A Look Inside Nansen's New 3-Stage Design Methodology
Why We’re Moving on From the 5 Steps of Human-Centered Design
One of the core values at Nansen is our team’s drive to explore. We believe that delivering truly impactful work for our clients requires us to reject complacency and always be open to improving processes and approaches, even when they’re the industry standard. So when Nansen Senior UX Developer Joseph Mueller suggested replacing the widely used 5-step “human-centered” approach to design with a new methodology unique to our team’s needs and goals, we fully embraced it.
The well-known human-centered design philosophy involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. This approach became popular as many companies embraced “design thinking,” and aims to ensure that end-users or customers are centered within every phase of design and development. It’s a great structure that the Nansen team has used for years.
But in recent months, we started seeing repeated issues in our client work and deliverables. As we looked to understand and address challenges like scope creep, pushed deadlines, and internal frustration, a common thread emerged: communication was seriously lacking between the key stakeholders of our client projects. Nansen developers spoke one language, Nansen designers a slightly different language, and Nansen clients a third variation.
To put it simply: the five-step design approach we were following created silos around groups that really needed to be talking to one another. As a result, important insights and direction fell through the cracks at each stage, which damaged our ability to plan effectively with clients and deliver work that surpassed their expectations.
It was time for a new Nansen design methodology.
Joseph envisioned a more iterative and free-flowing approach, where steps could happen concurrently and specific team members were charged with keeping lines of communication open. Instead of five steps, there would be three loose stages:
- Empathize and define: meeting with the client, defining the problem, understanding the problem, gathering information
- Ideate: hashing out concepts, not as an isolated design team, but with input from developers and clients as well
- Prototype and test: putting ideas into action quickly and nimbly, and keeping the door open to circle back to the ideation phase based on constant monitoring of test results
As a UX developer with design experience, Joseph felt that he and other Nansen teammates with similar backgrounds could serve as facilitators throughout this new process. In a new kind of role, these facilitators would oversee collaborations between the design and development teams, helping developers more easily digest the design while also getting insights from developers to improve and validate the concept.
Introducing a new design methodology is not easy. Previously, the design and development teams worked to some extent in their own vacuums; each had their own ways of doing things, and some of those ways would now have to change.
But across the board, Nansen team members knew that this was the best path forward. They had experienced the issues—designers not knowing when or how to seek input from developers, developers being brought into conversations far too late, scopes getting blown up and deadlines pushed—and they were ready to explore a new approach.
In our new system, the three-stage methodology, new lines of dialogue keep teams connected. Designers can better understand the challenges developers face, and vice versa, so the concepts the team creates are stronger and more feasible.
Greater flexibility in the design steps means that fewer ideas get scrapped at the last minute, because our teams are constantly learning and optimizing. And with client input coming earlier and more regularly throughout the stages, important insights and requirements are built into the design from the start, not jerry-rigged at the end.
As Joseph puts it, “It lets everyone feel like they’re in control and having their voice heard in the process.”
The most important objective of any design methodology is to help the team using it get the very most out of the project in the time frame they have. So far, our new approach is doing just that, by helping our internal teams speak the same language and collaborate from day one, introducing greater flexibility in terms of changes and optimization, and ultimately transforming the way we plan projects with our clients.