You’re likely familiar with the principle of GIGO, standing for garbage in, garbage out. It applies in so many circumstances. A sculptor working from bad clay, for example, will always be limited in what they can achieve — and the same can be said of a UX designer trying to construct their designs from weak concepts.
Done well, the design process moves smoothly from one stage to the next, and the ideation stage is all about laying the groundwork for everything that follows.
The more you can do to hone your ideation, then, the easier you’ll find it to make progress — and the better the eventual result will be. To give you some nudges in the right direction, we’re going to look at five UX ideation tactics that can easily be deployed. Let’s begin.
Analyze deployed UX designs
Assuming you’re not working on your very first UX project, you’ve had your work implemented before, and there’s a solid chance that your current project is intended to serve the same audience that your previous project served. If so, the worst thing you can do is start from scratch, because you have a goldmine of analytics data to pore through.
Take the time to do everything from delving into your granular metrics to reviewing heatmaps. Which elements of your existing work are proving successful? Which are clearly failing to meet user expectations? The insight you glean from this process will give you a lot to think about as you begin ideation for your current design project.
Research established trends
Taking note of what people are discussing within the relevant industry is a key part of ideation for so many types of project. SaaS companies looking to fine-tune their pricing pay close attention to competitor offers, using the averages to steer their decisions. Ecommerce sellers look to search volume to gauge the growth and decline of product niches. And UX designers — the good ones, at least — stay apprised of which design approaches are gathering hype.
Through a combination of following in-depth industry blogs (like this one, for instance) and visiting competitors on a semi-regular basis to see how they’re adapting their methods, you can form a solid impression of what designers in general think is worth doing. From there, you can decide whether it’s best to stick with a given trend or buck it (more on that later).
Survey your target audience
As much as you can glean from looking at analytics, sometimes you need to speak to people directly to figure out what exactly they think about the systems they use. Many metrics that seem positive can actually have negative implications in some scenarios, for instance. Take something like average session duration: someone can use your design for a long time because they find it very useful, or because they don’t understand how it works and want to figure it out.
Reach out to the people your design will need to impress, and ask them straightforward questions about what they’re looking for and what they make of the similar systems they already use. You can try social media, but structured email surveys will make it easier to parse the results (assuming you have a mailing list, that is, and you should: list-building is key for email marketing, plus you may have user account addresses set up for SaaS logins or software downloads). Take the comments with a pinch of salt, of course — people don’t always know what they want — but take them regardless.
Hold an open creative session
It isn’t accurate to say that getting more people involved in ideation will inevitably lead to better results. Sometimes it just muddies the water and slows everything down. That said, there’s clear value in getting input from some different people in different roles. Not just UX designers, but software developers as well, and copywriters, and even sales professionals.
At worst, the suggestions will prove useless and reassure you that your ideas are fairly solid. At best, you’ll find that the addition of information from varied perspectives allows you to see your task in a new light and come up with some concepts you’d otherwise never have managed. Even a basic half-hour session with some friends there will help massively.
I talked about following or bucking trends, but what if you’re not sure which route to take? Well, one great ideation tactic is to embrace the spirit of contrarianism. Look at what everyone else is doing (and what all the best practices say) and envision something radically different. If others are putting navigation bars in one place, could you put them somewhere else?
You don’t need to follow through with your contrarian design ideas. The point of this ideation exercise is to test possible new approaches and confirm the value of your default assumptions. You might find that a radical change actually seems like the best way to go, or each of your contrarian ideas might ultimately seem like a waste of time. Either way, it’s worth doing.
Putting a lot of time and effort into UX ideation is always worth doing, because it positions you to move into a smooth and productive design process. Implement these tactics to come up with stronger and more varied ideas: the results will prove them worthwhile.