How to design from 10,000 feet

4 min read
Ann-Caryn Cleveland
  •  Jul 16, 2015
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Maintaining a sprint speed to hit every milestone can make designers feel trapped. So there’s 1 thing you need to do at the beginning of each and every sprint:

View your product from 10,000 feetTwitter Logo.

Sometimes called a design spike, this process involves product designers taking a step back to look at the big picture and asking whether you’re developing and designing a product that fits users’ needs.

“Take a step back and ask whether you’re designing a product that fits users’ needs.”

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Study your process over time

We’re starting to throw away the old idea of “one size fits all” in favor of designing adaptive experiences. You should ask:

  • How does your product design mold to the user from their first use to their 10th use?
  • How much more do you know about this person?
  • What can you do to make their daily interactions more rewarding?

Understand the funnel, which is the sequence of actions users take to get something done. Imagine someone’s journey through your productTwitter Logo.

First, the user launched the app and logged in. Then what happened? What kept them going?

Creating a common storyboard for your users (or multiple kinds of users) is a great way for everyone on the team to understand the hurdles someone typically faces using the app.

“Imagine someone’s journey through your product.”

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If you like to sketch, draw out a mind map. If you love Post-its, use them. If you’re a spreadsheet nut, plot out charts and data in Excel or Numbers. With a solid plan in hand, your team can spot gaps and see what’s working.

Make your app understand context

When we designed the prototype for the 10app, an app that helps you share the best parts of your iPhone, GoPro, or DJI Phantom drone videos, we didn’t think enough about context. Location changes everything.

We found most people are having adventures with their GoPros and drones outside—on the mountains, on the beach, and in the snow with big mittens on—and many aren’t near wifi.

So we scrapped the entire prototype design.

We switched the interface from white to black—it’s easier to view when it’s sunny out.

We enlarged the buttons and made them easy to tap with gloves on.

We made sure that everything worked perfectly offline—and that everything automatically synched when you eventually went online.

Find out what drives your user

You can layer a voice of reason once you’ve mapped the story over time. This is where Post-it notes may come in handy. What’s happening internally at a particular point in the design? What’s the person thinking at this stage?

“Find out what drives your user.”

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Getting inside someone’s head is crucial to understanding the art of conversionTwitter Logo. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model is a great tool for mapping out thoughts and actions. This framework helps identify what drives your users to take particular action—or what stops them.

A lack of motivation, an inability to carry out the task, or the absence of a trigger can each be why someone never completed their desired purpose with your product.

Careful, though—this one can be a rabbit hole. Sometimes you just don’t know everything about someone’s motivations, goals, and triggers. Don’t get bogged down. Call things out that need further investigation, then move on.

Make your product irreplaceable

Provide a benefit so clear that people no longer even need to think about using your product—they just do. How are you making users feel awesome about themselves every time they use your product?Twitter Logo

“Provide a benefit so clear that people no longer even need to think about using your product—they just do.”

An invisible or frictionless product is the ultimate goal. Once a user trusts the process, they can begin to rely on your product’s benefitsTwitter Logo. A comfortable routine settles in.

Taking action

When you’re finished considering all these angles, how do you communicate your 10,000-foot vision to the team?

Paint the walls! Invite your team to ask questions and offer ideas from their viewpoint. The more involved your team is, the more likely you can implement your long-term goals and hit your targets.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard