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Can you imagine…

… coding an application without a specified user interface design?

… designing a screen without talking to an end-user?

… developing a product without knowing the customer?

Clearly, this would be a very bad way to develop software! This is why we in the Global Design team at SAP foster a process that helps development teams to create a delightful experience for users and to incorporate good design into our software – we call it design-led development.

If you are looking for a new way in your company to ensure an optimal user experience then this article may be just what you are looking for to get started.

The phases

Developing software is more than just coding. It’s about putting the user first, from start to finish. As such, SAP’s design-led development process spans the whole development lifecycle and takes advantage of proven design thinking methods to guide you towards the optimal user experience.

The process begins with the Discover phase. At this stage, you focus on understanding your customers, how they work, and what they need. Only then do you move on to the Design phase, and create the initial prototypes for development. After the Develop activities such as implementation and test, your app is ready to Deploy.

The main emphasis of the design-led development process is on the first two phases – Discover and Design. These two steps are just as important as developing the software itself!

Discover the bigger picture

You might be wondering what you should be looking to discover. Perhaps you already have a good idea of what your customers want and need, and what your end user’s tasks and challenges are. But what you really need is a holistic view of the business roles affected, from different perspectives, explored with a multidisciplinary team.

Let’s assume you’re designing a mobile payment scenario where people can redeem a voucher for a coffee. Before you can decide when and how this app can fit in, you first need to investigate the current workflow, the people involved, and the typical environment. When will the payment be made (while ordering, when receiving the beverage, afterward)? Will the end-users have their hands free at that point in time? How could the redeem action fit in? How is the environment (noisy, calm, dimmed or bright light, crowded or spacious)? And what about the technical conditions (WLAN, fast or slow internet)?

To find this out, you will have to visit the location and speak to everyone involved – your prospective end-user, the waiter, the barista, the manager, and so on.

Quote: “You can’t find out how an orang-utan thinks by sitting at your desk” (Hasso Plattner; from: Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel & Ulrich Weinberg (2009). Design Thinking.)

All this material needs to be gathered and consolidated – design thinking workshops with the different stakeholders are a great way to do this. By the end of the discovery phase, you should have a clear understanding of all the business roles involved, and descriptions of typical representatives for each role – the “personas”. You should know their typical tasks and the sequence of activities. With this information, you can develop initial ideas about how the app might work, and get feedback from your interviewees.

Design to delight

Once you are happy with the initial results of your discovery activities, you are ready to start the next phase – the design. Based on your synthesis, you tailor your app to the constructed use case. Conveniently, you have solid research material – your app might be completely unusable if you didn’t consider spatial and social facts, such as the width and height of the counter, the text orientation of the voucher to be presented to the waiter, or the names of the coffee specialties.

Ideally, you have a multidisciplinary team to brainstorm, create a storyboard, and come up with a first prototype that you can validate with your users.

When you come to the detailed prototype, the SAP Fiori Design Guidelines are available to support you on the interaction design. They help UX designers and developers to make the connection between design considerations and the corresponding SAP UI5 controls. Dedicated articles for SAP Fiori layouts, patterns, and controls offer concrete advice for specific use cases.

Once you have finished your initial design, development can start. During the development phase, you may still need to change some aspects of your design to incorporate ongoing user feedback, to optimize the app, or to allow for technical constraints.

When the app is first implemented and tested, the initial design might require further iterations and adaptations before you arrive at the final design and implementation.

The app lives on

Now that you have coded and delivered your app, you might want to know how it proves itself in practice. There are a variety of ways to get user feedback, including interviews, site visits, and structured usability tests. For example, you might find out that you need to support other mobile devices or enhance the features.

So the app lifecycle continues, and you can apply the same design-led development approach to planning new releases – to support other platforms, incorporate user feedback, and meet new user requirements.

It's a team effort

Many different people contribute to the development process. Typically, these include:

  • The product owner, an area expert who is usually responsible for the whole family of apps in that area.

  • The user researcher, who drives the end-user research and artifact consolidation.

  • The user experience designer, who creates mock-ups, prototypes, and design specifications.

  • The software developer, who implements the design

  • The info developer, who works on UI texts, terminology, and user assistance.

  • The quality expert who sets up test activities and consolidates the results.

These are just the main roles. Depending on how you drive the process, you may need to extend this list.

Talk to your users

The central aspects of the design-led development process are involving the end-user and applying design thinking methods right from the beginning. There are several points in the different phases when connecting up with the real world is a must. This is the best way to make sure that your app is usable and desirable.

Help is at hand

The SAP Fiori Design Guidelines cover all the basics of user-centric design and provide key resources and templates that will help you to follow a design-led development process.