I’ll try my best to be concise.
Step 1. Receive commandment from God
Or your CEO or your PM or boss, whatever. They will say something like, “We need _____” Fill in the blank with any two word feature. (Example: Dynamic Content, Enhanced Security, Cool Dashboards.
Step 2. Talk to users
Is this obvious? I say users instead of stakeholders because I actually want to understand the lives of the people who will actually use the system. Who are they? What do they do for a living? Look for painful parts of their job.
Step 3. Design a mid-fidelity storyboard
Nothing that takes too long, but high enough fidelity to give the idea. I find black and white wireframes or sketches are too simple to get people to understand and give meaningful reactions to.
Step 4. Iterate on Step 3
Show the storyboard, modify the storyboard, show, modify, show modify. Keep your old work, they are fun to look at later. This iteration takes as long as it takes to get people excited about the results. Don’t stop iterating too soon. It should get better and better. Sometimes you have to erase everything and start over.
Step 5. Build it
For realsies, no prototype, no usability testing, no focus groups. Just build the fucking thing. What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?
Step 6. Train people how to use it.
This is crucial. You have to train people yourself, in person. See their faces. Every time you see a grimace or a confused look you need to take note. These may be documentation issues, metaphors or worst case a complete fuckup in step 3-4. Most of the time they are minor usability bugs. Get them fixed. Learn the language of engineering and get these bugs prioritized. If possible, personally make the documentation outline. No one can train people as well as the designer who understood how and why it was built.
Step 7. Write down all the shit that got cut from the project.
This is an awful step, but you have to do it. That animation you liked, that usability feature you wanted, that feature that made it all work better together. Write them all down in an epic. You will have to bring that back up one day when you want to improve the feature.
That’s it. It’s worked well for me for over 20 years. The key part of the design is Steps 3-4, that’s where the magic happens. Get good at step 3-4 and you will have a good career.