Foundation & Product Design Lesson Topics

Our Curriculum

Our lessons bring you the most current, valuable product design information in the following areas:

Creating a Believable User: The Quick Guide to Personas

Lesson #104Prototyping & User Testing

Personas aren't always necessary, but when we're trying to figure out different angles of attack when solving tough customer interactions, they help us take a look into what our potential users want and need. Having representations of our customers allows us to view the problem from a different perspective as we take into account factors that we may not have looked into before framing the problem in a new light. Check out this lesson to learn how to set yourself up to win with some killer personas!

Assumptions suck; it’s time to get some real answers

Lesson #92Prototyping & User Testing

Building something on a stack of assumptions gets you into trouble later on in a project, usually resulting in a couple layers of iteration that could have been avoided. We’re supposed to be designing for people, not just us! A lot of heartache and all nighters to meet deadlines can be avoided by taking the time to get some real feedback outside of the office’s walls. We’re smart people and we want our products to be useful, so let’s put it in front of the consumer for feedback. They’re the ones paying the bills after all! The good news is that it’s a lot easier than you think to keep your assumptions in check with some good ol’ user testing.

Make Wireframes Pop With Your Own Icons

Lesson #43Prototyping & User Testing

As a hi-fi prototyping tool, much of OmniGraffle’s power lies in its stencils: Reusable components you can drag and drop to create interfaces faster. While the app comes with many generic stencils, sometimes we need custom shapes to reuse throughout a site. In that case, nothing beats custom elements you downloaded or created yourself. Here’s how to create and edit OmniGraffle stencils from Adobe Illustrator files.

omnigraffle stencil teaser

It’s OK. Let Users Guide User Tests

Lesson #37Prototyping & User Testing

Testing a product workflow like a signing up or checkout process requires more than asking someone to check it out. You need to plan the test itself, which requires asking questions without leading test participants to your conclusions. After all, the purpose of user testing is to learn from other people's points of view, not to impose your assumptions upon them.

User testing helps us test a hypothesis to discover if what we're about to build will, in fact, solve the problems they're meant to address. But people who participate in a user test need to know more than "we need you to test this." They need context. Here's how to prepare test participants so you'll get the constructive feedback you need to improve your work.

illustration of a flow chart

Use Sketch Prototypes to Prevent Headaches

Lesson #36Prototyping & User Testing

It may sound odd, but sketch-based prototypes of products helps us fail early. 

Prototypes are mockups through which people can "test" a website or app. They're comprised of hand-sketched screens we scan and add tappable hotspots where important links would be. They're cheap, effective tools to let clients walk through a digital product before spending time coding what might be the wrong path.

Here's how to create simple, cost-effective prototypes to save time and prevent headaches later.

illustration of a sketch with clickable hot spots

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Test Your Assumptions With a Card Game

Lesson #29Prototyping & User Testing

Assumptions are deceptive. We think we're doing well, making decisions based on prior experience … and then customers get confused on our websites, miss information we think is obvious, or can't find what they're after. Did we make a mistake? Quite often confusion happens simply when our mental model is different from our customers'.

Our designers use card sorting to figure out how people perceive a system. This exercise helps us look past our assumptions to how customers may actually use our products — and since they're the ones using our products, understanding how customers mentally organize information on your site is critical. Here's how you can use card sortings to figure out how others use your designs.

illustration of stacked cards

Put OmniGraffle Styles to Work

Lesson #27Prototyping & User Testing

We use OmniGraffle to create hi-fi wireframes to turn hand sketches into comps ready for Photoshop visual mockups. Aside from being digital — with the undo and ability to share — it's a step up from sketches because we can apply styles.

Styles in OmniGraffle are an object's various look-and-feel attributes like font size and color, background, border, and effects. They're great for making objects look like what they are: Headlines and buttons, for example, without worrying too much about the final visuals.

But styles can get out of hand. Managing many objects, each with their own look, is time-consuming. And when we want to create a clear, concise, general hi-fi comp, wrangling styles is important. Here are three ways to make styles in OmniGraffle work for you.

Manage Criticism, Not Vice Versa

Lesson #25Prototyping & User Testing

illustration of conflicting arrows

Getting constructive criticism is hard enough without getting overwhelmed with feedback. Placing your work (and by proxy, yourself) on display takes courage. Admitting that you may have taken a wrong path, or that someone else knows more than you, takes a level head and a dose of humility — even if it ultimately improves the design and your design skills.

And after you top that challenge, you face a glut of opinions. Knowing where to start is hard. And if you guess, you may end up working on one thing only to realize later that something else contradicts your new work.