Iterative Design

The iterative design process

January 8, 2015 - 6 minutes read

This post is the 2nd in a two-part series on iterative design: view part 1

In Monday’s post we talked about how iterative design can benefit a project versus starting from scratch, but what even is iterative design? Today I’d like to go into that a bit more as well as offer some key insights that Amy Pon and I discovered as well as insights from other designers implementing the process.

What is it?

Iterative design is a process of continually improving not just the design, but also the solution for the problem your design originally intended to solve.

Redesigns often rely on emotional responses to aesthetics for justification. Their solutions are often not at the root of the problem.

Iterative design facilitates incremental improvements based in strategic objectives and user needs.

Reasons to design iteratively

Find bugs

It will help you find bugs and problems while they’re still easy and inexpensive to fix

Site features

Ensures the site you’re building will have the features that your customers need

user engagement

Ensures you’re building those features in a way that your customers can use

The iterative designers

“Apple has released many new products over the last decade. Only a handful have been the start of a new platform. The rest were iterations. The designers and engineers at Apple aren’t magicians; they’re artisans. They achieve spectacular results one year at a time.”
-“This Is How Apple Rolls” by John Gruber, MacWorld.

“The designers at Netflix update their site every two weeks. It might sound frustrating, but actually, it enables them to be flexible and adaptive so they can react effectively to customer needs. As a result, they’re building for the present all the time.”
-“The Freedom of Fast Iterations: How Netflix Designs a Winning Web Site” by Joshua Porter

“Overall, the iterative approach allows for adjustments earlier in the development process, and not once everything is finished (and all hours worked). You have the opportunity to visualize the results of each iteration, witness the progress of the project, and express any concerns or preferences as the project evolves.”
-“An Iterative Approach to Web Development” from (article no longer posted)

“Our philosophy is not just a trivial expensive matter of “fine-tuning,” but a basic design philosophy to be contrasted with other principled design philosophies. An iterative design philosophy may seem expensive, but with the present state of understanding about user interface design, it is the only way to ensure excellent systems.”
-“Designing For Usability: Key Principles And What Designers Think” by John D. Gould And Clayton Lewis

Key benefits of iterative design

Learn quickly

Fast iteration gives designers and developers a platform on which they can test quickly, helping to collect data to make informed decisions for the best plans of action.

More experimentation

Teams can try ideas that might not have a lot of support, but could be potential winners. This allows for an innovative and creative environment.

Reduced risk

If teams can make several small changes instead of a few larger ones, they mitigate risk because they can understand which changes have what effect.

Increased usability

Small changes mean users can easily learn and adapt to new implementations. Also, frequent users will notice and appreciate the ongoing efforts to improve. Customer satisfaction increases.

How I implement it

Generally on my projects I take an approach of phases of add/remove, observe/collect info, repeat. You’ll notice that even as I post on this blog that things are evolving on the site around you. I’ve moved the entire skeleton of the website around all month, trying to find something that works, asking people I trust, watching my page views go up or down. My general rule of thumb with design is to keep experimenting, adding things, trying new ways of approaching something, and then removing things that aren’t integral, so iterative design already fits nicely into my back pocket.

What I would suggest if you can’t afford any fancy site analytics is going the free route with Google or something like WordPress’ plug-ins. If that’s even too much for you to handle, find a subject-matter expert and ask them what their opinions are. We’re not talking asking your mom and brother here, though. If you’re making a website about sports, ask a few sports fanatics what they think, then try to find a few web designers and UX people and ask what they think. Then take their feedback and try to implement some of it. The key word there is “some”. You’ll never make everyone happy. You need to measure what people are saying up against what your own goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are and make sure things make sense.

This post is co-authored by Amy Pon, with edits by Geoff Werbicki.

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