with your client’s long-term goals?
  • Is your client’s message what actually needs to be communicated in order to further the client’s business goals?

Research takes time and can cost money, but in the grand scheme of things, it will save time and money by helping to focus the direction of the design process. It also helps you justify to your client the communication solutions you put forward. Remember that all research must be carefully documented, and information sources need to be saved and made available for future reference.

What is the product?

  • What is your product’s value proposition?
  • What is your desired competitive advantage?
  • What sets your product/feature apart from the competitors?
  • What is the main selling point?
  • What is the client’s idea/vision of the product?
  • Web & mobile?
  • Are other touchpoints relevant to the client?
  • Do you have any benchmarks and inspirations in mind?
  • How do you educate your users? (Onboarding, Content, etc.)
  • What is the most important feature of the product?
  • What is the primary goal of the product?
  • What is the primary action in the product?
  • What is the primary information that product provides?

Business goals are the most important from the client’s perspective

One of the most important aspects of design for both parties is to understand the goals of the product you are designing. Ask the client:

  • What are the business goals that you want to accomplish?
  • What is your business model?
  • Are you making any money?
  • Do you have an investor or are you bootstrapping?
  • Have you conducted market research?
  • Do you have a market niche?

Business model

  • How do you want to fund your business in the future?
  • Business strategy
    • Do you have one?
    • Desired pricing model?
    • Market strategy?
    • Digital marketing?
    • Content strategy?
    • Offline strategy?
  • Digital strategy
    • How do you speak about your product online?
    • Success stories, case studies.
    • Strategies per product?
    • Do you have a cross-platform promotion strategy?
    • Are you planning an international expansion?
  • How would you like to be perceived as a brand?
  • How should your users perceive you as a company? (e.g., innovative, traditional, easy to use)?

Business goal

  • What is the main short-term business objective?
  • What are the KPIs you’d like to achieve?

Market

  • How is your brand unique and how does it differ from the competition? Why should people choose your brand and use your app?
  • How do you drive traffic / reach market groups? - How do you track the results of your marketing efforts? - Where are you trying to market groups? - What are your promotion channels? Do you have a strategy?
  • Questions about the competitors:
    • Who are they?
    • How are they different?
    • How are they similar?
    • How do they advertise or make information available?
    • Estimates and technical advice from subcontractors (e.g., printers)
  • Are there any similar product offerings or alternative solutions to the same problem? What are your potential customers doing today instead of using your future product?
  • Are there any ideas already on the market that you would like to implement?
  • Business critical features?
  • Your Partners’ perspective:
    • What do they need?
    • Turning for customer sales people
    • Division of responsibilities
  • Other requirements / legal restrictions
  • What country (or region) is the product to be launched in?
  • What is the language the product is to be designed in?
  • Are there any special requirements regarding the market that should be taken into consideration (e.g., limitations related to the culture or religion)?
  • Is the product limited by regional law anyhow (for example anti-spam regulations or copyright)?
  • Is the product to be regionally diversified (e.g., different language versions)?

Sometimes, very direct questions won’t work the way we want.

  • Be smart during the interview with your client and ask them about the things that seem to be vital to them.
  • Maybe there is a problem that we can solve and measure?
  • Be sure to set clear goals for what you want to achieve.
  • It’s highly recommended that you review the Business Model Canvas. It’s not a clear example of which questions to ask, but it shows the fundamental aspects of business and products. You can treat it as an inspiration for collecting your thoughts.

Since everything is trackable, speak about the exact points you’re going to track. Identify the client’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Good KPIs take into account the business context, predict success, show early warning signals, and validate the achieved results. You can use the following materials to create tailor-made KPI materials. They could range from new sign-ups to some customers using Paypal vs. purchases with credit cards. Always make sure you know how high you’re aiming from the start. Sometimes, it can be challenging to analyze. Read more here: 12 Steps System for the Most Challenging Metrics and KPIs

Define users/target customer base

Regardless of what you design, it is absolutely mandatory to figure out whom you are targeting. Many of us believe that our product is for everyone, but trying to make your product appeal to everyone is going to be painful and expensive. What you want to do is figure out specifically whom you are targeting and focus your efforts on specifically on this niche. Finding out more about your target customer base will boost your effectiveness and eventually improve your reach because once you know who your users are, you’ll know how to design for them.

  • Who are the users of your site? (primary and secondary users)
    • How would you describe the users? (user characteristics such as age, experience, education, etc.)
    • Why will they visit the site? (user needs, interests, and goals)
    • When and where will the users access the site? (user environment and context)
    • How will the users access the site? (user hardware settings such as connection speed, resolution, etc.)
  • Do you have or are aware of user personas?
  • If personas are not provided, take a note of it and create personas.
  • Have you gathered any user feedback?

Define users’ goals

For a better understanding of your users’ needs and goals, we can use job stories. Based on our own empathy and this method, we can discover what users really need and what actions they have to take to achieve their goals. By knowing this, we can build a better customer journey map that allows users to achieve their goals more quickly.

Answer questions below to define better users goals:

  • What are the user stories?
  • What are users’ jobs to be done?
  • What will users do on the site? (user tasks, content, features, and functionality)
  • Which tasks are critical to users’ success on the website? (criticality)
  • Which tasks are most important to users? (importance)
  • Which features of the site will users use most? (frequency)
  • Which features are prone to usability issues? (vulnerability)
  • Which tasks are critical to the organization’s success on the website?
  • What is the user retention on your website?
  • What will make users return to your website?
  • What kind of disabilities might your users have?
    • Do they need assistive features?
    • Are there any alternative methods that we can use to deliver the same content?
  • Did client run user research?
  • How do you track users’ behavior?
  • What do the users want?
  • What do the users need?
  • What are the users’ expectations?
  • JPG (jobs, pains, gains)
  • How do you educate your users about your products and their value?
  • Who’s your ideal user and what is the typical flow performed by that user in the app/website, etc.?
  • Statistics (if they exist):
    • How many people use your product every day?
    • How many people download the app monthly

Define the competitors

For UX designers, evaluating the competition involves looking at the designs of products that are both in direct and indirect competition. Products that directly compete with each other are looking to solve the same problem. They often offer the same core functionalities and have an overlapping user base. Indirect competitors either have a different user base or a different service offering, while some aspects of the products overlap.

