Design at Obvious

Getting the most out of a Design Engagement with Obvious

Welcome

We are thrilled you chose Obvious to be your design firm! To make this engagement successful, we describe what to expect throughout the project and offer tips on avoiding pitfalls.

Effective communication is key. Properly exchanging ideas and information makes the best use of everyone’s time and produces a team that is built on trust and mutual respect. Our goal is to create a long-term relationship instead of building a one-off product.

Why use a design team?

Some people believe designers simply make things pretty. And while we obviously do that, it’s only a small portion of our job. Most people do not realise that the design process also includes making the solution functional, clear and articulate for end users.

At Obvious, our designers craft solutions that are aesthetically pleasing and provide your customers with an exceptional experience. We solve problems in an elegant way that builds users’ confidence in your product, impacting business metrics like increasing your customer base and revenue.

Obvious’ design team helps you:

  • Understand problems: We identify and prioritise critical issues.

  • Establish context: We research and understand various scenarios for your product or service.

  • Build ideas: We propose ideas that solve important problems.

  • Validate assumptions: We test solutions with real users, confirming or denying product assumptions.

  • Craft solutions: We create a custom-designed solution that enhances your customers’ experience.

Our battle-tested process and tips for success

At Obvious, we follow a human-centred design process that we’ve honed over the years.

Step 1: Design Sprint

Length: 5 days, co-located

We kick off the project by co-locating for five days. But before we walk in the door, we’ve already done some research and have a basic understanding of your business and customers, so we hit the ground running. During this time, we work together to identify the biggest challenges you face and craft an outline of a solution.

We follow the 5 Whys approach because we know how effective it is at identifying root problems. So, we ask you a series of questions, such as your users’ pain points, complaints and compliments you’ve heard, and what you want to improve.

We use the Design Sprint to gather as much information as we can from you, so bring up any ‘gut feelings’ or suggestions. While you have input throughout the entire process, ideas discussed now are the easiest to consider without impacting the budget or timeline.

Tips for a successful Design Sprint

Who needs to be involved?

Most people who are new to using a design firm think that only product leadership needs to work with us. Unfortunately, we find this approach only leads to incomplete solutions that lack important perspectives like engineering, customer support, and marketing.

We cannot stress how important it is for each department to participate in every step of the process. Our designers bridge the gap between the perspectives of every business vertical. When creating a solution, we need input from everyone on the team.

Let’s say we are designing an e-commerce site. It makes sense to involve the project manager and engineering team who will build it. But we may also need someone from accounting so that we include the requirements for taxes. We might need a representative from shipping to ensure that when we say we ship within two days that we can do that. If we are selling an item with legal ramifications, then compliance must be involved. And, don’t forget customer service. What if the user is unhappy with the product and needs to return it?

So, what happens if these people are not included until later in the process? To put it simply, it means that everyone involved wasted effort and must now go back and address previously made decisions.

Be wary of undue influence

We encounter maker bias frequently, which is where a decision maker steers the design in a direction that serves his/her situation extremely well but severely compromises actual users’ workflows. Whether you are an actual customer or not, try not to give too much weight to your own opinion.

At the end of Design Sprint, our teams are aligned with your company’s biggest challenge and have a mutual, high-level understanding of a solution.

Step 2: Relay

Length: 5 to 6 weeks, some co-location, regular communication

The Relay step is an iterative process that further defines the high-level solution developed in the Design Sprint. Relays start by developing broad topics, but as time progresses, the details become the focus.

Each Relay is seven days:

Day 1

Both teams discuss learnings from the Design Sprint/previous Relay and then scope out the next Relay.

Days 2-6

Our designers, with considerable input from your product leadership, build a prototype, test it with users, and synthesise it with the rest of the solution. A lot goes on behind the scenes before we present you with a solid recommendation, such as defining user journeys, mapping flows, reviewing existing case studies and reading research papers.

From there, we choose a handful of winners and flesh them out further by testing the ideas first on paper and then on high-fidelity mockups with real users. We iterate until we are comfortable that our design not only addresses the problem at hand but also enhances your customers’ experiences.

Day 7

This day requires co-location because we present the prototype to your entire team to get feedback and ensure alignment with the current design. If you disagree with any part, simply ask us how we arrived at this solution. Nobody is happier than a designer explaining their reasoning!

We repeat this seven-day Relay process until the entire solution is fully specified. For tips on how to communicate effectively, read Giving us feedback later in this document.

Tips for success during the Relay

Provide evidence-based feedback

We create designs supported by hard evidence, so we ask that you listen with an open mind. We know that you will have feedback and want to hear it! Presenting comments based on fact creates an environment for stimulating and productive conversation, free of personal bias and anecdotal evidence, and creates a well-thought-out solution.

Timely communication

While the Relay does not need daily communication, we require your timely feedback to keep the process moving. If we have access to information, people and tools when we need them, deliverables occur on schedule.

Let us take the bullet for you

Sometimes knee-jerk reactions lead to poor decisions, and more often than not, they come from management. If a higher-up executive forces you to make a change that is not in the best interest of the end user, talk to us. Let us take the bullet for you and present your case if you aren’t able to. We’re here temporarily, which gives us the courage to fight for the user, even if it means losing the account.

