Lead Designer roles are an interesting position to be in. You're a translator speaking three languages: business, logic, and user. You must fine-tune your communication skills if you are to translate ideas onto the screen and be able to think ahead and convey problems to team members and stakeholders.
In my experience, Lead Designers work well with a Product Manager who can help support the design process and help keep the stakeholders at bay. But sometimes a Product Manager is a luxury that we can only dream of. Either way, your design process is the only thing that stands between you and a tidal wave of missed deadlines and bottle-necked developers.
Inserting a design process into the production models of a team is no easy task; there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Too many touch points, workshops, and discussions, and your engineering team will despise you. Not enough collaboration, and your product UX will run off the rails. With that disclaimer aside, this is the process that has helped me perform in a lead design role for many years, and I've had very little reason to modify it.
A well-defined design process aims to help ensure that design thinking and practice are used in every stage of the product development cycle, not just by designers. In my opinion, this is the best way to ensure the desired user experience stays intact.
Medusa, my design process, is broken into four phases.
Who are you targeting, and what is the problem you're solving for them? It's where developers, designers, product managers, copywriters, etc., strip away their titles and sit down at the table to help explore, define and obsess over the problem. We must all become experts on which problem we're facing and why we're facing it. Workshops, whiteboards, stickies, experiences. This is the playground that will become the bedrock for a well-executed product.
Deliverable: The problem definition.
Now that your problem is defined and your team is aligned, it's time to begin exploration. When designing a new feature, this means speaking to the users or customers, creating mood boards, working with UX research, pulling insights from the data team. Ideation leads to clarity around the best way to solve the problem and opens the door to the next phase: prototyping and testing.
Deliverable: Research and data-backed UX direction.
You have direction, a targeted user experience, and are ready to begin testing with your users. Build a prototype—Paper, digital, wireframe, or with a developer. What you choose should be rapid to create and easy to throw away. Your objective here is to mitigate wrong turns in the UX design to save your engineering team the hassle of re-engineering.
Deliverable: User-tested and validated prototype.
Disciplines part ways and confidently build.
Every phase has multiple points where iteration is possible. In fact, it's important to underscore the value of building or designing what is easily thrown away in the first three phases. Sometimes we need to build ideas to test them, and that is where your team's makeup and experience come into play. Do you have a team that can pivot that quickly?
If you're not failing often in your design process, you're probably not creating your best work.