In a perfect situation, every step shown in this diagram, from requirements to documentation would be completed. At various stages during the course of this process, user testing would be conducted for validation and feedback including, user testing of conceptual interactions at the wireframe stage, paper prototypes at the visual design stage and functional prototype testing where possible.

However, because of budget constraints, product timelines and staffing restrictions, rarely is there a perfect situation.
And, because each scenario and every client is unique, it takes a professional with experience and knowledge to tailor a user experience design process and solution for each individual situation.

Some pieces of the user centric puzzle are consistent. There must be some type of "Discovery" phase whereby the UX design team learns about the product, the business aspirations of the product creator and most importantly, the end user of the product.

What is the process?
Requirements Analysis
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Competitive Analysis
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Heuristic Analysis
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User Research
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Analytics Analysis
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Research Exercises
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Card Sorting
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Contextual Inquiries
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Interviews
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User Personas
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Preliminary Site Mapping
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Architectural Design
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Task Definition
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Task Flow Analysis
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Site Mapping
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Interface Design
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Wireframes
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Functional Wireframing
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Schematics
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Pattern & Template
Mapping
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Visual Design &
Brand Application
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UI Specification &
Documentation

 

Who is this "end user"? What does the user need to accomplish when using a particular product? What steps are necessary in order to accomplish this?

This Discovery phase may include, but is not limited to requirements gathering or clarification, analyzing competitor or similar products, evaluation of any existing products using basic industry heuristics, reviewing existing site metrics data and user research exercises such as card sorting, contextual inquiries and interviews.

The other piece to the user centric puzzle is a "Design" phase. In this phase all of the knowledge gathered in a Discovery phase is combined with knowledge of technology variables, engineering principles, best practice techniques and design skill and experience to create a solution tailored to empower the end user while achieving the business goals of the client.

So, each project will incorporate some form of discovery on which to build a design, whether that be a complete architecture and taxonomy, or just a simple re-design of screen views and interaction.