The power of walls

I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively.” – Donald Trump

When these words were uttered, the reaction of many people, myself included, was disbelief. How could someone, especially with the power of running one of the largest nations in the world, believe that building walls was a good use of time, money and resources? The more recent pledge to build a wall in Colorado, which doesn’t border Mexico but rather New Mexico was met with ridicule. So much so that the official response was that it was a joke. Obviously.

What is he thinking, building arbitrary walls that don’t serve any tangible purpose?’, we might think. However, far from the madness that is USA politics and on a much smaller scale, I believe that those of us who work in the tech industry are surrounded by walls of our own.  

Walls by their very nature create division. A consequence of this is that we get very siloed ways of working. Unfortunately, this is something that I’ve come across time and time again in service and product design and delivery. Instead of true collaborative working, we see design being thrown over the wall to development teams; often with barely any handover, just an expectation to get on and build it.

In turn, development teams are often, understandably, disgruntled by designers who don’t take the time to understand the technical requirements and feasibility of their designs. And that’s not taking into account testers, who often are the last quality control check of the usability of the product being released. And then there are the stakeholders; clients or POs who may have no idea whether they should be supporting the designers’ or developers’ perspectives and reasonings.

Not only does this lead to frustrations, but it is often more time-consuming and therefore, costly. The result? It’s all a bit of a mess. Silos too easily create tribes and tribe leaders end up fighting for their own corner of how they think work should be done. Tim Brown of Ideo, in his book Change by Design sums this up with:

“In a multidisciplinary team each individual becomes an advocate for their own technical speciality… likely resulting in a grey compromise. In an interdisciplinary team, there is collective ownership of ideas and everyone takes responsibility for them.”

So how can we move from siloed teams and an ‘it’s always been done this way’ attitude and adopt interdisciplinary team working practices? There’s no silver bullet but there is a way to integrate walls into our work and use them to unite us.

User research and service design walls

At GDS (the Government Digital Service) the use of walls is widely encouraged as a medium for communication. Working on a government service has enabled me to experience the power of walls first-hand.

According to the GDS manual, an up-to-date wall also allows you to:

  • have a physical focal point for the team to look at and comment on during standups and other meetings
  • promote transparency and discussion by showing everyone in your organisation the status of your work
  • make decisions based on an overview of your work
  • manage and measure workflow and spot problems that are delaying you

Through implementing the use of walls for design and research, my team and the teams I collaborate with have found these statements not only to be true but to greatly improve the way we work.

Since we began designing a new feature for the service, the large wall where we sit has been used to document and communicate our work. It is a living form of documentation and communication; changing as designs, technical constraints and user research feedback develop.

The general workflow that we have found to be effective is:

  • Print user journey screen flows as large-format and stick to the wall alongside screen designs printed a screen per page
  • Introduce the wall to your product owner, leadership stakeholders, the development team (including QA testers), and other relevant teams e.g. security or policy. Give them post-it notes and allow them to comment on the designs
  • Have conversations with team members and stakeholders around the wall to iterate the design, gaining technical insights early and often
  • Use the wall to display user research planning and feedback
  • Continue to iterate and define the designs into development
  • Once screen designs are added to sprints, use post-its to highlight story IDs and which sprint the screens are being developed in

Everyone’s workflow will differ depending on their particular needs, so this is guidance rather than a set way of working.

The advantages we have seen with using walls in this way has been above all increased collaboration amongst a multi-supplier and multi-disciplined team. Countless conversations have happened around the wall. By making the process open, designs have been iterated, changed to better reflect technical processes and, on our best day, a number of user journeys scrapped in favour of an alternative approach. These design decisions wouldn’t have been made without the transparency of sharing early ideas.

As well as using walls to communicate designs, walls are a fantastic medium for displaying user research. The feedback medium has changed throughout the process, depending on what needs to be communicated to the teams.

Photo of user journey screen flow with annotations of research participant quotes and post-it notes with comments from developers
Placing user feedback and design recommendations onto the screens enables the teams to see key areas for iteration. My favourite participant quote reads “I didn’t actually read what I was supposed to do.”

As well as iterating designs based on team feedback, we mapped user testing feedback onto screen flows. Showing quotes from research participants in the relevant screens in the flows enables everyone to understand key areas of usability issues or successes. After screens and user journeys became more refined, we were able to display research findings in a more visual way. This Included creating graphics of key findings and pull quotes (my favourite form of communicating the opinions and feelings of participants).

Quote saying "You're spacemen talking to cavemen."

The wall is an ever-changing base of operations, it changes version by version. It evolves to reflect the development of the feature. It encourages open collaboration and discourages side conversations. By making it the focal point, teams and stakeholders gather around the wall for their meetings and discussions. The wall creates a democracy. Everyone is given equal opportunity for their ideas and opinions to be heard. Including, most importantly, the real people who use our service.

Designing a better future: New Adventures 2020

On Thursday January 24th a bunch of like-minded individuals gathered together for New Adventures 2020 – one of the most exciting and progressive design conferences I have had the pleasure of attending. Having been involved with the event in 2019, both as a speaker and running the Women in Tech Nottingham lunchtime takeover, I was interested to see how Simon and Geri would build upon the successes of 2019.

New Adventures came back with a bang last year after a six-year break and returned with a more mature perspective, mirroring the changes in our industry. I reflected on this in my write-up of 2019:

“My abiding impression from New Adventures 2019, was that we are starting to grow up. Both in terms of the conference itself; promoting inclusivity through diversity tickets, pronoun and social interaction stickers and a code of conduct; and in the messages and tone of the talks and speakers.”

This year, diversity and inclusion were woven even more deeply into the conference. In addition to the continuation of diversity and scholarship tickets, inclusive name badges, a dedicated quiet space, and the return of the Women in Tech Nottingham lunchtime takeover, 2020 added a gender-neutral bathroom and sanitary products in the women’s toilets. (If you’re not sure why providing sanitary products is important to inclusivity, read Anna’s blog). Gender inequality was also addressed through the excellent She Wins workshop: How to Negotiate with Confidence run by the awesome Clare and Kate.

Inclusion and accessibility were enhanced this year by introducing live captioning. This was provided by the incredibly skilled stenographer Andrew at White Coat Captioning and Thisten who provided live speech to text through their app. Providing captioning not only made the talks accessible to people with hearing impairments but also helped the audience pick up points they hadn’t quite caught. Or in my case, used to make sure the spelling in my notes was correct. 