At the end of Relay, you have a very detailed prototype that looks and feels good.

Step 3: Alignment

Length: 2 to 3 days, co-located

Next, we create large service blueprints and custom journey maps that outline each business vertical’s role and how they work together to deliver on the users’ expectations. We ensure that the interactions between the frontend, backend, service layer and customer flow smoothly. We must understand how each touchpoint supports or disappoints the user because one weak link makes the experience less than ideal.

At the end of Alignment, a large, printed solution map is available for all to see.

Step 4: Planning

Length: 2 to 3 days

Up to this point, a lot of positive progress has been made, covering the ideal paths of the end users. Some clients even think that the project is nearly complete. Now, we take the solution to the next level by identifying boundary conditions and addressing those issues in a way that the user easily completes their request and has a positive interaction with your company.

We use agile project management

Your product leadership and our designers plan and scope out the project to the greatest degree of detail. You write the user stories with our help, we estimate and plan iterations together, we deliver on those stories, and you accept or reject them. If you disagree, give us a solid reason.

Account for changes in the schedule and budget

Stakeholders often suggest changes that seem small because they affect only one screen, but that’s hardly ever the case. Re-work of one tiny detail frequently means changing a significant part of the flow, so be aware of the ripple effect to the timeline and budget. When changes occur, we adjust the user stories and re-estimate them. Following this method provides clear visibility into the project.

At the end of Planning, the Agile Project Board contains detailed user stories and a timeline.

Step 5: Execute

Length: 6 weeks to 3 months to complete the designs, daily interactions with all team members

Our teams have worked together for about eight weeks, and the project is in full swing. We have all the specs, so we design screens and share them daily. We require constant feedback and discipline to keep moving forward.

This step focuses on the minute details of the project, adding the finishing touches. We go through the same feedback process of presenting the solution, and you decide how to proceed. We encourage transparency in decisions so that our team can learn from them and provide more aligned suggestions going forward.

As parts are scoped out and accepted, you hand that portion to your engineering team to implement. The process continues by finalising and accepting the next part of the solution, with design always staying a few steps ahead of engineering.

Find time to maintain day-to-day communication

We find that talking with our clients daily makes the process run the smoothest. We understand that it’s difficult to carve out 30 minutes every day to provide feedback, but without that, we may explore solutions that make no business sense.

Making the best use of everyone’s time

Let’s start our meetings on schedule, stick to the agenda and make actionable decisions. We actively focus on reducing bikeshedding, meaning wasting valuable time on minutia instead of the important details.

Stick to your guns

Many people second guess the solutions at the last minute, making what seem to be minor changes. But please remember that we went through a long process testing scenario after scenario until we found the one that best solves your customers’ problems. No decisions were made in a vacuum. So, avoid revisiting them at this point without observing how the designed solution works out. There will be time to tweak and experiment once you understand how your users react.

At the end of Execute, all user stories are complete and accepted, and the engineering team has everything they need to implement the solution.

Step 6: Beta

Length: Varies

When product leadership decides the product is ready to go live, you release it to your customers. Thus far, we only tested using a small subset of users. During Beta, however, the scale increases to all your customers, providing you with concrete information on how people interact with the solution.

Don’t be disappointed if not every customer is completely satisfied because that rarely happens. Now is the time to listen — honestly and objectively — to the feedback you hear. We encourage you to gather information, see what works or doesn’t, draw insights and tweak your solution.

The implemented solution is in the hands of your end users.

Giving us feedback

Providing design feedback may be new, so here are some tips:

  • Ensure that your comments are about the work, not the people behind it.

  • Review the work before the working session so that we can move through it faster.

  • Ask questions to ensure that you completely understand the context of the solution. We want you to understand the hows and whys of our recommendations.

  • Provide suggestions pertinent to the phase of the project. If the feedback is about user flow, stick to that instead of talking about colours and typography. We want that input in the visual design stage.

  • Ask yourself what problem/business goal needs solving and if this solution addresses it completely. If not, point out any gaps.

  • Using the words “works/doesn’t work” instead of “like/dislike” keeps the conversation and solution focused on your customer instead of making it personal.

Tips for making this project successful

Navigating a new relationship is difficult, so we provide the following guidance to make this process go as seamlessly as possible:

Ethical practices

This might seem obvious, but we like to address it upfront. We serve end users ethically and do not build experiences using dark patterns or trick customers into giving out their money or information under false pretences.

Provide us with a seat at the table

Design plays the role of representing the customer, and we want to be their voice. Great solutions cannot be created without involving the people for whom they are being crafted.

Value our work-life balance

It’s important for designers to remain creative, and that means stepping away to gain perspective and come up with new approaches. By maintaining a healthy work-life balance, we return fully recharged with fresh ideas every day. So, help us continue this creative energy by creating reasonable deadlines and not requiring overtime.

Treat everyone with respect

Our goal is to form a productive and communicative team, which is based on mutual respect and trust, to create an exceptional experience not only for your customers but also for your company.

In Closing...

We know that you have a choice when choosing a design firm, and we are glad you selected Obvious. Each of us looks forward to working with you!