Taking an ‘ingredients’ based approach to design

What ingredients do you need to make your design a success?

When I was younger I used to love taking things apart with my brother to see how they worked.

We would buy all sorts of junk from jumble sales and get to work with screwdrivers to see what we could find.

I still do this regularly at work, but the things I’m taking apart to try and repair and improve are not old radios, but typically things like apps, websites, services and even organisations themselves.

Ingredients for success

When you break these things down into their constituent parts you can start to identify just what it is that makes them work.

I’ve got into a habit of challenging myself to try and identify why things work so that I can apply those principles to whatever it is that I am designing.

Things that have been ‘well designed’ simply consist of a set of ‘ingredients’ that have been deliberately chosen and then assembled in such a way that results in a deliberate outcome.

Consider that daunting point in a project when you are staring at a blank page with a deadline looming.

A simple way to get started is to think about the ingredients that the page needs to have to be successful in doing the job that it needs to do

Let me explain how this works in practice.

Redesigning a landing page

We had been tasked with redesigning a landing page for a client that was absolutely critical to the success of their business (no pressure!).

The first job was to get the team together to define the ingredients we thought would result in the most effective page.

We worked in a Google doc as it’s a format that everyone was familiar with and could easily contribute to.

I broke the document up into sections and described what I thought the job of that part of the page should be.

I like this idea of everything having a ‘job’ to do. It enables you to get rid of the fluff and encourages you to question the role of every ingredient.

We used insights from our research and knowledge of my client’s objectives to create my first draft of which ingredients we felt each section should contain.

We managed to create a version we were happy to share with our client within 30 minutes.

It looked a bit like this (I have removed some specifics for confidentiality reasons but you’ll get the gist of it);

Section 1: The job of this section of the page will be to communicate what the service offers, allow users to get on with their most important tasks to and communicate an independent view on the quality of the service.

  • Page title
  • Main unique selling point
  • Call to action to support key user task
  • Independent endorsement of service

Section 2: The job of this section of the page will be to convey the benefits of the service to the customers.

  • Show service benefits
  • Answer classic customer anxieties
  • Communicate how / why we are experts in what we do
  • Communicate that service will still suit people with bespoke needs

Section 3: The job of this section of the page will be to communicate the different options that customers can choose from.

  • Communicate key features of different options

Section 4: The job of this section of the page will be to communicate the wider benefits your customers will enjoy.

  • Show wider benefits

Section 5: The job of this section of the page will be provide links to other parts of the site.

  • Footer / page furniture

Once we had the first draft we shared it with stakeholders with the following message;

“Here’s what we’re planning to show in the new landing page. We’d love to hear your feedback to improve it!

Consider these as the ‘ingredients’ that we think will most effectively communicate the benefits of your proposition and bring any points of difference to life.

We’re looking for feedback to help us determine

- Have we included anything that shouldn’t be here?

- What is missing?

- Have we got them in the right order?

Please ignore all wording/ section labelling, this will all be refined at a later date.

Once we’re happy we’ve identified the right ingredients we’ll focus on how we will bring each of them to life within the landing page.”

This enabled us to gather feedback quickly via comments from stakeholders which was vital because we were working to a tight deadline.

Benefits of the approach

The process worked well and these feel like the main benefits it gave us:

  • It forced us to focus on the strategy behind what the page was trying to achieve.
  • It was a very inclusive way to think through what the job was of the page that we were designing was and what it would need to communicate to do that job well.
  • It gave us a to do list to work from and a checklist to evaluate the final design against.
  • No one fell in love with any of the ideas because they hadn’t had to invest significant amounts of time in designing them.
  • It was really quick and easy to change.
  • It forced stakeholders to focus on what needed to be communicated so we could then focus on how it should be best communicated.
  • The format meant that everyone could easily contribute their ideas and get to a consensus quickly.
  • By using terms like ‘ingredients’ everyone understood what we were talking about, we didn’t scare anyone off with jargon ‘user stories’ or ‘user needs’.
  • It felt methodical, simple and thorough.

So it’s not rocket science but feels like a simple method that I hope helps to simplify what can sometimes feel like a daunting task.

Do give it a try and do let me know how you get on.

Experience Director @cxpartners | UX | Product | Photography