Basic questions to see the bigger picture and build an end to end rationale.
When I was in grad school, one of the things hardwired into our brain was to never stop thinking about the user. We (students) would do lots of research, design, fail, design and then end up with something user-centered (at least in our minds). As anyone working in the real world may know, there are plenty of constraints (organizational, technical and otherwise) that can quickly become distractions and make us lose sight of what may be called essentials when designing a product.
A few weeks ago, when reflecting on my own workflow and design process I asked myself — What are the few things that I must know before I start working on any project?
I listed the questions based on these goals –
- Not losing sight of the basics.
- Helping myself build an end to end rationale of a design in my mind. What is an end to end rationale? — As a designer I must be able to explain why something makes sense for the user(s), why it will result in success for the company and everything else in between.
- Being strategic about design — to better plan and create designs that move the product line forward.
- Are we working on the the right design? 
I limited the questions to 5 because I felt that these can trigger other questions that may be equally important but cannot be answered without answering these basic questions first. Also, less is more.
1. ? What problem(s) are we trying to solve?
If the problem framing is not clear, it could lead to an endless churn of design iterations that are not easy to test.
One thing about this question though — just because we start with problems does not mean the design project itself is a mere answer to the problem(s). It is just a trigger, a reason to start the discovery of a new opportunity. We are far from framing our core idea when starting out on a project.
2. ???? Who are we designing for?
The most basic question but the most important. This question here is simple enough but it leads us to questions like what are the user’s needs, what their behaviors are,etc.
We may know who the user is, but how well do we know the user?
3. ? What is the scope? What are the constraints?
This is one question that I have missed many times in the past and have seen many lose sight of too. This question could help resolve a lot of confusion right from the beginning. Some of the questions that this might trigger are — How much time do we have? Which platform? Mobile or web? What are some technical constraints? Other challenges?
Understanding the scope really helps in understanding how broad our design funnel can be, before we dig deep.
4. ? What scenario(s) are we designing for?
It is not merely enough to know who we are designing for. It is also important to understand which experience we are designing for. This could be a story you can pen down or a string of screens (task flow) with problems highlighted along the way. Even when creating a brand new product (or a subsection of it), there is never a time when a current experience does not exist. It is important to map it out.
We are always designing for an experience, no matter what. What does that experience look like right now?
Any good scenario has characters, conflicts and goals. Conflicts and goals cannot be understood without answering Q1 and characters in a story(users) cannot be understood without answering Q2. See how these are connected?
5. ? What are the success metrics?
Is it an increase in engagement? Increase in purchase rates? Better NPS scores? More active users? If success is not defined, it is hard to be on the same page with stakeholders and much harder to create successful (duh) products.