Inclusion was a strong theme in 2019’s talks and the speakers this year continued to build upon it.

Cennydd questioned the limitations of user-centred design; asking whether as a practice it does enough for those on the edges and outside of the products we create. With the state of our world as it is, especially regarding climate change, we were encouraged to think bigger. To design beyond our immediate users and beyond even human-centred design. To broaden our horizons by adopting life-centred design. By thinking in this way, we start to mitigate the unintended consequence of our work and design beyond the now.

“Let’s not design with other people in mind, but design with other people.” – Cennydd

Akil encouraged us to draw on walls and use open ways of working to allow for collaboration and validation of ideas. As a GDS practitioner, I am a huge advocate of using walls for collaboration so couldn’t agree more. He also addressed how we can be mindful of the consequences of our designs by introducing us to consequence scanning and asking “What is the good, the bad, the ugly of producing this product?” As designers, we have great power over those who have to use our products or services. This theme was highlighted across the talks in 2019 and further explored by this year’s speakers. Akil succinctly summed it up with:

“‘Do no harm’ trumps ‘don’t be evil’.”

Liz and Laura approached the subject of diversity from two different angles. Liz is a disability advocate and talked about ‘designing with’ – disabled designers leading the process rather than designers empathetically designing for disabled people. She also highlighted problems with design-thinking and suggested that design-questioning is a better way to frame design problems inclusively.

Laura’s talk on building technology that respects people’s rights looked at another side of inclusivity: giving people, especially those who are limited in their digital access such as mobile users, choice over how their data is used. Giving all internet users the choice to easily control the use of their personal information is not only a legal requirement but also the responsible thing for us to do as technologists. Laura reminded us that the tech we use is our new ‘everyday things’ and as such, we need to make sure that we’re creating products that respect each individual’s right to opt-out of data tracking.

“We can’t continue to build products on assumptions of the needs of people who we don’t have access to.” – Laura

One theme that I was interested to see recurring across a couple of talks was empathy. As an inclusive design advocate, to me, empathy is a corner-stone of inclusive design. However, Cennydd and Liz argued, rightly, that empathy in itself is not enough.

“Empathy is a crutch. Radical inclusion beats empathy.” – Cennydd

Liz explored empathy and brought new ways of thinking about empathy as being problematic due to it prescribing emotions and silencing the recipient.

“They feel that they just have to feel empathy for us.” – Liz

This brings us back to designing inclusively and with people instead of for people. As a speaker on this subject at last year’s conference, it’s very positive to see the conversation being carried forward by so many of the 2020 speakers.

My takeaway from the 2019 event was that it seemed we had finally started looking outwards: identifying our responsibility and the associated consequences of our actions. This year’s event has only strengthened those messages across the design and technology community. There will always be challenges ahead but we the audience at New Adventures are at the forefront of these important conversations. Tatiana encouraged us to “learn how to unlearn” and that is why we need events like this. To unlearn old ways and embrace new ways of thinking. We can take the themes and discussions from the day and discuss, debate, and dwell on them and take them forward into our work. By doing this, we can all contribute to designing a better future.

Challenging assumptions

Painted arrow on the road

I’d like to think that our industry has moved on from the image of the lone designer – the artist sat in their studio working on a masterpiece design that they unveil with a flourish to the world, finished and without input from others: ‘Here is my pixel-perfect design. I have solved everything single-handedly.’

We certainly used to think this way and I am as guilty as any other designer for having worked like this. As an industry that embraced the terms ‘rockstar’ and ‘guru’, we were definitely not backward in coming forward. But then things changed. The prominence of user experience rose, scaling out to user research, service design, and customer experience. We started thinking much more seriously about accessibility. In short, we started to think of people using our products and services less as users and more as humans.

Human-centred design is no new thing: the term has been around for decades. For some designers, however, I believe it causes friction. To be human is to be vulnerable, fallible, imperfect. We don’t like to think of our designs being this way. The trouble is that our designs are used by people, and people don’t often use them in the way we intended. They find ways of using our products in ways we never imagined, and find weird and wonderful shortcuts to reach their goal – did they not see our carefully crafted user journey maps? Did they not understand they had to follow the linear path we envisioned for them? Why are they using it wrong?!

Right and wrong are, of course, purely subjective. As designers, we’re used to subjective opinions on our visual work and know how to respond. But do we allow for the same level of subjectivity in the use of our designs, or do we just guess how we think things should be?

Sometimes, assumptions are all we have to begin with and it’s OK to use them as a starting point. The issue is, however, if we don’t follow through with validating those assumptions, we potentially damage the experience and create barriers between us and the people we’re designing for. When we assume we know what they need, we’re making people passive recipients of our work, not active participants.   

Fortunately, we’re now likely to find designers working in multidisciplined teams where the needs of people using our products or services are important. We research, test and iterate designs, and undertake processes of continuous improvement. Through this approach, we’ve learned to test and validate assumptions. This is reflected in what we’ve done in the industry: we’ve changed priorities, had new conversations, and refined and improved our working practices. All while hurtling along at breakneck speeds, in this ever-changing, exciting space.

While we’re challenging and changing the way we create work with other people as the focus, how often do we stop to think about how it impacts us directly: when was the last time you questioned assumptions surrounding your own career? Do you have a plan? Do you know exactly where you want to be five, ten, twenty years from now? If so, and you’re happy with it, congratulations and good for you. You’ve thought things through much more than I. But, I’ll let you into a secret… I don’t want a plan.

Eight years ago, I was a graphic designer. It would have been easy to stick with this and not confront the assumption that this was my only path. Instead, having a newly found interest in web design, I started looking at my work differently. I went to web design conferences (New Adventures being one of them), read about the industry, and learned to code. I started thinking about how people would use my designs, not just what the visuals looked like.

I didn’t have a clear career direction during that time of change. I was uncertain about exactly what I wanted to do and what work would be meaningful to me. It’s taken time to realize what that is. I’ve moved through graphic, web and UX design to consultancy and user research. This journey has been a process of discovery: finding a spark in things that interest me and letting it burn into something new and compelling. In addition, building relationships with people who support, influence, inspire and encourage me to think differently has shaped me into who I am today.