Answer the following questions to define the competition better:

  • Have you benchmarked against your main competitors recently?
  • What is your competitor’s mission (if it exists)?
  • What are the products/services offered (with pricing)?
  • What are the competitor’s strengths? What is the competitor good at?
  • What are the competitor’s weaknesses? Where does the competitor fall short?
  • What are the key brand differentiators? What are the messaging, product/service offerings, etc., that set the competitor apart from their competition?
  • What do we share? What are the competitor’s must-haves/must-avoids?

Concept

Definition

Concept is the visual and verbal summary of the research process. At this stage of the design process, you’re making a synthesis of everything that you have found about the project: the competition, goals, etc. The result of this stage is a potential visual direction formed into a concept.

What is the goal of making the concept for your project?

The Research and Concept stages are closely related to each other. The concept helps clarify the information found during the research and put it into a logical order. Thanks to this, you will easily determine rough guidelines for the style and form of your project. As a result, it will save you time during the next stages of the design process.

Setup Project Folder and Start Collecting Moodboards

There are plenty of sites you can use for inspiration: Dribbble, Behance, Pttrns, Pinterest, etc. It’s really easy to find similar projects to the one you will be working on. Additionally, there may already exist a UI solution to a problem you’re experiencing and trying to solve. You can save everything you have found on the Internet to an Inspirations folder to be able to use it later to create basic moodboards. This folder could be filled with anything: plugins, swatches, or even full case studies from Behance. You can use InVision Moodboards, which is a perfect tool for collecting and sharing inspiration within the team.

Generating Ideas and Concepts from Concept Mapping

You can use the information in a concept map to generate additional concepts for your project by reorganizing the items on the map.

  • Position your design problem as the central idea of your mind map.
  • Place circles containing your initial concepts for solving the problem around the central topic.
  • Brainstorm related but non-specific concepts and add them as subtopics of these ideas. All related concepts are relevant. At this stage, every conceivable concept is valuable and should not be judged.
  • Generate related ideas for each concept you brainstormed in step 3 and add them as subtopics.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you run out of ideas.

Applying Rhetorical Devices to Concept Mapping

After you have placed all your ideas on the concept map, you can add additional layering to help you refine and explore them further. For example, you can use rhetorical devices to add context to the concepts and make them come alive. Rhetoric is the study of effective communication through the use of the art of persuasion. Design uses many forms of rhetoric, metaphor in particular. If you apply a metaphor-based approach to each idea in your concept map, you will find many new ways to express your message.

What should the concept include?

Verbal (text):

  • Executive Summary of the research (short assumptions, disclaimers)
  • Suggested tone and voice (if the client’s product didn’t have it earlier)

Visual:

  • Moodboard
  • Inspirations
  • Fonts
  • Photos
  • Patterns
  • Mindmap
  • Similar case studies

Tip: Show the results of your work wisely. Sometimes, your client might become inspired by the existing solutions too early, and they will try to impose a style from an existing project. To avoid this problem, you can use specific slices of typography and UI examples that are separated from the context.

Presentation

You’re doing this because you care about the client’s business – remember about the importance of presentation. Keep it short and present it like a pro, because time is money. Your professional expertise, your knowledge, and your product design experience determine how you will deliver the client’s product to the world. It’s essential to help the client decide what the best solution is. Don’t go over 5-15 slides – you can attach other materials to an e-mail, for example.

How much time should Ideation & Concept take?

UX Research is the core of making an impactful product. You need to start digging deeper to understand how users’ behave, how they think, what their mental models are, and how your product can help them in achieving their goals. There are various methods of doing so, but whatever you do, it will be beneficial for the product. Gaining insights evokes empathy, which is required to create meaningful and human-centered solutions.

When starting a project, you need to answer a couple of questions:

  • Are we building the product from scratch or does it already exist?
  • Is there any data that can be analyzed without engaging users?
  • Can I get access to the product’s potential or real users?
User research methods chart

Source: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/which-ux-research-methods

The time required for user research depends on the methods you - the more you talk with users, the more time it would take to analyze their answers. However, rest assured that not skipping this part would eventually impact the later stages of creating the product - the more you’ll know from users, the less guessing and predicting you’ll be forced to do. Stepping into users’ shoes will get so much easier!

Methods:

  • User testing
  • Market research
  • Surveys
  • Clickstream/heatmaps analysis
  • Analytics research
  • A/B Testing
  • Benchmarking

Questions your client may ask

Q
Why do you have to spend time researching instead of designing?
A
Q
How long will it take?
A
Q
What is the output of the ideation and concept phase?
A
Q
We don’t know so much! Does it make sense to continue this project?
A

Questions to ask yourself at this stage

  • Has all the necessary research been conducted?
  • Has the concept been defined well enough?
  • Do I understand the product and its features?
  • Do I understand the product’s business goals?
  • Has the target customer base been defined?
  • Has the competition been analyzed?
  • Have user goals been defined?

Desired outcomes of this stage

  • You have a set of possible solutions that go beyond the most obvious ones, increasing the chances for real innovation.
  • You have understood the results of the research and strategy analysis and created a solid concept.
  • Your design ideas are supported and aligned with the research outcomes.
  • You conducted the ideation and concept phase and presented the results to the client.

Additional reading