The creative process unlocks business value

A repeatable, flexible process gives a design team a problem-solving framework to operate within. This process exists to unlock the value of design for your business. The tactical choices of execution should be flexible, and the overall process should follow these four phases:

  1. Identify theOpportunity
  2. Formulate a Thesis
  3. Make a Plan
  4. Execute the Design
  1. Identify the Opportunity

    Every project should kick off with a clearly defined problem—or, as I like to frame it: a clearly defined opportunity. This is true whether you are building new features in your software, marketing a new product, overhauling a brand, or delivering an important message.

    Design is a collaborative discipline by nature; your team will work in concert with product, engineering, marketing, and sales to deliver value. When you clearly define the opportunity, everyone will have a north star to guide their efforts.

    Start by gathering information in a creative brief: budget, timeline, goals, and technical or creative constraints. You’ll want to research the competition, determine best practices, identify common user experience patterns, and learn anything else relevant to understanding this opportunity.

  2. Formulate a Thesis

    Design is a blend of art and science; we use color theory, user testing, psychology, and more to influence our creative decisions. Just like scientists, a design team should develop a thesis to test out on existing users, new users, and even potential customers.

    The only way to develop a strong thesis is to ask your team to brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Start by sketching out (on paper) at least 20 different concepts per person. Then ask every team member to sketch out 20 more ideas. Review these initial ideas together, select a subset to pursue, and send each individual designer back to their sketchbooks.

    Brainstorming as a team is fun, yet the strongest ideas will emerge from solitary ideation. Repeat this process of group review, paired with individual ideation, until a strong central thesis has emerged.

  3. Make a Plan

    Your team has many tactics at its disposal—prioritize those that will yield the quickest feedback needed to measure success. For product design, you will want to incorporate continuous user testing into the process. For a corporate rebranding, you may decide to solicit feedback from focus groups. Regardless of the method, establishing feedback loops is critical to measuring the effectiveness of your thesis.

    Although even the best-laid plans often change, it is imperative to lay out which activities you will undertake, and in what order. When external factors inevitably change, you’ll be far more prepared to adjust if you have a solid plan to begin with.

    Some of the most common creative tactics include:

    • Design Sprints

      A highly collaborative, intense five-day process (pioneered by Google Ventures) that aims to answer critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing with real customers.

    • Critiques

      The design critique is an opportunity for a team to collectively raise the bar of their work. No other creative activity can achieve this at team scale—critiques are essential to team growth.

    • Customer Personas

      Researching, synthesizing, and describing what an actual customer looks like can be an incredibly valuable part of the creative process.

    • Wireframes

      These are higher-fidelity than sketches, and are an essential step toward building prototypes of any nature. Wireframing forces designers to consider the actual content as well as the layout.

    • Clickable Prototypes

      Perfect for user testing, these are wireframes or low-fidelity mockups that designers can link together using software such as Invision. Use these to get rapid feedback from customers.

    • Working Prototypes

      These prototypes are functional—allowing designers and product managers to receive much stronger feedback from customers. Development resources are required to build working prototypes.

    • Unmoderated User Testing

      This type of testing allows a team to reach many users at once, via a service like UserTesting. The tasks to be completed and feedback you’re looking for must be spelled out in detail.

    • Moderated User Testing

      This type of testing can provide both structured and unstructured feedback, and allows for conversation with users. These sessions may take place in person or via a screenshare.

  4. Execute the Design

    Follow your plan, and recalibrate your trajectory when variables change or unforeseen circumstances arise. Test your assumptions, validate your central thesis, and solicit feedback from as many sources as possible (including non-designers). Periodically take a step back, to ensure your solution aligns with solving for this opportunity.

    The creative process will provide a flexible, repeatable framework for your team to operate within—and ensure that you’re ultimately working to unlock value for your business.