Posted 6 September, 2017 by Maya Richman

Designing for the (not-so-distant) future

The most recent post in this series focused on the user research phase of the redesign—our guiding questions and a few of the outcomes. This post will pick up where that post left off—the wonderful world of user experience and interface design.

If you find yourself in the throes of a redesign, at some point you will need to transform user research into platform mockups. We hope that our approach can help you to zero-in on the goals of the redesign, and make more pragmatic decisions as you move forward. We’re also sharing the spreadsheet template we developed to help us work through these decisions – feel free to copy, adapt and use it!

Turning research findings into prophecies

In July, we started to translate our user research into actionable guidelines for our user experience designer, Ozren Muic. We quickly discovered, however, that before we could begin the design phase, we needed to make some high-level decisions about the direction of the responsible data community.

Should we design for a future community or for the community we currently have?

The user research we did reflects the desires of varied community members, but it does not speak to the resources available to actualise those desires. In other words, we needed to be thoughtful about what features we chose to implement, because each choice could mean less resources for other recommendations.

With this, we were left with a classic paradox: should we design for a future community or for the community we currently have? Projecting into the future what responsible data might be felt more like fortune telling—I sense the community will become prosperous and vast—than data-driven decision-making. At the end of the day, we couldn’t predict the future, so we developed a system to help us make more informed choices.

Prioritisation, sustainability & other jargon

Remember, the goal is to make a sustainable and useful resource for the community. To this end, we put all the recommendations into a spreadsheet and began to fill each row based on a few categories:

  • Priority – how important we felt the recommendation was for the community
  • Technical Feasibility – how difficult the recommendation would be to implement
  • Likelihood of influencing UX Design/UI Design – when in the redesign process we would need to start implementing
  • Estimated Timeline – how long it would take to complete

The first category, priority, is clearly a very important one. It’s best if all the key stakeholders input into this column. If there is significant difference of opinion on your team, this is a recommendation that requires more conversation. This approach can help isolate the most controversial and important aspects of the user research outputs.

Wrangling the data in this way allowed us to prioritise the most important and achievable recommendations. It also forced us to think in various time scales—ranging anywhere from the next three months to the next three years. We plan to refer back to this spreadsheet, even after the platform is redesigned, to continue to inform longer-term plans.

We’ve made a template of this spreadsheet available for anyone to copy and use, too.

A never-ending story: user experience & interface design

Past experience designing community platforms have taught us that a project’s needs can change rapidly. Integrating user experience design throughout the process can help address challenges that arise due to shifting priorities. Sometimes this can feel frustrating, like a “let’s go back to the drawing board” moment, but the result is a more usable and relevant platform. The user interface designer, Kate Fisher, has guided the team through various iterations that helped to steer us in the right direction and not lose sight of the bigger picture. The takeaway is to question assumptions during the design phase; mistakes are always easier to course-correct before we begin development.

Looking forward

We are about to begin the front-end development phase and are eager to put our designs to the test. As we do so, we will continue to collect information and feedback on what’s working (and what’s not) and be able to refine the platform even further.

If this has piqued your interest in learning more about UX, you can start at And if you’re keen to get involved in a larger conversation about platform design for networks, check out Fabrider’s Initiative Network-Centric Resources.

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