Understanding Iterative Design

Iterative design is a method used in the design of a product that provides periodic testing and review at different stages during design in order to eliminate flaws before the product is completed and launched. Iterative design is a process of improving the design over time and can take place at any phase of the design process, although it’s best to implement it early in the product lifecycle to achieve the most cost savings. This savings is because it is cheaper and easier to create a prototype to test than it is to develop a total system or product.


Image from Innovation Labs

In iterative design, a product is developed in cycles. The initial design is tested by a small group of users. Issues are documented and reviewed, and after that the design is edited to eliminate problems. This cycle is repeated a few times until the design is ready to be implemented. Iterative design is important because it allows teams to reduce usability issues and develop a good user experience. Wireframing and prototyping can be useful tools in iterative design.

Once a user’s need has been identified and ideas have been generated to meet that need, a prototype will be developed. Testing of the prototype will show whether it meets the need and the results will help amend the design. A new prototype will be created and the process will begin again until the best possible product has been developed. Prototyping is inexpensive and quick to create, making it a cost-effective way to improve designs.  It can be extremely helpful when a team has several ideas and is unsure of which one to pursue. Developing a prototype of each idea and then assembling rapid user feedback can help the team choose which ideas move forward with no further cost.

Design iteration means learning from failure before putting a product in front of users – so that you are judged on success.”

Example of Iterative Design

An example of iterative design is Wikipedia, where users can add missing information and correct mistakes that have been made by former contributors. Anyone is able to update and improve the content at any time. The editor can review and decide when the change is an improvement. Over time the theory is that Wikipedia’s content will evolve and improve making it a valuable asset online. While one person’s improvement may not be seen as such by another, in your iterative design, you will have control in the decision making.

Benefits of Iterative Design

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Clarity of direction within the team
  • User feedback showing if it is meeting user needs
  • Share the design process for client feedback
  • Involves development team for further feedback
  • Regular testing
  • Helps with “lessons learned” for a solid finished product
  • Gives stakeholders better visibility of progress at each iteration

Final thoughts

Iterative design allows designers to create and test quickly as well as effectively. The best designs can continue forward through the design process while those that are not showing promise can be taken off the list. It is a cost-effective way to put user experience in the center of the design process.

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