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I often have to face this situation. I'm asked to wireframe UIs without having any information about the final users (their profiles, needs, preferences, and key tasks).

First, I usually study equivalent/competitive UIs to come up with some ideas and I use usability guidelines to wireframe the UI. However, I have no idea if the UI will meet users' needs.

What can I do to create wireframes without having the end-user details?

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What do you have to work from? I would assume that at the minimum you'd have a business-requirements document of some sort? –  JonW Feb 8 '13 at 11:19
    
How are the requirements communicated to you ? –  Mervin Johnsingh Feb 8 '13 at 11:37
    
I don't necessarily get a business-requirements document. For the last project I've been working on, I have just talked with the stakeholders to define goals and expectations. They didn't get any feedback from the users and they refused to spend time to conduct an online survey. –  Leo Feb 8 '13 at 11:42
    
I don't understand how this can possibly work. Even from a traditional 'covering you ass' approach, what documentation would the stakeholder go back to if what you design isn't what they really want? You need something to show to them saying 'you asked for {this}, and we delivered {this}'. –  JonW Feb 8 '13 at 12:19

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

FrankL has given a great answer and i strongly recommend reading up on Lean UX as he recommended.However I did face this issue a few months back when I was asked to redesign the site for a consulting agency. The agency had redesigned their site several times over but somehow had never been able to get the the right content to drive conversions. When I asked them about what they expecting, the only feedback they had was it should have high conversions and should be "appealing". These are the steps I took to try and understand the issues:

  • Analyzed the business of the company and determined what were their primary goals.
  • Did a competitive analysis to determine how their business is in relation to other relevant agencies which offer the same services
  • Since the company was in job sourcing and consulting, based upon my understanding of their business goals I created some personas of their user base.
  • Did a second round of competitive analysis of competitor sites to see what features they offered which were not offered by this current site
  • Checked forums, polls, review centers and other resources to see if there was any inputs which could provide solutions on what users look for when they go to such a site
  • Prepared a laundry list of features which should be there in the site and prioritized them on basis of must haves (depending upon the analysis of competitive sites and the understanding gained from the user personas and the content from the review sites) ,secondary must haves and nice to haves
  • Came up with some preliminary wireframes which I used to do some free 5 second testing to determine the user focus and if it tied in with the primary goal of the site. (I know there are demerits to using 5 second testing but it has some valuable outcomes in defining how well your site is laid out and what are the first things users notice)
    • Iterated the wireframes based upon that
    • Presented the wireframes with an analysis of the design principles applied behind the site design and what assumptions\data lead to specific content being surfaced more prominently than others.
    • Used the feedback to update the wireframes (do note that sometimes the feedback might contradict with what you feel is the right design, so ensure you call out the difference and why your design might address the problem).

The suggestions I have for you are :

  • Based upon your understanding and competitive analysis, come up with a document which clearly states your understanding of the problem statement and the assumptions you have made
  • Create some initial wireframes and communicate them to the client (ensure you have a solid reasoning behind the design principles you have used. I recommend spending sometime reading up on UX best practices for the design layout you have chosen before you present your case)

You can follow the steps I took but I would strongly recommend that you clearly highlight the assumptions you are going to make before you start the design process.

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+1 As my answer is more in general, yours is very detailed and concrete and good. –  FrankL Feb 9 '13 at 8:17
    
Thank you for this complete answer, very helpful! –  Leo Feb 9 '13 at 9:15
    
@Leo can you mark it as the correct answer then :) –  Mervin Johnsingh Feb 16 '13 at 17:21

If I was in your place, I would ask them anyway.

Write them some E-Mails.

Every bit of information you get out of the users is better than non at all.

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I agree with you. When I start working on a new project, my first question is always 'who are your users?' The answer I usually get is 'we don't want to spend time and money on user research'. I have to try to be more convincing. –  Leo Feb 8 '13 at 11:50
    
Or simply don't ask and do it like you want. I don't ask if I could look at different UIs first, or if I'm allowed to read an API documentation before starting programming. You can always guess, but the time you burn till you guessed 10 times, could easily be invested in some calls/e-mails –  K.. Feb 8 '13 at 11:54

I've come across a similar situation in a company where they work this way. Fortunately it was in a job interview and I refused to work there. But I was curious how it can actually works. For more than 10 years as market leader...

LeanUX

Anyway, I 've sticked with this for some time and studied different design approaches. And there is a solution for you! LeanUX is a way you should look for. It came from the Lean Startup movement and gets some traction right now. Its basically do some assumptions, concept it, prototype it and learn from users (aka do user research at the end). Due to the lack of resources of startups and a fast product launch, this approach has arrisen.

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Smashing Magazine about LeanUX, and get a free chapter of Jeff Gothelfs coming book about LeanUX - its worth reading.

Proto-Personas

The same with personas, which can be quite time consuming to research and create. You can create them by good guesses of your stakeholders, which usally know their customers. Read this article about Proto-Personas.

Even if it's always better to go out and get a sense of end users by yourself - sometimes you cannot. But your assumptions don't have to be unprofessional.

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The issue with LeanUX - as in the way you've described it here - is that it's mostly guess work followed by validation. It produces something quickly but by not doing any initial research it's unlikely to be right. Testing and validate should happen after there is a valid hypothesis and a hypothesis has to be built on something. Even guerrilla research, speaking to random users and getting sit stats is better than starting with a concept. Some bits of LeanUX are good, but starting with the concept phase leads to arbitrary solution and a lot of reworking. –  Stewart Dean Feb 8 '13 at 14:19
    
@StewartDean That's how I see it too. But in case you can't do any research before, for reasons like you have no budget/time or enter a new market/no customers available, you can make assumptions based on internal knowledge. It's possibly not 100%, but a good starting point to iterate the design from. –  FrankL Feb 9 '13 at 8:13
    
Thank you for your help, I'll have a deep look at these articles. –  Leo Feb 9 '13 at 9:18

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