Great user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design is a lot like the perfect movie soundtrack — if it’s done right, you’ll hardly notice it. A delightful end-user experience is invisible because it never pulls you out of what you’re doing. Everything is right where it’s expected to be. The entire interface is intuitive, natural, and frictionless.

In other words, UI/UX is a lot more than simply changing colors and button design. Unfortunately, even some Fortune 500 companies haven’t realized this yet — in one instance, a UX mistake cost one of the industry’s largest retail corporations $1.85 billion in 2009. If a company’s neglecting UI and UX, they’re neglecting the business.

Design Thinking

UI and UX are iterative processes. They can’t exist without consistent cycles of data-gathering, prototyping, and customer feedback.

That’s why “design thinking” has become something of a modern catchphrase. It isn’t just a process — it’s a way of seeing the world. But it’s not as exclusive or hard to grasp as it sounds. In fact, the way designers think and work can be distilled into five simple steps. Use them to design a product, an app, a website, or any other point of contact between customers and your brand.

The 5 Steps of Design Thinking

1. Empathize: It might sound obvious, but the first step is to understand the problem to be solved. The best way is asking the right questions. Ask other internal teams, check out the competition, and certainly gain feedback from your end-users. Has anyone else solved the problem? If so, what makes your solution better? At this stage, it’s crucial not to prompt anyone with answers. Don’t ask for agreement with an assumed problem; ask open-ended questions and let customers inform the response.

2. Define: Next, review the data collected for common pain points and shared stumbling blocks. You can’t please everyone — nor should you try — but themes should organically emerge that feel aligned with business goals. Analyze user stories to find common threads, then document them by clearly defining the problem. This will serve as the “True North” for anything you create and iterate down the line.

3. Ideate: Now that the problem is understood, it’s time to start dreaming up solutions. As with any good creative endeavor, that process starts with brainstorming. But ideating is far from intangible. Move quickly to concrete solutions, like crafting a suggested information architecture or defining how a user might navigate through a tool.

4. Prototype: Before you create a final product, generate the best possible mockups. Prototyping is yet another opportunity to gather critical feedback on what you’re building. Does your solution solve the problem it sets out to tackle? You won’t know without feedback. This might take the form of peer reviews, R&D reviews, and — of course — client reviews.

5. Evaluate: Once the solution is out in the world, test to verify that the end product solves the initial problem. Gather input from as many sources as possible. If your design or product still needs work, loop back around to ideation, then rinse and repeat.

Great UI/UX isn’t about applying lovely design over the top of existing product architecture. It’s about beginning with the end in mind. Involve your design teams as early as possible in every experience your customers (and your employees) will touch. Then step back and watch the results.

Jason Simrany is Tangoe’s Director UX, Product Management. He is a leader in digital product design and development who works with CEOs, executives, product managers, development teams, stakeholders, and customers to create delightful user experiences that deliver results. He has more than 25 years of experience in the field of UI/UX design and is responsible for defining and executing the UX strategy and vision for the full suite of Tangoe products.

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