Dealing With Digital Design Ambiguity

digital design ambiguity

A big part of being a successful UI/UX designer is being comfortable with digital design ambiguity. Our primary role is to help stakeholders and teams craft a vision of the final product, often from nothing.

While the need for certainty is clearly fundamental to all humans, designers need an effective approach to confidently go from the abstract to the concrete. In this post I’ll share 5 tips to help you find your way through the fog during your next design adventure.

1. Understand That You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

This is the number one reason why a thorough discovery process is so important. You will never get every piece of information necessary to design, develop and launch a successful digital product. If you’re lucky, you might get 60-80% before the build. The rest of the way you have to trust your team and your gut.

Ambiguity is a given at the front end of most design projects. Business/user goals, content, features, and desired functionality are all relative unknowns at this point. In fact, at the beginning most people don’t even know what the project is until they spend some focused time researching, noodling, brainstorming and defining. While clients may want to get something out the door quickly, never, ever rush discovery.

Instead use a focused, intentional discovery process to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible. This is the key to the most cost-effective production processes, minimizing scope creep, and launching the highest-quality products.

2. Be A Curious, Relentless Investigator

During your discovery process/research phase you’ll look under a lot of rocks and ask a lot of questions. Question everything you don’t understand. While there are no dumb questions, the overall quality of your questions often leads to the best answers.

Ask open ended questions and look at everything from as many angles as possible. Use the standard 5Ws and 1H from journalism – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Answers to these types of questions provide a time-tested formula to help you get the most complete story.

3. Come Up With A Hypothesis

Upon completing your initial research you will likely notice some patterns and an overall picture emerging. This is the time to create a one paragraph hypothesis of who the website or app is for, what they get, and how they benefit.

Coming up with a hypothesis before conducting any up front research is counterproductive and defeats the goal of the discovery process. Take the time you need to develop an effective, compelling purpose for your website or app supported by solid research.

4. Test Your Assumptions

A solid hypothesis is a great foundation, but it’s nothing without documenting and testing your assumptions. The urban dictionary definition of the word “assume” is right on, but you have to start somewhere. Assumptions make that possible. Just make sure you test any and all assumptions before committing to a specific direction.

5. Refine and Repeat

Back in 2000, Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path wrote an incredibly useful book called The Elements of User Experience which is still very relevant today.

While technology and design approaches have certainly changed since then, the fundamentals haven’t. Each stage of your design process will uncover more information than the one before. As you go along, use this new information to refine and repeat steps 1-4 above.

Ambiguity Is Your Friend

Ambiguity is actually your friend when it is identified up front. It stands out like a beacon in the night and gives you an opportunity to stamp it out. Facing it head on will give you and your team the biggest chance for success.

Whether you are following a waterfall or agile design methodology, addressing ambiguity with these 5 steps should make your journey from the abstract to the concrete a little bit easier.

If you’re struggling with design ambiguity let’s talk. I’d love to know more about what your working on and how I can help. As always, thanks for reading!

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