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Design Methods Step 2: Define

18 March 2015

This four-part guide is for anyone who wants to understand the methods designers use and try them out for themselves.

We’ve grouped 25 design methods into four steps – Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver – based on the stages of the Double Diamond, the Design Council’s simple way of mapping the design process

From rapid prototyping to personas and surveys, methods like these are used all the time in our work with partners. Browse through our case studies to see how they have been instrumental in bringing about dramatic improvements to products, services and environments, ensuring they are clearly focused on the needs of users.

Focus groups

What is it?

Focus groups usually involve six to ten respondents in a group discussion lasting two to three hours, moderated by a skilled facilitator.

What is it useful for?

It helps you get a broad overview of users' reactions to and ideas about a topic.

How can I do it?

A facilitator can lead the group through a series of exercises designed to uncover their thoughts on the given topic. Good preparation of these exercises is vital, as is creating a democratic, supportive and informal atmosphere. The aim of focus groups is to get people talking freely and informally, so it's important that the people feel comfortable with the others in the room, otherwise they might go quiet. The sample of people you choose to come to the session will usually represent part of your user group. Sometimes a video link or two-way mirror is used to allow the development team to observe the focus group. The session could also be videotaped for future reference.

Assessment criteria

What is it?

A method of selecting the most promising ideas to develop further.

What is it useful for?

Agreed assessment criteria are useful for taking into account the concerns of multiple stakeholders when deciding the best ideas to take forward.

How can I do it?

Brainstorm, refine and agree a shared set of assessment criteria. These need to be structured to encourage participants to consider the perspectives of the other stakeholders when making their assessments. For example, if you were selecting a product design to take forward into production you might give each of the ideas a score of 1 to 5 on the criteria of:

  • Technical feasibility (the engineering team's concern)
  • Cost (finance's concern)
  • Passion for the idea (the project team's concern)
  • Portability and size (some of the customers' concerns)

Score all of your ideas against the criteria then add up a final score for each idea.

Comparing notes

What is it?

Visually sorting and prioritising a large amount of information about a problem.

What is it useful for?

When presented with many pieces of information, it's not always obvious where to start. Sorting and grouping these ideas in order is often the best way to begin.

How can I do it?

  1. Write all of your ideas on individual sticky notes.
  2. Reduce the number of notes by rejecting low priority items and combining notes that deal with similar things.
  3. Compare pairs of notes in turn and put the most important one higher up the list (using the same criteria for all comparisons).
  4. When no more swaps can be made, the list will be in order of importance.

For example, if you wanted to determine the most important factors in choosing a pushchair you could take all the potential considerations from your research (or brainstorm them) and then compare notes to determine the most important considerations. This method also works for ranking things other than by importance, for instance in order of speed, cost, quality or desirability.

You could also use this method with users to get them to put their considerations in order of importance, for example, "What are the most important considerations connected with buying a new home?".

Drivers and hurdles

What is it?

Drivers and hurdles is an exercise to help you identify where to concentrate your energies for most effect in the next stages of your project.

What is for?

Use this method to understand people's perceptions, manage their expectations and identify where to concentrate resources for most effect.

How can I do it?

Gather together a diverse group of stakeholders in your project. Brainstorm what the workshop participants perceive to be the motivators (drivers) and barriers (hurdles) to a project's success. Collect the ideas on two separate sheets of paper. Establish what the project can and can't address, and agree which drivers it would be best to focus on in order to overcome the hurdles.

Customer journey mapping

What is it?

A visual representation of a user’s journey through a service, showing all the different interactions they have.

What is it useful for?

It allows you to see what parts of the service work for the user (magic moments) and what parts might need improving (pain points).

How can I do it?

  • Identify the key elements of a service
  • Consider all the touch points including those front and back of house
  • Understand the links between all the different elements over time
  • Identify problems in a service or areas where new things can be added

Next steps

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