Let’s not forget that we’re in an industry that doesn’t stand still. Who knows what new areas of design will come and where we’ll see opportunities to alter what we do? We can’t predict what these progressions might be. After all, many of us have roles that weren’t common five or ten years ago. And what about the evolution in technology? With the rise of AI, there is potential for parts of our work to become automated. How will this change design? Thankfully for us, whatever the future looks like, as designers designing for people, there will always be a need for human understanding.

We have a responsibility to the humans we design for. We should create purposeful and empathetic designs based on real-world situations and needs. Design should be adaptive and we should be too. We can’t predict the future and that’s why I don’t want a plan. I’m happy pointing in whichever direction stimulates, excites, and is meaningful to me – with the knowledge that this will change over time. In the same way that we shouldn’t always expect people to follow a particular user journey, we are not set on a singular path. Let’s allow ourselves the flexibility to deviate as and when we need to. As JRR Tolkien wrote, ‘Not all who wander are lost.’

The original version of this article was commissioned for New Adventures magazine, January 2019.

A New Adventure

Ethan Marcotte speaking at New Adventures

Last Thursday marked the long-anticipated return of New Adventures, a digital design conference held in my hometown of Nottingham. From the first teaser tweet which simply read “2019”, it became the main event highlight on my calendar. I was excited and delighted to see it come back after a six-year break.

New Adventures was the first industry conference I attended. As a designer with a background in print and editorial design, it taught me about the web industry as it was then. A year and a half after the 2013 event, I quit my full-time graphic design job and started running a web design company with my then partner. Later becoming an independent UX consultant before joining SPARCK at the beginning of last year. Attending New Aventures and other subsequent conferences and events inspired me to follow this career path.

Imagine then, how happy I was last summer when Simon asked to meet for a chat about getting involved with this year’s event. I thought that we were going to discuss Women in Tech Nottingham’s potential involvement. We did, and it was great to have WiT Notts contribute to the fringe events, but I was surprised and honoured to be invited to join the line-up of speakers.  

Thinking about the gap between 2013 and now, it seems that our industry has changed a good deal in quite a short amount of time. Although the World Wide Web has been around for 30 years, when New Adventures began it felt like we were very much in our infancy. As a relatively new facet of design, compared to print, for example, which has been around for centuries, we are extremely young. We’re still finding our way.

My abiding impression from New Adventures 2019, was that we are starting to grow up. Both in terms of the conference itself; promoting inclusivity through diversity tickets, pronoun and social interaction stickers and a code of conduct; and in the messages and tone of the talks and speakers.

Just as children move from a preoperative egocentric phase to maturing and understanding perspectives of others, I feel that as an industry we’re on a similar journey. We started off being heavily invested in ourselves through how and what: “How do we design for this new medium? How do we communicate online? What tools and frameworks should we use that support this?” These are important foundational questions that made sense to focus on at the beginning.

It’s now starting to seem like we’re slowly emerging from this self-centred approach and looking at a wider picture. I see a division here. There are many digital practitioners who practise human-centred design through UX and research but they are at the forefront of the curve. A quick Google search brings up an abundant number of articles on the top web design trends of 2019. There are still plenty of arguments about the best UI and prototyping software to use and ongoing disagreements over the latest and greatest front-end frameworks.

These are inward-facing conversations. They are for us and us alone. They are not solving problems for the people we’re designing for. To take an external perspective we must look not only towards the needs of the recipients of our digital products and services but start addressing how we impact those people.

New Adventures 2019 felt like a sea change. The key themes of the event were inclusivity and diversity, ethics and responsibility. The focus shifted from internal tools, trends and processes to bigger thoughts and questions: Ashley encouraged us to stop thinking like industry experts and find out how our customers think; Brendan asked us to put work out there that deserves to exist; Naz promoted diversity within teams to reach wider audiences and called upon us to do better; and Ethan addressed the power and privilege of design, questioning where we as an industry are heading.

It seems we have finally started looking outwards: identifying our responsibility and the associated consequences of our actions. We’re pushing past our early egocentric selves and are moving towards maturity. We’re still making our way along this path, learning from each other as we continue to grow. Ethan, rightly, encouraged us to approach this with hope. The talks at New Adventures showed a significant shift in our thinking and from the feedback, this year’s themes seem to have struck a chord.

My hope is that we see New Adventures return next year so we can see what direction these messages have taken us in. The call to action from the opening of the conference was “Now is the time.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s up to us to shape and build our industry, to help it develop and to make the web a better place. Let’s get to it!   

Permissive UX design

Some months ago, at Women in Tech Nottingham (WiT Notts for short), I prompted our attendees to have a paper snowball fight. Why you might ask, were we facilitating an exercise in which people hurtled scrunched up balls of paper at each other? Because it provided an opportunity for our attendees to meet and chat. As soon as snowballs were picked up and their owners found, the volume of conversation in the room rose way beyond that of previous events. My learning from this: getting people to throw things at each other’s faces is an instant way to get them talking.

To give a little background to this scene, it came about from us holding a Retrospective during a previous WiT Notts event. When WiT Notts was founded, we had a bill of two speakers. Partly because this allowed double the opportunity to showcase brilliant female and gender minority speakers but also because it is the model of many tech meetups.

It is hugely important to us, as organisers of the event, that it isn’t a one-way street. In order to create and maintain an inclusive event, we need to listen to our attendees to ensure it works for them. We found out that they wanted more opportunity to get to know each other and the time before and during the talks wasn’t long enough to do this. It was also apparent that, understandably, some attendees were not self-confident when it came to speaking to people they didn’t know.

One of our aims has long been to help build a community of like-minded people who support and promote women and gender minorities in tech. From the Retrospective feedback, we reassessed our format and switched to a single talk followed by a facilitated session. Now, we regularly host a light-hearted networking session, such as the paper snowball fight, people bingo, guided discussions and hands-on workshops. Crayons have also featured; they were surprisingly popular.

Last year we hosted our first lightning talk session which was one of my favourite WiT Notts events. We gave our attendees permission to try something new, to share something about themselves and to step outside their comfort zones. We’re now seeing the rewards of evolving WiT Notts. We’ve seen relationships form, new people welcomed and brought into conversations with our regulars and individuals’ confidences grow.

Which has led me to consider, why has this been successful? Aside from making an event which is a safe space, I think comes down to permission. By allowing people to throw paper snowballs, we gave them the go-ahead to speak to each other. They were authorised to talk to a stranger, more than that, it was encouraged (but not mandatory).

