Collaboration between designers and researchers has its challenges. From a project management perspective, inefficient communication between UX professionals can mean difficulties in the whole product development process. Researchers can feel they tell the designers everything in great detail, but the result differs significantly from what they expect. Also, designers may need more detail to understand how to incorporate a flow into a prototype, but the researcher is unwilling to discuss it further. In this article, you can find out what solution we propose for this problem. Let us help you achieve your goals with effective designer-researcher collaboration!
UX designers and researchers must synchronize their goals to create the perfect digital product. They must establish common objectives aligning with the overarching product vision. Establishing smooth collaboration and open communication is more challenging than it sounds. This is especially true regarding prototyping, which is a significant challenge. This approach is a fundamental step toward a unified and prosperous end product.
Why is prototyping an especially sensitive period in designer-researcher collaboration?
Prototyping is like a designer and a researcher dancing together on thin ice. The line between their work is very thin. They have to put together something where both of their expertise is needed. They need to fully understand each other’s approach and goals and be able to get into each other’s heads.
Researchers must try to think visually, and designers must keep in mind the logical steps so that the proto ‘lives’ at the end. Smooth collaboration is critical at this stage because a slight misunderstanding can lead to a completely unusable result.
Where does the problem come from?
The main problem is rooted in a paradox: 2 (or more) people with different backgrounds and attitudes must trust each other’s expertise. They must discuss and accept each other’s opinions and ideas and ultimately make a joint decision. Designers and researchers may have different approaches and ideas even if the goal is shared. These are not always easy to reconcile without coming into conflict.
What is needed to create a good prototype?
For usability tests, we need a well-functioning and proper prototype. It requires a process that must involve both designers and researchers. The researcher must formulate the research questions clearly and how they will test them. At the same time, the designer must visually implement everything, ensuring that nothing is overlooked that might affect the results. This collaboration requires the designer and researcher to communicate what they need clearly. Otherwise, the prototype will not serve its purpose, and the usability testing results will be misleading.
But how do you get it right? How can you ensure that the result is suitable to investigate your current research questions properly?
Before letting you know the answer to the main question
First, here you can read about some examples that have caused us difficulties throughout the last few years. These experiences have led us to develop solutions that fit the most to our designers and researchers and the projects we worked on. The list could be more completed, but it gives quite a nice overview of our pain points.
Problems we usually faced during this phase of designer-researcher collaboration
1. Not enough explicit information
Prototyping is like puppetry. In Figma, you can steer the puppets in any direction. Yet, you (researchers and designers) are the ones who have to decide which puppet should go where and on which path. An explicit description of all the sequences, ‘actors,’ purposes, possible detours, etc., is essential. We often fell into the trap when the designer and researcher felt they had communicated all the necessary information, but then they misunderstood some crucial details.
2. Adding visuals by researchers
When the researchers felt they could not express their thoughts well enough in written or oral form, they tried to add visual representations. Sometimes, they scratch something in Miro or wireframes in Figma. In this case, we ran into the following pitfalls. The researcher did not clearly communicate which parts were crucial for the test. The designer modified it in a way that didn’t align with the researcher’s original intention. But sometimes, just the opposite happened. The designer kept the entire design made by the researcher and did not improve it at all. They did not work on the parts that would have needed some design improvements, either.
3. When the prototype should be ready
The fact that the prototype was not completed on time has caused tension among our colleagues several times. This is usually because ‘on time’ does not necessarily mean the same thing to designers and researchers. Researchers, for example, need time to review the prototype before testing and create appropriate test scenarios. Therefore, linking the prototype a few hours before the first testing session is usually not enough.
If you ensure the prototype is completed and available in time, allow everyone involved to review and agree on the design, interactions, and intended user flows.
Suggestions to overcome the problems written above
To reduce the number of misunderstandings and mistakes, researchers and designers must maintain open channels of communication. Regular meetings, shared documents, and various platforms for collaboration encourage dialog between them. They ensure that both parties are on the same page. Continuous communication is crucial for developing a prototype suitable for testing and delivering valuable results. To achieve this, we suggest
- Creating effective teamwork and
- using a flow diagram!
