I was asked this question once and the only honest answer I could think of was "It depends" since the process would depend on the needs of the project and what the end goal is .However do you have a specific design methodology or checklist which you like to check off as you go through the stages of the project ?

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I think your answer was pretty good. I don’t mean to get all Zen on you, but I think the best design methodology is no methodology. Jared Spool’s self-contradicting IA Summit speech against “user centered design” is really a rant against rigid dogmatic “methodology” that tends to result in impressive binders of documents rather than impressive designs. Rather than a checklist of activities to complete for every project, Spool’s study of design teams suggests successful designs come from:

  • A cohesive vision of the final product or goal.

  • Observation of users using the product or a stand-in.

  • Celebration of design failures (e.g., trying out designs and learning from your mistakes).

You may note the last two are the core of user-centered design. The vision is intimately related to the other two in that vision drives what to observe and interpret of users, and what you observe and interpret inspires and informs the vision. That’s as close to methodology as you need to get. Everything else (e.g., personas, contextual inquiry, usability testing, cognitive walk-throughs,) are tools to be applied as useful and feasible. None of this needs to be formalized –at least not all the time.

Personally, I’m not even wild about the concept of stages of project. Sure you need them for organizational purposes, but for me they don’t translate into design stages. I don’t have a separate Data Collection, Analysis, Design, Test stages for example, but instead I design early and often. The Design doesn’t appear at the end of Stage 5. Designs evolve over the project.

Stay as fast, flexible, and light as you can. Some design iterations are completed in two minutes: get an idea, ask a user a key question, throw out the idea and move on. A cool-looking methodology flow chart might be necessary to convince your client you know what you’re doing. Periodically delivered fat binders might be necessary to assure the client you’re really working. However, these have little to do with the users or design.

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