UX Design: 5 Questions for the Define Phase

By Kevin P. Nichols, Donald Chesnut

Part of UX For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The define phase of a UX (user experience) design defines the goals, objectives, and strategy for the UX. During this phase you detail who your website users are and the requirements they have.

The easiest way to define this information is to take the findings from the discovery phase, look at what’s working or necessary and what’s not, examine at any gaps or issues with your existing experience and/or that of your competitors, look at your business or organization, and then ask yourself, “What does my experience need to accomplish?”

Start with a goal, such as, “Be the most competitive website in the market,” and define a set of objectives that are realistic and attainable. An example is “The experience will increase overall revenue by 20% over the next six months. Create a strategy around what the experience needs to do and answer the following questions:

  • Who? Use personas (tools that document how users behave) and user scenarios (tools that capture detailed information about prototypical users) to further define your users.

  • Why? Examine the user needs or tasks that need to be accomplished in the UX. Employ user tasks to detail the end-to-end journeys required for the user to accomplish a task. Remember, list the tasks you need the user to achieve and frame your journeys around that.

  • What? Anticipate which devices or channels — such as desktop, smartphone, tablet, and so on — the user will employ to engage with your UX. Compose a list of every type of device the user will engage while using the experience. Remember, you don’t control whether a user engages with a mobile device or desktop computer in most cases.

  • Where? Predict where the user will most likely use the experience. With the prevalence of mobile technology today, the user’s venue could vary. Ensure you capture and consider various locations, such as at home, en route to the store, in the store, and so on.

  • When? What time of day is a user likely to engage with the experience? Don’t just plot the times to a clock. Also consider events and holidays, such as anniversaries involving gift-giving, Valentine’s Day, or any time the user would need to re-engage with the experience.

When you have answered these questions, capture the information in a brief — and ensure that you use this logic when fleshing out the lower-level designs of the experience.

Consider the following:

  • High-level requirements that list the features and functionality you want your UX to showcase.

  • Personas for representative users that capture behaviors and characteristics of your types of users. At a minimum, complete four or five personas. Also sketch out some user scenarios, which detail what a persona would do to complete a task.

  • A list of user tasks that details the types of things you want your users to accomplish and a high-level user journey that captures the end-to-end steps the user will complete. These can be further fleshed out during the design phase, but remember to capture the channels with which your users will engage and the types of content they will need to do so.

  • A list of preliminary content types — for example, news releases, home page content, product details page content, and so on.

  • A high-level sitemap or high-level architecture, which includes the primary areas of the experience grouped into categories and subcategories.

  • Mood boards for the visual design, which define the emotional experience for the UX.

  • A finalized content audit that lists issues with any current experiences or content and where the content needs to go.

  • A survey of your competition where you learn in which areas you can differentiate your UX from your competitors’ experiences.