What is a Framework?
A framework is a design practice that facilitates dealing with common issues emerging along the process of the research and development of the product. Basically, a framework gives stakeholders a set of tools and techniques, which can be used to approach and resolve problems of similar nature.
The most common and well-known examples of frameworks are Double Diamond, Lean UX, Scrum, Stanford school Design Thinking, IBM Loop, Google Ventures Design Sprints, URADLA, Principles Framework and How Might We.
Why Do We Need Frameworks?
The design process can be very unstructured with many variables and interdependent factors, and the problems don’t have a clear right or wrong, bad or good solution. Frameworks provide focus and support to the challenges that the team is facing in the product development cycle. They help stakeholders to define, experiment, build, test and learn to define user stories, create certainty, choose the right solutions and iterate.
Frameworks ... help stakeholders to define, experiment, build, test and learn to define user stories, create certainty, choose the right solutions and iterate
«Design insists that we prepare ourselves to iterate our way to a solution, so managers who thought like designers would view themselves as learners. Most managers are taught a linear problem-solving methodology: define the problem, identify various solutions, analyze each, and choose the best one. Designers aren’t nearly so impatient – or optimistic; they understand that successful invention takes experimentation and that empathy is hard won. The task, first and foremost, is always one of learning», (Designing for Growth: A Tool Kit For Managers’, Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie).
UX Designers’ Outlook on Frameworks
Ian Batterbee, User Experience Designer at BGL Group
Ian is a user experience practitioner with over 12 years of experience in collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams on designing, building, and evolving large scale-products and services. He loves to challenge the status quo, solve complex problems, and inspire creativity and innovation. And believes in empathy, transparency, and iterative learning.
Frameworks Help Meet User and Business Needs and Structure the Process
Frameworks are extremely beneficial for users and business in general: they provide teams with a set of core principles for delivering solutions that meet user needs and for achieving commercial objectives. They provide structure and help guide design solutions. They encourage teams to explore issues more deeply and then take focused action. And what's more, they offer flexibility to gather new insights and make iterations at any stage in the project.
When design is failing to meet user and business needs, or if it's exhausting too much time and resources, it’s most likely because the team isn’t following any framework. I’ve seen it happen in organizations with low UX maturity: assumptions are made, decisions are forced, requirements get skewed throughout the development cycle, and the end product turns out to be unfit for purpose. Without frameworks there's little structure and regard for the core principles needed to build first-class experiences. Furthermore, not using them leads to less creativity, experimentation and learning throughout the entire design and development cycle.
Frameworks are a Collaborative Tool
They should be ingrained in the organization’s culture and adopted by both UX designers and Product Owners. The former, as well as the latter is involved in the same process and pursues the same final goal, which is the success of the product. Each of them uses frameworks in a different manner, but the collaboration is what lets them both reach the desired objective. UX should have the autonomy to gather insight and explore ideas, and Product Owners should be able to use UX recommendations to drive the overall strategy.
When Choosing a Framework — Choose Wisely
Choosing the right framework requires an understanding of the problem’s complexity, people, resources, and organization's culture. If you're new to using frameworks, then use the common approaches, see what works and what doesn't and in this basis find the right one for solving your problem.
My go-to frameworks are Double Diamond and Design Thinking. They’re effective in guiding solutions and work really well for multi-discipline teams. What's great about the Double Diamond is that it uses different work principles — collaboration, creative thinking and refinement of ideas. Each of them allows you to identify where you currently are in the product development cycle, as well as to iterate solutions until the problem is solved.
Design Thinking on the other hand is more suited to solving a specific problem that requires multi-disciplinary collaboration within a short timeframe. The five phases — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test — can be viewed as an overview of principles that contribute to an innovative project and shouldn’t be necessarily sequential. You may visit any of the phases at any time: for example, iterate your prototype based on feedback from testing.
With the Double Diamond teams are encouraged to adopt different ways of thinking to solve complex problems, and with Design Thinking — different disciplines can collaborate and apply multiple perspectives.
There’s Always Going to be a Demand for New and Bespoke Frameworks
The reason — constant changes in user behaviors, technology, and business culture. I believe that frameworks will become more relevant to certain fields and disciplines. Especially with the emergence of behavioural design, that instigates new and novel processes. These frameworks are tools for creating longer and more meaningful experiences. In contrast to traditional models that tend to focus on delivering just product-based solutions, the behavioural ones are more invested in qualitative and data-driven insights and long-term strategies.
One example is a Habit-forming hook usually known as the Hook model, proposed in 2013 by behavioural designer Nir Eyal. The framework is designed to connect user's problems with a solution frequently enough to form a healthy and ethical habit. Another behavioural design framework is Hypothesis Testing. The process involves structuring and testing an idea until it can be proven. As with the Double Diamond and Design Thinking, different principles can be adopted here, and phases can be visited in whatever sequence that suits.
