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Iterative Design Process in a Nutshell

The basics of the iterative design process, the 4-stages cycle, and the benefits of using this model.

The iterative design process refers to the constant and continuous improvement of a concept, design, or product. In the field of UI/UX design, you produce a prototype, test it, improve it, and repeat the cycle all over again, getting closer to the solution each time. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because you most likely rely on some sort of iterative process already in order to make your final product perfect. This is why, in this blog post, we will explain everything you need to know about the iterative design process, how to use it in your work and what are the advantages compared to traditional project methodologies.


What Defines the Iterative Process Model?

Anyone can use the iterative process, however, it’s most likely to be utilized in design, development, science, and education. This is because the very point of this model is constant improvement, meaning, the product is never truly finished.

We’ll look at a couple of examples that explain the method in practice.

Programming: We can recognize the iterative process best in programming. As computer programs run algorithms based on a sequence of specific instructions, the program loops to repeat part of the code until it reaches a certain event that triggers a particular action.

Machine learning: In machine learning, artificial intelligence serves to make software applications more accurate at predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed to do it. The AI draws inferences from patterns in data and constantly improves.

Data libraries: We can see the iterative process best in open-source libraries where users collaborate, update and improve content. This is exactly the case with Wikis as it relies on users to generate and maintain the content. As the wikis continuously evolve, they are never a finished product.

Legal systems: Law relies on previous legal decisions, so when a legal precedent appears, the rule’s initial conditions continue to be resolved in the same way.


How Does the Iterative Design Process Work?

The official model consists of four stages:  analysis, planning, development, and testing. These stages create a cycle that forms the basis of the next cycle.

You start your design project with the existence of a problem. Before you develop a solution, your first step will be to understand the problem and analyze the requirements. The planning stage is mostly about deciding which problem to solve during the first cycle. In the development stage, you develop as many ideas and concepts as possible and create your first prototypes.

You end the cycle with testing and evaluation, which gives you insight into whether or not the prototype solves the problem and how well it solves it. Go back to the analysis stage to identify what you’ve learned from the iteration and start building on what’s working.

Rinse and repeat.

Now let’s get to the process itself in more detail.


✔️ Analysis Stage: Exploring the Problem

During this stage, you map out the initial requirements and explore the problem. When it comes to design, problems often become opportunities. This is why you usually start with deciding which problem to solve during the iteration, or which problem presents the best opportunity to improve the design.

The analysis stage includes:
  • Exploring the problem
  • Talking to users
  • Gathering insight and data
  • Uncovering challenges and opportunities
  • Understanding the users’ needs and expectations


✔️ Planning Stage: Outlining a Strategy

This stage focuses on understanding the technical requirements of the design process and mapping a plan and a timeline for the first iterative cycle. You also define what qualifies as a successful solution.

The planning stage includes:
  • Presenting hypothesis
  • Observing user behavior
  • Sketching out the user journey map
  • Creating user profile
  • Outlining a strategy


✔️ Development Stage: Designing a Solution

Your next step is to generate as many ideas as possible no matter the quality. Just like any other brainstorm-fueled process, you unleash your creativity, make sketches, and have fun. Your goal is to refine your best ideas until you end up with a solution to move forward with. It gets easier from there as you will be focused on a single idea to prototype.

The development stage includes:
  • Developing as many ideas and concepts as possible
  • Building information architecture and hierarchy
  • Developing user flows
  • Prototyping


✔️ Testing Stage: Concluding the Effectiveness of the Solution

The final stage refers to testing and evaluating whether or not the prototype meets the user’s needs. Testing gives you valuable insight and helps you catch problems before they spiral out of control. In addition, the iterative design process can give you a clear path to improvement.

The testing stage includes:
  • Testing the design solutions
  • Gathering user feedback and design reviews
  • Validating the solution
  • Catching potential problems
  • Determining the effectiveness of the solution
  • Synthesizing research

Iterative Design Allows You to Create and Test Ideas Quickly

In conclusion, iterative design is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal as it’s based on adopting the philosophy of constant and consistent improvement. In addition, the method is also cost-effective, as it’s much cheaper and easier to create a prototype to test compared to developing a finished product just to modify it based on user feedback.

The benefits of adopting the iterative design process:
  • Resolve misunderstandings: Even when there are misunderstandings or inconsistencies, the iterative design allows for a rapid resolution early in the development cycle.
  • Collect valuable feedback throughout the process: You can gather valuable feedback as you go along and make modifications after each phase.
  • Create an effective solution: It helps your team make sure the final design meets the required purpose, functionality, usability, and objectives.
  • Identify issues at the earliest possible stage:  The testing phase allows you to identify the range of user behaviors, usability, and practical issues that are hard to identify early in the design process
  • Build relationships: Iterative design process can also help with client relationships to show the evolution of a design.
  • Learn to find opportunity in failure: As rapid prototyping relies on trial-and-error, it makes it easy to incorporate “lessons learned” in the final product.

The method has a lot of room for flexibility and variations, however, keep in mind that only practice will make the process perfect. Just trust the process.

In the meantime, why not get more insights and inspiration by visiting the related UI/UX design articles:

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