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Defining design

We see design as a process of intentionally deciding, over and over, how interactions should work for users, based on research.

Design is a series of intentional decisions

Every project is shaped by a series of decisions, whether those decisions are about meeting agendas, research plans, or what constitutes a minimum-viable product. Taking a design approach means identifying opportunities for decision-making, and being intentional about making decisions.

Design depends on context

What’s the right approach? It depends. We use design research to better understand the problems we might solve, and the systems those problems connect to. We actively validate the success of our solutions through design research.

User-centered design is for people

We proactively engage with users to understand their needs and determine how well our decisions have met those needs. Since some of our work involves creating solutions that are used by government employees, our users are not always members of the public.

Stakeholders are anyone with a legitimate interest in what we’re designing. Stakeholders include our agency partners and the people they serve—that is, their users. We regularly talk with our agency partners, and while all design processes must take stakeholder needs into consideration, our process ultimately puts users, rather than stakeholders, at the center—that is, as our primary concern.

When design is practiced together, it creates shared understanding. We bring together cross-functional teams to arrive at more well-informed, less biased decisions. Moreover, we rely on two kinds of thinking:

  • Divergent thinking helps us to identify opportunities for decision making, and to explore possible choices
  • Convergent thinking helps us narrow our choices, and follow through on our decisions

Intentionally transitioning between divergence and convergence helps make the decision-making process visible and participatory for team members.

Design shapes organizations, and vice-versa

Products and services impose requirements on the organizations that support them, and vice-versa. We shouldn’t design an agency’s homepage to include images on every news post, for example, if we haven’t yet made certain that agency can reasonably source images for each of its news posts. To best support the endeavor as a whole, we want to proactively acknowledge when our design recommendations will require organizational shifts or new resources.

Design is never done

We don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay. We take an iterative, cyclical, lean approach. We try things out. We commit to continuous improvement using critiques, wireframes, prototypes, usability tests, etc.

A conceptual image that describes iterative design. The phrase 'iterative design' is surrounded by four labels connected by a circle of clockwise-pointing arrows. Starting at the top, the labels read 'concept', 'try it out', 'gather feedback', 'incorporate feedback'

Additional resources

See the What is design? and Design 101 presentations

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18F UX Guide is a product of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, and is managed by 18F.

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