Certain Frameworks Come with Their Disadvantages
Take Design Thinking — it’s a cross-collaborative process that works best in a physical environment where people ideally engage in person in the shared timeframe, and it might not suit remote teams, that are usually spread across different time zones.
Another disadvantage to consider is that teams may not always follow the same principles, or they may have a preference for using their own frameworks. This can cause friction and misalignment between teams.
Tips for Beginning UX Designers
- Do some groundwork on your business needs. Learn more about the project itself, the business needs, the complexity of the problem, and the structure of the team and organization. Only then you’ll understand what framework is best to adopt.
- Assess the performance within the chosen framework. This way you’ll avoid the pitfalls of sticking to the wrong process. What works and what doesn’t? Are you learning anything along the way? Regular retrospective sessions can be very useful. Remember: all teams’ perspectives should be aligned and everyone should get value from using a particular framework.
- Be flexible. Make sure you have spare back-up strategies and frameworks up your sleeve to quickly tackle unexpected challenges. Like Design Thinking that can help solve a problem within a short time frame.
Anatoliy Gromov, Principal Product Designer at Apegroup
Anatoliy is a former Design Director turned hands-on Product Designer. His experience stretches between leading design practice at DDB and Deloitte, as well as engagement as a Lead Designer at Fjord, Fantasy and others.
Frameworks Bring Clarity and Comfort to the Table
Frameworks describe certain ways of working and clusterize different approaches to design. They give you a certain comfort of awareness and define your expectations of the working process, they can help clarify some basic terms of working in a team, or clean up some headspace for you when you’re working on a complex service design project.
Different frameworks cover different needs. Some describe a specific narrow research technique and others are a good fit for a huge multi-stakeholder service design process with various moving parts.
How to Decide if One Needs Frameworks?
If there are any difficulties with deliveries, their frequency or anything else, then your working process obviously needs some adjustments. That's where frameworks usually come in handy: they will lift some weight off your shoulders by helping you to map out the basics: stages of delivery, planning, team collaboration, iteration intensity, etc.
For example, if the deliveries become more and more irregular, and your PO — more and more annoyed, that may be a sign that you need to approach design in a more 'Lean' way: agree to ship design in less detailed shape to get feedback from the users quicker, and thus increase the iteration efficacy and rate.
Be Flexible with your Choice of Frameworks
Sometimes I see designers sticking to a specific framework with an almost ‘religious’ fidelity, instead of looking for new, more suitable options each time. I think it's better to find the best fitting solutions on a case-by-case basis.
First, one needs to investigate why there’s a need for formalising team collaboration and design process with a framework. And more importantly, if there is one at all. Then, of course one needs to educate themselves in traditional frameworks. This will give you a good starting point and some recipes for better work and design process organisation. From there, you can then improvise, experiment and find your own working process in the end.
Don’t Use Frameworks Just for the Sake of It
They aren’t a rulebook that one's supposed to follow to the letter, but more of a starting point of the game where everyone is more or less aware of what's going to happen, what kind of tempo our work is going to take and so on.
In real life though, more often than not we see that the real behind-the-scenes experience differs from the classics of Lean UX or Scrum. That's when it is crucially important for teams to realize that frameworks are made for them, not vice versa and reevaluate their decisions regarding their working process. So don’t go arguing with your teammates about things being ‘not Lean enough’.
Tips for Beginning UX Designers
- Keep things as tangible as possible at all times.
- Be open to question the basics of the framework you've chosen in favor of finding the best fit for your team.
- Discuss and agree on deliveries according to the chosen framework.
- Ask for feedback from the team regularly and evaluate the framework's effectiveness.
- Remember that great things happen when design is going beyond the framework. So always be flexible.
Sebastian Schöndorfer, UX/UI/Brand Designer
Sebastian is a UX/UI/Brand Designer with over 12 year of experience. Starting his career in global playing advertising agencies like BBDO and DDB he grew his roots in creating online marketing and social media campaigns till he decided to follow his passion doing his own business to help clients building up their digital ecosystems including small businesses, start-ups as well as clients focused on retail and public services.
Holistic Vision and Guidance
Frameworks help both the client and the designer to have more of a holistic vision. They offer some kind of guidance throughout the process. From the viewpoint of a UI designer I think they also guarantee consistency within the product and even the brand in general, and it always pays into the brand value in the end, as we know. Overall, I think doing this type of groundwork ensures commitment between all parties and stakeholders involved in a project. Frameworks make the ongoing (agile) process and the output measurable.
I personally don’t use any specific framework daily. But If I needed to separate my holistic approach to UX and UI I’d name the ‘How Might We’ and ‘Principles’ frameworks, that cover the research and ideation phase at the beginning of a project. In general, I use these methods as part of kickoff-workshops with my clients. I take the insights back to my office and set them as a basis for my UX and UI-related solutions. This helps me make sure that my client and I share the same vision of the outcome.
You Don’t Always Need a Framework to Get Things Done
Some clients really know what they need or which problems they have. So it’s not worth investing effort and time in doing further investigation to get additional insights.
