5 Modes of UX Design

By Lori Mackson on 10 08 2016

At Mutually Human, our UX design process includes time spent in the following modes:

  • Discover
  • Draft
  • Build
  • Test
  • Analyze

Two reasons I called them “modes” instead of “steps” or “stages”

  1. UX design isn’t a linear process. We don’t follow rigid steps. We use our tools in a continual iterative process. Therefore, you could be operating in multiple modes simultaneously on different features.
  2. Each mode has multiple tools and different ways to work within that mode. I like to think about UX as a toolbox. For each project, we pull out a unique combination of tools based on the needs and goals of the phase of the project.


The first mode in the UX process is gathering and evaluating information. In
discovery, you should have more questions than answers. Keeping an open
mind is crucial. The more you think you know going into a project, the less you
are going to learn.

Some of the tools we use in the discover mode include:

  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Qualitative user interviews
  • User observations
  • Online surveys


Next, we take what we have learned and begin to put the information in useful
tools that help us make decisions. As an architect would begin building a house
with a blueprint, we build software by drafting the relationship of information
and interactions. Who will use this and what do we know about them? When and
how will they interact with this tool? What screens will be included? How will
it be structured? We are compiling information that tells us who will live in
the house, what rooms are included, and how they will typically walk through
their home.

Some of the tools we use in the draft mode include:

  • Personas
  • Design principles
  • User flows
  • Screen maps


Now that we know the basic structure, we can begin to add elements to each
room. As a bathroom needs a sink and a toilet, a screen in your application
may need content, images, buttons, forms, etc. Referencing the tools created in
the draft stage, we begin to bring our software to life. Interaction design
requires divergent thinking, good design sense, attention to detail, and the
ability to make things easy to use.

Some of the tools we use in the build mode include:

  • Design studio
  • Wireframes (interaction design patterns)
  • Prototypes


We’ve done our homework and built something that we hope meets the needs of our
users. But guess what? The only way we will build something our users will love
is by putting our ideas in front of those users to find out what is working
and what is not. This is why it is important to never marry yourself to a
particular design. As with discovery, if you come in “knowing your
design is awesome” you aren’t going to learn how to actually make your design

Some of the tools we use in the test mode include:

  • Usability testing
  • User feedback sessions
  • User diaries
  • Heuristic evaluations


If you’ve done your testing well, you’ve learn some important things. Now it is
time to analyze your results, prioritize your learnings, and revise your design
as needed.

Some of the tools we use in the analyze mode include:

  • Testing reports
  • User design workshops

What Modes Do You Need?

Most successful UX Design will require some time spent in each mode. Based on
the milestones and budget of a project, a UX designer will work with the key
stakeholders to form a plan that utilizes a mix of tools that best meet the
objectives of the project.