We all need permission throughout our day-to-day lives. Polite society wouldn’t function without it. We wait (hopefully patiently) for our coffee order to be taken, hold back until the bus driver waves us on, wait for a pause in conversation to allow us to speak. Imagine if we didn’t have this, we’d all be a bunch of degenerates. We require the consent of others, and ourselves, to help us move through life.

Online permissions

What about online: do we consider and build permission into our digital products and services? I don’t mean native app permissions. These have their place; when well-designed they help us move through an onboarding experience, and when badly implemented make us mistrustful of the product’s intentions – why, shopping list app, do you need access to my contacts?

No, I’m thinking broader than this. We don’t step into a coffee shop and state our order without being asked, that would be rude. However, I believe, we expect people using our digital products to be authoritative when interacting with our designs. We often treat our products as a one-way interaction. The person using it is in control of the direction they take through it. They act with full autonomy. In theory, this works. We want our designs to be so intuitive that people can just use them.

What if it doesn’t work though? What if people lack the confidence and understanding of what they’re expected to do? If we change the way we design to be more aligned with our real, non-digital lives, what impact would that have? Rather than assuming that people want autonomy, what if we assumed, in some cases, they don’t?

Confidence and digital exclusion

For a number of reasons, many people struggle with digital products and online services. A lack of confidence is one factor. In the UK there are 11.3 million adults who are classed as not fully digitally skilled. These people range from never having been online to having the means to go online but neither the inclination, confidence, or skills.

As digital professionals, we’re native users of the web. Not only do we know how things work because we understand the design patterns behind them; we’re confident navigators. When things don’t make sense to us, we sigh, roll our eyes and send screenshots of poor design to our friends and colleagues (or is that just me?). We blame ill-designed systems because we know that it is the system at fault, not ourselves.

This is where we’re at, but others lack confidence. When an online service doesn’t work as they expect it to, it is often themselves they blame. They’re just no good with computers.” In the past year conducting user research, I’ve met many of these people. As Donald Norman writes in his seminal book, The Design of Everyday Things: The vicious cycle starts: if you fail at something, you think it is your fault. Therefore you think you can’t do that task. As a result, next time you have to do the task, you believe you can’t, so you don’t even try. The result is that you can’t, just as you thought.”

If we start to picture the people using our products and services going through this thought process, how much more important is it to work guidance into our designs? By adopting a permissive attitude, can we start inviting people to interact online in ways suited to their confidence levels? Rather than expecting them to have a clear goal that they’re trying to achieve, what if we reframe it as a need?

Permissive UX

From permission grows empowerment. Perhaps with some experimentation, screen design can better support this. What if screens are not the answer? We’re starting to see a rise in adoption of voice assistants in people’s homes. Currently, this is technology that we demand things of, it’s subservient. But what if it was genuinely more conversational? What if it catered to people who lack confidence in traditional online interactions?

Can we instead start crafting experiences that better mimic our day-to-day lives? A system that encourages conversation instead of instruction. A system wherein people don’t have to have a specific intention to command but can afford to be lost. Where they don’t need a goal, they can simply state their need and that need is met.

We’re still in this emerging world of voice technology, machine learning and non-screen UI. I am by no means saying that this will be the answer; we need to go through many more design and research cycles to see if this is even the right direction. In the meantime, let’s think about how to give people the freedom, direction, guidance and permission to interact with our products and services in a way that is suited to them. Let’s allow them to be lost and help them to be found again.

Case study: Derby Museums

Redesigned website for Derby Museums, a Museum Trust with three different locations within the city

The client

Derby Museums is an independent charity organisation consisting of three museums in locations across Derby city centre.

The Challenge

The existing website was a template website that was no longer working for them. They wanted more control of their content and needed a refreshed look that better reflected their brand.

The navigation of the existing website was difficult to use both from a usability and accessibility perspective and visitors were struggling to find the information they needed.

My approach

Open and inclusive design

For this project we agreed with our client before any work was undertaken to document the process online. Our client was very open to this, having publicly shared other museum projects and it meant that both museum staff and visitors who were interested in the process could follow along with the project.

Screenshot of Tumblr page
All outcomes from research to design were documented on a Tumblr blog.

Research sessions

User research
The project began by conducting user research sessions with both visitors to a museum event (who were not always regular visitors). By speaking to visitors I gained vital information of what their needs and objectives were when using the website.

My team conduced research at a museum event that was aimed at general members of the public, rather than museum patrons. Interestingly when speaking to visitors, we received more honest feedback than museum staff conducting similar research. When people were asked if they visited the museum sites often, there were many cases of awkward ‘not as much I should’ responses. When asked the same question by museum staff, responses were much more positive.

We created various activities to better understand our audience. We had a simple survey for adults to tell us what the most important information they wanted on the website would be. I then made this information into graphic to share with the stakeholders. We also created child-friendly activities, including a drawing sheet so that younger children could tell us what they wanted to do at the museum sites.

User research day

Staff research
The staff session was really helpful in getting suggestions on what they would like to see on the website but, more importantly, gave insight into areas of the museum visiting experience that visitors didn’t like. This helped us to create content that addressed issues early on to make the visiting experience as positive as possible.

We conducted the research at one of the museum sites to make it as easy as possible for staff members to talk to us. We created an ideas/content generation wall where we recorded observations and ideas that staff had about the current website and visitor behaviour.

Once research had been done, we organised these ideas by category in a session with our stakeholders. The best ideas were then taken and included in the content plan.

Interviewing a member of staff

Wireframing and prototyping

Paper prototype
For this project I used paper prototyping rather than InVision. The reason for this was that our clients were very hands-on and wanted to be involved with the process. An advantage of working with paper prototypes is that our stakeholders felt that they could make changes to the layout as we could draw directly onto the design. Another advantage was that because they are hand-drawn, there are no styles so the focus was completely on the layout and functionality.

Photo of paper prototypes

I’ve explained the process more throughly in Paper Prototypes: What are they and why use them?

Having agreed the wireframe prototype with our stakeholders, I photographed them and, with the frontend developer created an annotated functional spec.

HTML prototype
Once the paper prototypes had been approved, we produced a simple html prototype so we and our clients could test the functionality and send it out internally for testing.

We collated the feedback and went through it with our stakeholders to identify the most pressing and important pieces of feedback to reiterate and retest.

