James McQuarrie is a UK based Product Leader who helps teams discover, design, build and deliver digital products and services that delight their users.
The Union was a joint venture between Ariel Ventures, Beyond, Permission Ventures and Aiimi. The idea behind the collaboration was to develop and build a new way for consumers to maintain and control access to their personal digital data.
I was approached by the Managing Director of Aiimi and asked to give 20 days of consultancy to the team to help them turn their ideas for The Union into a set of designs for the interface of their consumer product.
Before I could work on designing an interface for the product I needed to understand who would use The Union and why. The team had already put together some ideas about their target audience based on their early thinking, so step one in my process was to understand more about their audience and the problems that The Union would help them address.
This initial analysis allowed me to compile a list of functional areas and features that The Union’s tool could include. These functions and features were presented back to The Union team to test that they were correct and complete and to gain an agreed prioritisation for areas to focus on in the limited time I had with them.
Working with the prioritised list of features that we wanted to include in the tools I drew up an initial Information Architecture for the application that allowed me to again involve the team and test ideas about how the application could fit together, where features should belong and help prioritise how we wanted users to use it.
We worked through several versions of the Information Architecture, exploring different ways of organising and arranging features to meet different needs until we arrived at a solution that we thought would work best for the prioritised scenarios. Working collaboratively with the team like this allowed me to both test and get feedback on ideas for their product’s design early on in the process and get their buy-in to the design decisions we made along the way.
The next step was to pick out the highest priority feature and work on the interaction design and workflow, mapping out how a user would use the feature to help them achieve their goals and what additional tools the feature could need to help them in their task. This process involved initially sketching rough wireframes, presenting them back to The Union team and then iterating until we had an agreed design.
To aid in the design process and to help me understand what the team were looking for in terms of a final design I started collecting screen shots of applications and websites that we thought were well designed and could help influence the designs we were working on. These screen shots were printed and stuck up on the walls (see Figure 1) of the project room we worked in so everyone could see and comment on the designs. Doing this and getting the team’s feedback on what they liked and disliked about the example designs helped me understand how they wanted their product to work and how it could look.
Once each functional area and its features had been thoroughly considered and the designs agreed I created a more formal set of wireframes documenting how the designs would work. The project team and I decided that the first version of the product would be designed for mobile use, allowing users to manage their shared data on the go, so the initial designs were drawn up and designed to work on mobile screens. At this stage of the project the decision as to whether the application would be a web based application or a native application had not yet been made, so the designs needed to be device agnostic and not rely on native or device specific functionality.
At the end of my 20 days with the team I had delivered the design and documentation for The Union’s first product in the form of a set of documents outlining the Information Architecture and functional specification for each feature of the product along with a set of wireframe designs and documentation detailing how each each feature would be presented and work on mobile phones.