Some need further assistance from a creative perspective, which means that I’ll spend some time doing workshops to figure out the real tasks. Sometimes it means getting back to the very roots of the business case.
We Live in an Agile World, so Principles Change and Develop
I think that some standardization will happen within the industry in the next few years. The skillset of every designer will include keeping different methods in mind from the very beginning of each project. It doesn’t matter whether it’s going to be called a framework or something else, it will be a part of the designer’s DNA.
Tips for Beginning UX Designers
- Be yourself. Don’t try to live up to the industry’s trends or to shrink to align with the client’s briefing.
- Don’t jump on every bandwagon. Rather stick to your preferred tools and principles.
- Copycat but always search for your own. Copycatting can help you improve, but then always explore and try coming up with your own solutions, when there’s time and space for it.
- Reach out to developers. Make at least one web or app-developer a good friend of yours.
Frameworks Mentioned, Advised and Used by Our Speakers
The divergence and convergence model was proposed in 1996 by Hungarian-American linguist Béla H. Bánáthy. Fast-forward to 2005, the British Design Council popularized it as a framework for innovation to help designers and non-designers to tackle problems. As the name suggests, the framework is structured as two separate diamonds, each containing several principles:
- Discover. In the first diamond, teams diverge to understand the problem. Rather than make assumptions, they'll observe or speak with real people to develop empathy.
- Define. Teams then converge and use insight gathered from discovery to define the problem.
- Develop. In the second diamond, teams diverge once again to explore different solutions for solving the problem. They may seek inspiration from elsewhere and co-design with different people.
- Deliver. At the final stage, teams converge to test different solutions, rejecting those that don't work and iterating the ones that will.
Design Thinking is an iterative and non-linear solution-based process of solving problems. It was originally introduced by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial in 1969. Since then, some of the world's leading brands, such as Google, Apple, and Samsung, have adopted the framework for innovating solutions to meet specific user needs.
Design Thinking contains a number of phases which can be used in any order:
- Empathize. Observe and develop an understanding of your target user's needs and problems.
- Define. Use insights from empathy to create problem statements to be solved.
- Ideate. Challenge assumptions and create innovative solutions to solve the problem.
- Prototype. Build flat or functioning designs to bring solutions to life.
- Test. Validate ideas by testing them with real users.
It’s a way to turn user research into design principles. The framework consists of three steps: observations insights principles.
- Observations. During the observations stage you write down what you saw and heard from users. Then you clusterize the observations by themes and put them together in bubbles.
- Insights. On the basis of observation bubbles, you create a persuasive insight (or insights) that expresses a strong conclusion.
- Principles. You reframe insights as design implications. They should be actionable and memorable.
How Might We (HMW)
It is created to reframe problems and challenges into opportunities and is often used for launching brainstorms. If we decipher the title itself, we’ll notice that:
- How — helps the team to believe that the solution is out there, but they need to explore.
- Might — defines the uncertainty. The solution may or may not work, and it’s totally ok.
- We — a reminder that it’s all about teamwork and collaboration.
How to Use the Framework
- Reframe the given statement by adding ‘How Might We’ at the beginning. Come up with different questions. The ideal question shouldn’t be too broad or too narrow but rather give enough room to create appropriate ideas and solutions.
- Evaluate your questions. Can you come up with solutions for them? If not, go back to stage one and create more questions or broaden the ones that you have.
- Think about all the possible solutions. The crazier – the better.
Lean UX is a test and learn approach that enables the team to quickly mobilize and focus around core problems which could improve the user experience. This technique was born out of Toyota’s manufacturing model, that works in alignment with Agile development methods and aims to reduce waste and provide value. Essentially, lean UX combines the solution-based approach of design thinking with the iteration methods which compound Agile. Lean UX has 3 stages: think, make, check.
The thinking stage is where you generate ideas and assumptions in order to come up with a hypothesis. It involves:
- Generative research
- Creating assumptions
- Mental models
- Behavior models
- Test results
- Competitive analysis
The make stage is where UX and UI designers create solutions to the hypotheses they created during the think stage. It involves:
- Value proposition
- Landing pages
The check stage serves to validate the previously developed solutions and involves:
- A/B testing
- Usability testing
Created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland and used to manage work on complex products since the early 1990s, Scrum isn’t a process, technique or definitive method, but rather a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques.
To optimize flexibility, creativity and productivity, a team model has been designed in Scrum, that includes Product Owner, Development Team and a Scrum Master. All of the participants are guided by the Scrum Values — Courage, Focus, Commitment, Respect, and Openness.
To create regularity, prescribed events are used in Scrum, such as Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective. Once a Sprint begins, its duration cannot be altered as opposed to the other events, that may end whenever the purpose is achieved.
To maximize transparency of key information, there are Scrum Artifacts, that include Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and Increment. They help to ensure that everybody has the same understanding.
To learn more about this framework, read The Scrum Guide by Ken Scwaber and Jeff Sutherland.
Written by Susanna Agababyan