UI design

Style tile
At the same time as coding the html prototype, I worked on the visual style for the website by producing a style tile. This showed design choices such as colour, text styles, button styles, image treatment etc.

Accessible UI
In order for the website to be as accessible as possible, I created a second darker style which has higher contrast. This makes text easier to read for people with certain types of visual impairments.

I also needed to adjust some of the brand colours to ensure colour contrast and readability of text over colours. I created tints and shades of the core brand colours so that dark or light text always passed WCAG guidelines.

High-contrast UI version

Responsive UI
Each module of the website was designed to look great on any size screen. I designed elements across several break points and these were accessible on the html prototype.

Modular UI design
The box at the top right indicates the screen size of the browser through the yellow highlight.

Design details

Opening times tab
From research with museum visitors, we had found that they found the opening times of the different locations difficult to find on the existing website. Also each museum site has its own set of opening times so visitors were not always sure when the museums were open.

Knowing that this was information that came out as the most important to users, I designed an opening times tab which sits at the top of the website (and perpetual footer link on mobile) so users always have quick access to the opening times.

The opening times tab appears in the header for easy access

Find the door
From research with museum staff, we discovered that the Visitor Services Assistants had received in-person complaints from visitors who had struggled to find the entrance to the museums (this had happened across all three sites). Having acquired this information, when we were planning content with the clients we came up with a “find the door” section of the visitor information page for each location. The more helpful information we can provide on the website, the better the visiting experience should be.

Screengrab of the find the door section

Easter eggs
We were tasked with adding Easter Eggs into the website to take it away from the corporate template and make it a fun experience to use. One of the Easter Eggs appears when a user clicks on the bug photo on the Nature Gallery page, little spiders and fly wander across their screen. After user testing this, we added a warning that users had to opt-in to so we didn’t accidentally terrify any Arachnophobic users!

Easter egg where the user clicks on the image and spiders walk across the screen

Outcomes

The existing website wasn’t encouraging visitors to donate to the museum. By introducing a supporter story page with information on how donations were spent, donations were up 133% within the first three months of launch.

Additional results included a reduced bounce rate, down 24.78%; page load time, down 67.66%; pages per session, up 38.43%; and, by adding an additional email sign-up form on the What’s on section, email sign-ups were up 3350%.

Voyage of discovery (sessions)

Storymap from discovery session

The big question for any website or digital product is ‘does it work for our users in order to drive and deliver our business needs and goals?’ It’s the users who turn into customers so making sure that your digital product is user-focused should be a big priority. Where should we start? How do we connect business and user needs?

This is where I raise my hand and tell you about design discovery. But before I tell you about that, let’s rewind the clock to my earlier days of web design. [Cue Wayne’s World style flashback]. Back then, maybe seven or eight years ago) many designers, myself included, were so keen to get started with projects that we’d go through the motions of a kick-off meeting where we’d get our client’s requirements and goals and then sprint off towards a solution. We had technical requirements, a chosen CMS, SMART goals and brand assets. Good to go right? We cracked on with sketches, visuals and dev and made the website that our clients wanted. The only problem though, was it the website they needed?

The advent of UX

At some point, between then and now, the industry (and I) started recognising that designing websites for businesses’ requirements didn’t mean that they actually worked. User Experience, although it’s been around for decades, started coming to the forefront of web designers’ minds. The priority was no longer designing what our clients wanted but what our users wanted too. That’s not to say that we weren’t designing for target audiences, of course we were. But we were designing for what our clients thought they were or wanted them to be; not necessarily who they actually were.

With this sea change came a new understanding for many designers. A new perspective of identifying user needs through research, empathy, perspective taking and a desire to please our users and our clients. Suddenly our kick-off meetings were too business focused and not user focused enough. We needed to adapt our projects to being user-focused. We needed to champion the users, but before we could do that, we needed to understand them.

User research is the first and obvious way to do this and is insanely valuable. But is it the first step? Can we truly identify users without an intimate understanding of our client’s business? Can we design the best solution for our clients and their users without knowing what our clients are trying to achieve? If the value proposition is hazy, then is understanding the users hazy too?

Design discovery

There is no design with discovery”
– Dan Brown, Practical Design Discovery

My role now now is to clear the haze before projects commence. I do this through discovery. There’s no one way to do this and the tools I use vary depending on my clients and their situations. This article highlights a typical framework I use to get my clients thinking about their business and how they communicate their value proposition to their users.

Invariably web projects require a mixture of stakeholders, all with slightly different objectives. We might have marketing, sales, CEOs, operations, customer services and IT stakeholders, to name a few. And they all see their own business through different lenses. When the business stakeholders aren’t in alignment, how can they possibly communicate clearly to their users?

Storymapping

While there are many ways of accessing stakeholder information, one of the tools I’ve found most effective is ‘Storymapping.’ This was coined by Donna Lichaw in her book The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love. I highly recommend it. As with some of the best UX tools out there, it’s super simple but very effective. UX designers are naturally empathetic and predisposed to aligning themselves with users’ emotions and needs but this doesn’t come easily to everyone. More importantly than empathy, perhaps, is the ability to shift mental perspectives. Perspective taking, ‘the active cognitive process of imagining the world from another’s vantage point’, encourages stakeholders to think from their users’ perspective. Helping them understand how their service supports users’ pain points.

Storytelling is not new in design and development. A core component of Agile development is User Stories. These encourage developers to think about functionality from the user’s perspective. Storytelling evokes a strong neurological response in people. By framing a discovery activity around it, the needs of the user go from facts and stats to emotional connections with the intended audience.

What is it?

Storymapping takes place as a short session in which we create stories for our user personas, mapping out how and why they are interacting with our stakeholders’ website.

As with all stories, there’s a beginning, middle and end. We use the idea of simple narrative to drive this forward. As with any good story, we need a protagonist and exposition. Who are they? What’s their current state? Once we’ve set the scene, we need an inciting incident, a problem or pain point they need to overcome; a trigger on why they might need the stakeholders’ service.

Then in the middle, the action happens, how will they approach solving their problem? What assistance do they need? How does the service assist them? Who is the villain? What are the obstacles and barriers standing in their way? What’s the climax of the story? How do they overcome their problem and defeat the villain? What’s the value proposition of the service that makes them say ‘yes, this is exactly what I was looking for?’

But we don’t leave it at that ‘aha’ moment. It’s one thing to get our protagonist to the climax of their narrative, but the story doesn’t end there. How do they return home a hero? How does our user, our potential customer go from interested, to invested, to ambassador? What’s the ending? How do we know their goals have been met?

