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How to run a design iteration process: Detailed guide
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How to run a design iteration process: Detailed guide

Learn all about iterative design—what it is, the benefits and challenges, and how to do it to create better products your users will love.

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If you can’t imagine life without apps or a GPS and music system in your pocket, you need to thank Apple for creating the iPhone. By understanding what people really wanted (hint, it wasn’t a phone) and successively iterating on groundbreaking designs, Apple gave us touch-based interfaces, innovative features, and a superior user experience that other manufacturers just had to emulate. 

Iterative design like this has a lot of advantages, but there are also a lot of moving parts. That means you need to be super organized to collaborate and stay on top of everything through every step of the process. To do this, you’ll need to understand the stages of iterative design and use the right tools to keep everything–and everyone–on track. 

In this post, we’ll look at what’s involved in the design iteration process, its benefits and challenges, and how to use it to create better products your users will love. 

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What is the iterative design process? 

The iterative design process is an approach to design and product development that’s used in fields like engineering, software development, UI design, and more. 

Traditional or “waterfall” design involves producing a finished, final product before launching it on the market. By contrast, iterative design involves continuously designing, testing, and refining a minimum viable product (MVP) based on user or stakeholder feedback. This lets you progressively improve quality and functionality by applying insights from each testing round to the next iteration of the product until it’s finally ready.  

Iterative design is characterized by: 

  • Cyclical process: Iterative design involves repeated cycles of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining. 
  • Continuous improvement based on feedback: Stakeholder input and user feedback from testing is essential to improve the product and bring it more in line with user needs and project goals. 
  • Trial-and-error: Rather than trying to get it right the first time, iterative design allows you to make mistakes and correct them in the next iteration. 
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Changes can and should be made at any stage of production, so you can’t get too precious about your design. 

What is an example of the design iteration process? 

Here are a few examples of iterative design, so you can get a better idea of how it works in practice: 

  • Software development or product development: Iterative design is an integral part of Agile project management methodologies, with digital products continuously improved in successive sprints. For example, a product development team will choose items from its backlog when choosing the next feature, bug fix, or improvement to work on.

  • User interfaces: Websites are a good example of this, with companies often launching a beta version of their site before gathering feedback from user behavior analytics. This lets them spot where people get blocked or drop off, so they can improve user flows and site architecture.

  • Wikis: Open-source knowledge sharing platforms like Wikipedia rely on people continuously adding to and improving the information on the site to keep it useful and up to date. 

What are the benefits and challenges of design iteration? 

Here’s why iterative, rather than linear, design is often the preferred approach for product development. 


  • Better, more user-centric products: Iterative design involves end users early on in the development process and at multiple points before final product launch. Continuous user testing and improvements based on feedback ensure the final product is genuinely what they need and want. 

  • Lower risk: Iterative design lets you detect and fix issues early, before you’ve invested a lot of time, money, and effort in producing a finished product. By contrast, linear design is high-risk since, while you can gather input on user needs, you can’t be sure whether they’ll like it until it hits the market.

  • Increased efficiency: It sounds counter-intuitive, but iterative design can lead to faster time-to-market as it allows for trial and error. This can help you find shortcuts to achieving your goals faster than linear processes.

  • More cost effective: It’s by no means guaranteed, but short, iterative development lifecycles can help keep product development costs. This is because you have to test and adjust before you go too far down the road with any one design. So if it’s not right, you haven’t invested as much in it.  

  • Greater adaptability and agility: When you design in stages rather than all at once, you’re better placed to pivot in response to changing user or market demands. For example, if your competitor brings out a feature their users love, you can quickly adjust your design to offer similar functionality.

  • Fosters cross-functional teamwork: Iterative development processes oblige you to work and design collaboratively with other teams as you gather and act on user feedback, develop prototypes, and test them.   

Challenges of the iterative design process  

  • Gathering and analyzing stakeholder and user feedback: This is likely to come from multiple sources, like conversations with clients, user research and behavior analytics, or feedback forms. That means it can be confusing and challenging to analyze and extract actionable insights in an easy-to-understand, uniform way. 
  • Harder to manage resources: When you don’t know how long the project will last, it’s harder to plan timelines and allocate resources at each stage. For example, if each iteration requires a new prototype, that’s hard to predict and budget for. 
  • Risk of scope creep: When your design and requirements aren’t set in stone, it’s easier for more features, client demands, etc. to get added to the project after each round of stakeholder feedback. If you’re not careful, this can take you over time and budget, as well as away from your initial project goals.  
  • Hard to plan for launch: With no clear project end date, it’s hard to predict when you’ll be able to launch the product. This also means your competitors could overtake you before your product is ready. 

What are the steps in design iteration?

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in an iterative design process. 

1. Research and problem definition  

The first step in the iterative design process is to research and define the problem you want to solve. The aim is to gain a deep understanding of stakeholder requirements, user needs, market gaps, and what the competition is doing.

Research might involve user surveys, gathering data on user behavior, and having ongoing conversations with clients and stakeholders. You also need to look into any regulatory requirements and technical constraints. Once you’ve done all this, you can start thinking about a solution to the problem. 

