Whether you’re building a two-story house or a 100-story skyscraper, you need a blueprint.
The same is true when you’re building software, and that blueprint gets created in the design phase.
In traditional software development methods, the design is completed before development begins. The problem with this approach is that you have to get everything right, because changes get more costly after development begins.
Worse yet, you can end up with a badly designed product that doesn’t meet the users’ needs.
An Agile software development company treats design iteratively. Agile design teams accept the fact that many of their questions can’t be answered at the beginning of the development process. They trust the process to reveal the answers as they try out ideas, test them, and make improvements based on the results.
The basic stages of an Agile design sprint are:
1. Empathize with the Users’ Needs
If you truly want to understand someone, you need to walk a mile in their shoes, right? That’s exactly what the design team does in this stage. They research the users’ needs and try put themselves in the users’ shoes.
2. Sketch a Solution
Once the team gains this empathy, they start getting ideas for solving user problems. In this step, they literally sketch their ideas on paper. The goal is to generate several high-level, simplistic sketches—quantity over quality. Then the team evaluates each sketch and picks one to focus on in the next step.
3. Create a Design
Once the team settles on a sketch, they focus their thinking on that sketch and flesh it out. In this stage, they often brainstorm alternative approaches and identify fresh solutions to a user problem.
4. Build a Prototype
Once they have a design, it’s time to build a prototype—an inexpensive, scaled-down version of the product or feature being designed.
5. Put It to the Test
Once the prototype is ready, it’s tested by a few users that are representative of end users. The design team watches how users interact with the prototype and listens to their feedback to learn what works and what needs to be improved. They then take these insights into the next iteration.
6. Refine the Prototype
Armed with the knowledge gained by the test, the designers start the next sprint and refine the design.
Design sprints allow designers to make small but informed decisions as they test and refine the prototype. In this way, the team makes steady, meaningful progress.
The Benefits of Iterative Design
Like Agile overall, iterative design has several benefits over traditional, Waterfall methods. Some of the benefits that can be gained include:
- More client involvement and feedback
- Faster identification of problems
- Higher team morale
- Greater transparency
And finally, we’ve already mentioned the reduction in costly design errors, but it bears repeating.
The later in the development process that a bug or a design issue surfaces, the more expensive it is to fix. A huge benefit of iterative design is that it enables teams to solve critical issues sooner, saving you a lot of time and money.
Agile has proven to be an excellent approach to software development, especially in the design phase. Iterative design practices help make design teams more productive and efficient.