What are the outcomes?

You’ll notice that this entire session is based around question asking. It’s about framing the problem, not bypassing straight to the solution. When I first started introducing this session, I was worried that my participants wouldn’t get it. Would they think it was silly? Would they think it was unnecessary?

Thankfully, that’s not the case. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Of all the perspective taking exercises I’ve facilitated, this has had the most engagement from participants. It’s not an easy exercise. It makes people think, it makes them ask difficult questions of themselves, it highlights internal lack of alignment and understanding. It reveals holes or distractions that stop users achieving their goals.

This could feel negative, but it’s not. As an exercise, revealing these issues means that we can fix them and ultimately improve not only the new website or product, but set in place improvements to the stakeholders’ business and service. It also highlights the positive. The result of one session with a client introduced a much clearer value proposition and benefits to potential customers; many of which were not communicated on their existing website. This allowed us to write much more value-led copy for their new site.

Shared understanding leads to better communication

There’s a wealth of information that each stakeholder holds and storymapping gets it out of their head and onto the wall. It helps stakeholders declare their assumptions to minimise assumed knowledge. It gets everyone on the same page. It also allows me as a facilitator to ask the difficult questions, the ones that internal teams sometimes avoid due to hierarchy. It’s essential that everyone feels an equal in these sessions.

There aren’t always opportunities, or the structure, in everyday life for people within an organisation to talk to each other about their customers. Having an interdisciplinary group of people in a session allows stakeholders to share stories of their customers and ask each other questions. Oftentimes we have a mixture of people from big picture, visionary, thinkers to those who are front-line and customer facing. Having these people bring their own experience of their audience and business together enables us to better understand the intents of the interactions between customer and company; user and website.

Front-line staff are often the best source of information for capturing and understanding user needs. They are the ones who field complaints, offer support and hear objections to their product or service. Customer service and sales representatives often know more about their customers than those in leadership positions. Having these people in storymapping sessions is vital. There’s much to learn from them and they often offer information about pain-points that’s unknown to leadership roles.

The representation of customers enables us to put the users’ pain-points at the heart of the session and identify what the business does to address those. Storymapping, at the highest level, outlines how customers think about the website and therefore the service offering. Along with the benefits of shared understanding, it forms the basis of design improvements. If the content of the website doesn’t clearly state the value proposition, we can rewrite it. If the next steps for the user are not clear, we can rework the user journey. If the product or service doesn’t address pain-points, we can help clients create a roadmap of improvements to their offering.

Storymapping is one of the first steps I take in discovery. But it’s only the beginning. It’s the exercise that gets everyone in alignment before diving into other discovery sessions such as ‘How might we’, goal setting, content idea generation, user journey flows, and into Information Architecture planning and wireframing. It sets the stage and stops us skipping to the solve. It’s one of many tools, but one that I’ll be using time-again.

My user experience design journey; a reflection

Helen speaking at Tech Nottingham

At this time of year, it’s often a good opportunity to look back on the past and see where we’ve come from before looking to the future. My first full immersion into UX was NUX3, (Northern UX conference) in 2014, an all-day event focussed on how an understanding of people can help you define, design and build better experiences.

I had just quit a full-time graphic and web design job to start a web design company with my husband and I was in the early stages of starting to call myself a UX designer.

For those that aren’t familiar with the term ‘user experience’ or ‘UX’, it is the process of enhancing the user satisfaction on a website/app/product by improving the usability, accessibility and pleasure in providing interaction with the product.

Sat pondering at the conference, I started off feeling positive about the talks, but as the day progressed, I realised that I was completely out of my depth. By the end of the day, and upon reflecting on the experience, I felt deflated.

I chastised myself for thinking I was a UX designer. I’d just had business cards produced with UX designer as my job title and I wanted to throw them away and revert back to visual designer, where I belonged.

I was just me

That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with the conference itself, it was well-rounded with great speakers. But at the time, at least from my perspective, it seemed that UX was a team sport.

The speakers were from DWP, Salesforce, and dedicated UX consultancy companies, who were talking about the work they were doing with large organisations. I was just me. How was I going to be able to convince our much more modest clients that they needed to invest in UX?

Who was I going to learn from if I was the only designer? What was I going to do to get from this place to some form of, yet to be defined, success?

UX became more prevalent

This year the story is a little different. Recently I attended NUX6 and had a completely different experience. Rather than feeling out of my depth, I felt that the talks validated my own thoughts, my plans and my learnings. Rather than confidence-breaking, it was confidence-boosting.

So what’s changed? How have I changed over the last three years? Or is it the industry that has changed? Was I mistaken three years ago that UX was just for the big leagues?

We could certainly argue that UX year-on-year has become more prevalent, more requested by businesses. “We need some UX” is now on many businesses’ minds, even if they’re not completely sure what this “UX” thing is.

Organisations such as Government Digital Service (GDS) who led the way on transforming Gov.uk, plus design teams at Co-op Digital and BBC.co.uk, to name only a few, brought the concept of UX to the forefront of digital design. Their focus on UX has probably drip-fed through to the smaller businesses and companies, generating interest like never before.

The early days

So in 2014, I had a problem: how was I going to convince my clients that they needed UX and they needed me to deliver it? Looking back there’s not a single point in time that I can identify as ‘now I’m a UX designer’, it’s been a more organic process than that (and that imposter syndrome still creeps in every now and again).

Each project we took on in my own business got a little bigger and allowed a little more budget to do more until we got to the point where we could do user research, detailed IA and user testing.

Despite working on bigger and better projects, I was always conscious that I was the only designer in our two-person team. Was I even doing things right? As designers, we need peers. We need other designers working in different situations, with different clients, stakeholders, and in different environments to learn from and share knowledge with. When I started our company, I didn’t have those peers and it was hard going.

Getting ‘out there’

In 2015, I submitted a talk on inclusive web design to the Port80 conference. Buoyed by a successful project where we’d learned a lot and created some new ways of working for us, I felt the need to share it. To my utter surprise, it was accepted. This was a turning point in ‘becoming an expert’. Maybe I knew what I was doing after all. Or at least convincing in my application. Probably a bit of both.

