I want my work to work for real people. I take a human-centered approach to design, considering users throughout a project. Whether the final product is a brochure, logo, or app, my process follows the same steps:

A project begins by clearly defining the problem and project goals. It’s unfortunately common to start with a final deliverable, such as a brochure, logo, or website. It may seem subtle, but there’s a world of difference between designing a boat and designing a way to cross a river. By starting with the problem, it leaves room to develop real solutions that address overarching needs and goals. And, perhaps you’ll find what’s really needed is a bridge. Defining problems and goals is generally done through conversations with the client and, at times, other stakeholders like trustees. Research is also conducted to understand the client’s industry/field and assess strengths and weaknesses of competitors.

It is vitally important to get input from users – the people who will be using the end product – to understand their needs and motivations. There are three overarching approaches I use to gain user insights: observation, interaction, and participation. Observation includes strategies such as watching people navigate a space (digital or physical) to see where they encounter challenges. Interaction includes user interviews, asking users to create photographic journals of their experiences, and conducting surveys. Looking at a situation from a user’s perspective is the crux of participation and can include placing yourself in the user’s situation to gain first-hand insight into their experiences, role playing, and also understanding one’s own biases and how they may impact your perception of the situation.

It’s also important to bring in other instrumental people, such as web developers, at this stage. By discussing a problem and goal upfront, all the players are on the same page and can work together as a team to ensure a successful solution. Additionally, this can be a useful way to determine constraints from the onset of a project and avoid surprises during implementation.

Brainstorming and development of design concepts begin and help codify what was learned during the analysis phase. This often consists of a combination of hand sketching, written notes, and digital sketches. Initial concepts will be narrowed down to the few most solid ideas and further revised and refined. Prototypes and mockups of concepts are developed to gain insight into how they would work in the real world.

This stage is cyclical. New concepts regularly present themselves even while earlier ideas are close to finalized. Revisions are ongoing. Strategies similar to those used during the analysis phase are used now to gauge the success of a design solution; for instance, a prototype is shown to users, giving insights that are then used to further revise and refine design concepts. This process continues until strong design concepts come through.

Once the design stage is completed, it’s time to bring a project to life. When needed, fabricators, web developers, printers, or others instrumental in developing the final solution are brought back into the process. Coordination is done to ensure the fabrication process to ensure the final piece matches the design vision.