Creating effective teamwork
Researchers and designers should communicate with each other often. Chiming together is especially important when prototyping is needed. Ensure you go through all these steps before running the first session with the prototype you created!
1. Discuss the research goal together.
This ensures that both parties understand the research objectives, target audience, and critical design elements to be evaluated. Researchers can design test scenarios that accurately reflect real-world user interactions by aligning on the goals. At the same time, designers can craft prototypes that precisely address the research questions. This early communication fosters a user-centric approach, minimizing design iterations and post-testing. It also promotes a more cohesive partnership throughout the usability testing phase.
2. Discuss what each of you needs help with.
Even though designers and researchers are working on the same project and have the same goal ahead, they have different knowledge and look at the problem from different perspectives. They might need additional guidance to ensure the prototype properly serves all research questions. Be open and flexible to support and help each other when needed.
3. Go through the script together.
Writing the script for a usability test is the role of the researcher. But, it is essential to go through it together before launching the test. One reason is that the designers might notice something the researcher has missed. But also, designers can deeply understand how the prototype should work if they see the test script. In this way, the proto can still be adjusted accordingly.
4. Participate at least in the first session together.
I have worked with designers who like taking part in usability tests. I have also worked with designers who dislike doing so but would rather rewatch the recording. Anyhow, try to make the first session together. That way, designers gain firsthand insight into how users interact with the prototype, and you will receive immediate feedback on whether they should modify the prototype.
This approach may sound excessive, but continuous communication helps avoid misunderstandings. With prototypes, even a tiny mistake can cause a big headache later because it creates a lot of work that you could prevent with proper communication.
Using a flow diagram
‘A flow diagram is a visualization of a sequence of actions, movements within a system, and/or decision points. They’re a detailed explanation of each step in a process, no matter the level of complexity of that process.’ – according to Slickplan.
Flow diagrams can be the ‘golden mean’ in prototyping communication. Researchers do not need to add many visual elements but can still provide some to ensure that the spoken or written words are not misinterpreted. It also makes it easier for designers to interpret and understand details more accurately when they see rather than hear or read them.
What flow diagrams can you use in prototyping, and when should you use them?
Flow diagrams can vary depending on the purpose, length, and complexity of the needed prototype.
1. Here, you can see a very basic one. It’s more like a wireframe of a prototype.
This is the best choice if you need a proto that has to serve only one linear flow. For example, if you are working on an e-commerce website and, with the help of the usability test, you would like to test the major purchasing flow. Using colors is not always necessary, but with them, you can quickly separate steps or screens, for example.
2. The following flow diagram is a bit more complex but still easy and quick to create.
This version can be helpful for simple and also more complex prototypes. The advantage of it over the previous one is that you can easily insert two or more different flows. This version is best if you need a clear overview of how the prototype should logically look. It doesn’t allow you to dive deep into design solutions and UI elements, but it’s an excellent way to build the prototype logically and check if something needs to be added or fit together.
3. Flow diagram with screenshots.
Flow diagrams with screenshots can be the way to go if you want to highlight visual elements, and the prototype doesn’t need to be very complex. This version lets you add your visual requirements nicely and clearly while keeping everything logical, understandable, and linear. This option can be kept uncluttered until a certain point, but there are better choices than this one if you need a complex prototype.
4. Flow diagram that can serve both UI and UX requirements.
This is a mix of the options described above. First, you can create a simple wireframe highlighting the main flow(s). Then, you can add screens to each step with the visual requirements. This version is the most laborious and time-consuming. Yet, in the case of a complex prototype, it’s worth it to put more effort in the beginning and avoid mistakes that cause more work in the end.
In the dynamic prototyping world, clear communication is the key to success. Bridging the gap between researchers and designers through open dialog and collaborative efforts results in shiny prototypes. Agreeing on goals, discussing scripts, and even doing initial testing as a team will ensure understanding. As a result, the suggestions written above will help you achieve successful product development. And don’t forget the power of visual aids like flow diagrams – they’re the compass that guides everyone in the right direction.
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