Being accepted as a conference speaker opened more doors than I had ever anticipated. I was asked to speak at DxN, then, a fairly new design event in Nottingham where I was speaking the same night as Andy Clarke, who is a very well-known web designer, speaker and author (no pressure!). Since that first invitation, I’ve been back twice (they’re probably getting sick of me now) to deliver other talks, one on delightful design and the other a follow-on talk on inclusivity. I was also approached by leading web design magazine Net to publish an article based on the Port80 talk.

Earlier this year I was delighted to be listed on the top 343 female tech speakers in the UK. It was a surprise and a privilege to be listed with fantastic female speakers across the industry, some of whom I’ve seen speak at other events. Last August I was invited to an event in London to meet the other women on the list and promote women in tech; which, as an organiser of Women in Tech Nottingham, is a subject close to my heart.

Speaking in the here and now

Over the past year I’ve presented a few different talks at a range of events from conference; to meet ups; to, most-recently, guest speaking to the designers at the Co-op digital headquarters.

I still get nervous. It’s a big thing to put yourself in front of people and talk. So why do I do it? It comes back to peers. I want to share what I learn and I want to learn what other people know. As the only UX designer, I need access to that knowledge. This has lead to me being a regular event attendee. I go to design events, tech events and co-organise Women in Tech.

Sometimes I hear talks so far away from my day-to-day role, or so technical,  that I don’t really understand them, but I want to be exposed to new ideas, even if they go above my head. Through events, I’ve also built up an amazing community of UX designers. We share what we’re working on and provide each other with encouragement and support. We push each other to be better designers. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those peers and friends.

The power of going it alone

The biggest change that I can attribute to being the person I am today, was going it alone. Running our own business allowed me the freedom to choose what to learn and how I was going to work. After two and a half years, we wound the business down and I decided to move into a consultancy role where I was contracted to design a new product. For the first time, it was just me. I had to make my own decisions and be confident in leading the project.

Over the last few years, reading and learning had been an important part of my development, but now, it was essential. I had to know what I was doing. This was daunting but also liberating. I was the hired expert to deliver in whatever way worked best for the team, the stakeholders and the product.

Changes at Katapult

After a few months of consultancy, I joined Katapult as their UX lead. This was a switch away from product design and back to client-facing work. This was a big decision as internal product design and client-facing design are two very different ways of working, The principles are interchangeable, the processes can be the same. But whereas product design involves working with an internal team focussing on building and iterating a product; client design work is about quickly understanding client and user needs, not knowing at the outset what the best digital product for them will be.

As such, at Katapult, we begin any large-scale project with a discovery phase. This usually involves a one-day session including a variety of workshops to enable our team to understand our clients and their users’ needs. But also to help our clients clarify the project and business goals, their users’ goals and to ensure that the different stakeholders are in agreement of the scope of the project before it goes into production.

I recently changed role from leading the interaction design team to moving back into a consultancy role. This is to allow me to focus on the initial discovery aspect, facilitating workshops to ensure we’re designing the solution to the right problem. As a client-facing designer, I have to be able to talk to clients in a way that they trust my expertise and that of our team.

Speaking has helped build confidence, but it was running my own business that has made the biggest difference. I can speak to my clients as peers. I understand their business needs as I understood my own. Empathy and perspective taking are key components to being a UX designer. There are many analogies that can describe UX design, but for me, I think of myself as the bridge. I connect our clients’ goals to their users’ goals. I advocate the users, but I understand and support our clients’ needs too.

We never stop learning

I can’t overemphasise the importance of trust in digital design. Users need to trust that the business or service isn’t misleading them, clients need to trust that the designer understands their business, their customers and what they’re trying to achieve, and the designer has to trust themselves to deliver something that’s going to meet those expectations.

As designers, we never stop learning and wanting to improve ourselves. There’s many areas of UX that I don’t have an intimate understanding of and wouldn’t call myself an expert in, so that’s where I’m heading. I’ve come a long way over the past three years, but there’s still a long road ahead. The future is always unknown and there’s always more to learn.

First published at katapult.co.uk

Open and inclusive web design

The most difficult challenge posed by any web project is that of getting the web team and clients to work really well together. Often, all those involved – clients, project managers, designers and developers – have different ideas and expectations. With so many opinions about what the end product should look like and deliver, websites can suffer from “too many cooks”, with a resulting confusion of content and ideas.

Frustration can ensue for both web team and client when neither has a clear understanding of the other’s aspirations and expectations. Each party can feel as though the other is not listening to them and, when the resulting website is assembled through compromises, neither side is completely satisfied with the outcome. This is not what I want web design to be like. The process shouldn’t be about them and us. So what can we do to avoid it?

For a recent project, we decided to throw open the doors of the web design process and see if we could make a better website by making everything open and public. Our client, Derby Museums, already work on projects using Human-Centred Design, so they were really keen to work this way. From the get-go, we decided to document the process online. We set up a Tumblr page and uploaded user research, meeting agendas and outcomes, updates, sitemap, wireframes and visual design. We shared the link on social media and encouraged visitors to get involved and follow the development of the redesigned site.

Our method of open and inclusive design featured a lot of research, both with the public and members of staff. We spent a day at an event at a museum site speaking to visitors about their needs for the website and charting and sharing the results.

We also spent a day speaking to staff at one of the museum sites. We felt it was important to be at their place of work so they could easily come and talk to us about their ideas. We recorded every suggestion and worked out which ones were going to be included in the redesign.

Focusing on listening to our client’s visitors and employees was an essential part of this project. Our web team worked closely with our client and made decisions based on all suggestions and research feedback. We avoided compromises forced by late suggestions and lack of research, ideas were agreed and decided by the core team.

Being inclusive doesn’t mean that you end up with a website designed by committee. Dangers arise when people outside of the team feel left out of the process so that, if they are in a position to make changes, they often will. If they can’t make their opinions known, then they might resent the redesigned website. Just letting people know that we genuinely wanted to make the best website for everyone meant that they wanted to help.

There have been some really positive outcomes of working openly and inclusively. Our design team had really honest conversations with visitors and staff who could speak to us anonymously, letting us know their problems with the current website and ideas for improvement.

We also had great suggestions from front-line staff. They are the ones who talk to visitors, know what they like and have to deal with complaints. In other sectors, it might be a call centre, sales team or reception staff, but it is worth talking to the people working here as they often receive different feedback from customers than your commissioning client.

One problem we were told about from front-line staff was that visitors were struggling to find the entrances to the museums. A simple solution to this was to add ‘find the door’ to the website, a short description and photo of the entrance so that visitors get this information in advance. It might not seem as though signage to the museums’ locations is the responsibility of the website, but if we can improve a visit to the physical site by giving the right information on the website, then we’re improving experience overall.  

In order to make truly effective websites, we need great communication. How can we design something without knowing what the needs of the users and potential users are, as well as the needs of the client organisation across the board, not just the person or team commissioning the project? It might be a little harder and take a little longer, but I feel that designing openly and inclusively is what we need to do to make the best websites for our clients and their users. (And it’s a lot more fun too!)

First published in Net magazine issue 284, September 2016

Understanding user goals to design better websites

In retail the saying goes, “the customer is always right”. Whether or not this is always the case, this sentiment often makes its way over to web design. If we treat our clients as customers, are they also “always right”? Possibly. But when web designers treat their client as the customer, they’re in danger of overlooking the end user.

To design truly effective website for clients, the designer must design for the client’s audience and that means understanding the audience’s needs. Often web projects begin with a brief from the client that covers the client’s goals for the website. This is obviously important as the website must support the business goals but it shouldn’t make up the whole brief and direction of the project. Finding out the audience’s needs should take equal prominence as they are the ones who will ultimately choose whether to buy that item, sign up to that service or go to that event. Oh and here’s the thing: often client goals and audience goals are poles apart.

So how can a web designer create a website that works for both the client and their audience? An important stage of the web design process is research. When web designers design websites based only on their client’s brief without conducting their own research, they only understand part of the story. Maybe the client is profit-focussed and the audience is information-focussed. The client expects that the audience will find value with them and spend money, but they haven’t given compelling reasons to the audience to do this. By designing websites based exclusively on the client’s goals, the website has not been designed to meet audience needs, so is likely to be less effective.

So how should a web team go about conducting their own research? In a large agency, this would be done by a UX (User Experience) specialist or a team of UX designers. But small teams or individuals should also being doing this, it might just be done more simply. Sometimes it seems that UX is a luxury that only large agencies can afford, smaller companies can be scared of doing UX if they don’t have a dedicated designer. But there are a number of easy things that any web designer can do to make sure they understand their client’s audience.

Talk to people

To begin to understand the client’s audience, all it really takes is investing time to get to know them. Speaking directly to your client’s audience is the best thing that you can do and there are a number of things you can do get gather information. If your client has a physical location then go there and speak to their customers or visitors. A huge advantage of this, I’ve found, is that the audience is more likely to be honest with you, as a third party, than with your client. I found this whilst researching at a client’s event, the answers I received about the organisation were different to those asked by employees of the organisation. Another advantage is that most of the time, people are pleased to be asked for their opinions, it shows that you and your client care. This makes people feel more involved and less likely to dislike the redesigned website just because it is different.

If your client is only online, there are still ways to get feedback from their audience. Ask your client to send out a survey, speak to their audience on the phone, or ask their audience what they want from the new website over social media.

In additional to speaking to your client’s audience, another group of people to talk to is frontline staff. This might be a sales team, call centre staff, receptionist, visitor services assistants or staff that deal directly with your audience in another way. These people have a deep understanding of your client’s audience. They speak to them directly, field their complaints, hear about successes, failures and everything in between.

For a project I worked on for a local museum, I spent time at the museum speaking to staff. A visitor services member of staff told me that sometimes visitors struggled to find the entrance to the museum, this had happened on multiple occasions. Not being able to find the door didn’t give the visitors an initial positive experience and they complained to the member of staff. After hearing this, a really easy solution was to add a ‘find the door’ section to the visitor information on the site. It included a photo of the entrance and a brief description of how to access the building. Now, it might not seem to be the responsibility of the web designer to address problems like these within the client’s organisation, but improving a visitor’s experience by providing more helpful information on the website means that the visitor has a better experience overall. As a side note, I was in an art gallery a few days after we thought about ‘find the door’ and overheard a visitor complaining that they couldn’t find the entrance. Through audience research, you may uncover something simple, but it could be a common problem that no-one else has noticed yet.

Questions to ask

So now you know who to talk to, what do you ask them? The main outcome you are looking for is finding out what the audience wants to do on the client’s website, the user goals. You can ask open, but not leading, questions such as “What’s the most important thing you want to do when going on the website?” or “What’s the main reason for using the website?” You can also create a survey where you list key pages on the website and ask people to number the pages in order of the most important to them. Ask questions to narrow down the user goals into 2–4 main goals. If a common answer to “What’s the main reason for using the website?” is “To find out when events are on near me” then this would become a main user goal for the website.

In addition to finding out what the user goals are, it is also important to find out problems that the audience has with using the existing website or with the organisation itself. Addressing these problems before the planning and content stages take place means that they can be addressed in the website redesign to help the audience have better user experiences with the new website.

Once the key user goals have been established, they can be mapped to the business goals. We can look at how they work together and if they are very different how we can start to align them. For example if the client’s goal is to get people subscribing to their services, but most users are looking for information before buying, then high pressure sales is not going to be effective for either party. Perhaps instead, the client provides a free trial of the subscription to let their audience try it out. This puts control in the user’s hands and they can choose to subscribe if they find the service useful. In this case both goals are being met and the client is more likely to get the sale.

These are just some simple ways to research your client’s audience, you can do much more detailed research but if you are not primarily a UX designer, then this should be a good start. Further documents can be produced such as user personas and journey maps, I’d recommend doing this, but for a small team having the audience research will be very helpful to the project as it develops.

After the research stage has been done, the design brief should be written by someone in the design team, it should address the client’s initial brief but it’s ok to change the brief (of course you’ll want your client to sign off on your new brief) based on your research. The design brief should include: the client’s business goals; the user goals; the target audience demographic, age, gender, location; look and feel; content requirements; technical requirements; plus anything else relevant to the project.

Having good, solid research means that the design brief that the team works to is based on real user needs and addresses goals for the website from both the client and their audience. Having research can also be really helpful in later stages of the project. When the wireframes are being tested, everyone can keep the user in mind. Does the website layout and structure aid user goals? When the visual design is being discussed, the end user should be central to the consideration. This can make it easier for the client to step into their user’s shoes and see the website from their audience’s perspective and not just their own, meaning that the visual styling is not in just the client’s or designer’s taste. In short, good research can help build more effective websites for your client and their audience and help backup design decisions throughout the process.