Imagine that user feedback reveals your customers are struggling to locate specific products on your ecommerce platform. This is because they lack sufficient filtering options. Not only that, but they’re dropping off before checkout, which is hurting conversion rates. This tells you clearly what the problem is and how you can solve it: by improving the filters and UX on the checkout page. 

Pro tip: Set up a project room in Switchboard to meet with stakeholders like clients or their customers and gather information about their requirements. Then, create a Google Doc, spreadsheet, or similar in the room where you can make notes. This will stay right where you left it when the session’s over, so you can always refer back.
Switchboard room with people and apps.
In Switchboard, you can open all the apps and files you need and explore them side by side—without sharing screens. Source: Switchboard

 2. Planning and requirements 

With your problem and solution defined, you can move on to create a project plan and gather requirements. These are things that have to happen for your project to succeed, so you’re not just iterating endlessly without hitting your goals. 

For example, in the case of the ecommerce platform, you’d outline the technical and user experience requirements for advanced search filters as well as a more streamlined checkout process. Both measures aim to eliminate user frustrations and move them through the stages of searching and buying with less friction.   

At this stage, you’ll also set overall project goals, establish clear roles for each team member, and create timelines and digital workflows so work moves forward on schedule. You should also establish KPIs and milestones so everyone knows what they’re working toward at each project stage.  

3. Design  

Once you know how you want to solve the problem, you can start designing the solution. At this stage, team members will likely brainstorm possible designs, keeping the project goals, business needs, and technical requirements in mind.

For our ecommerce platform, the team gets together to design a new navigation structure with more intuitive filtering options and fewer steps to checkout. Then, they create an initial mockup or wireframe to visualize the updated layout.

Having chosen the most promising proposals, they'll run design critique sessions to refine the design. These might involve members of the internal team as well as the client. 

Pro tip: Set up a dedicated Switchboard room for designers and visual collaboration to brainstorm using the built-in whiteboard or your favorite third-party whiteboard. You can also pull up all the other tools and materials you need with a simple copy-paste, as well as lean on Switchboard AI for inspiration if you get stuck.
Switchboard brainstorming room with sticky notes and people.
Switchboard’s in-room sticky notes and room recording mean you’ll never lose sight of the next big idea. Source: Switchboard

4. Prototyping and implementation 

Once you have the green light on your design, the team can create a physical or digital prototype for user testing and validation in a real-world or testing environment.  

For example, the ecommerce team has developed a functional prototype using computer aided design that shows how the new search filters and optimized checkout flow will work.

5. Testing and feedback   

This stage is crucial for gathering feedback and data to inform subsequent iterations and improvements to the design. 

At this stage, you’ll make your prototype available to a limited number of beta users so they can try it out and report back on what they did and didn’t like. In the case of digital products like websites, you might also A/B test the new version against your current page to see how it performs. 

During this stage, the team closely monitors use and gathers data so they can pinpoint where the prototype is falling short in terms of usability issues, design flaws, etc. For example, with the ecommerce app, users find it easier to find what they’re looking for but still drop off in high numbers before checkout because the UX on the payments page is suboptimal.  

As well as users, you want to hear from stakeholders like your client so you can further refine the design based on their input. These feedback loops help ensure your design aligns with user needs, business goals, and project objectives.

Pro tip: Create a Switchboard room to save feedback and project materials. Having everything in one place reduces unproductive context switching between tools and tabs to find and share what you need.
Switchboard rooms menu.
Switchboard keeps everything and everyone organized in one central space. Source: Switchboard

6. Review and evaluation 

Once the data is in, you can review and evaluate it to uncover insights—and what they mean for the next iteration. For example, in the case of our ecommerce platform, the team is satisfied with how the new filters are performing, but the checkout page still needs work. This tells them they need to focus their efforts on improving the flow and on-page instructions in the next iteration. 

This stage can last many months, especially if your product is complex. So it’s a good idea to regularly review project goals–which should stay the same through each iterative stage–so you don’t go off course. 

Pro tip: Get the team together in your Switchboard room to go over feedback together, with everything at your fingertips. No need to prep the room or share materials after the call—it all stays right where you left it.
Switchboard room with apps and people.
Switchboard saves your work, so it’s always waiting for you next time. Source: Switchboard

7. Refinement

Once you’ve analyzed feedback and data, you can refine and adjust your design based on these insights. If you’re lucky, you’ll only need to tweak your prototype. If not, you may need to scrap it and go back to the drawing board before repeating the testing phase. Either way, this cycle is repeated as often as necessary until you have a product your users love that meets your project and business goals. 

Iterative design: Build better, build faster 

Whether it’s disrupting the communications industry or improving your website, iterative design lets you build faster with lower risk—and create better products. This is because you can continuously improve based on stakeholder and user feedback and design solutions that more closely match their needs. 

To design iteratively, first you need to define the problem and your project requirements before moving to brainstorming initial solutions and designs. Then, once you’ve got client approval for your design, you can create a prototype before testing it with beta users and getting stakeholder input. Based on their feedback, you can adjust the prototype before repeating the testing cycle until you have a product that’s ready for final launch. 

To stay organized through all the stages of iterative design, you can use Switchboard rooms to keep everything organized in one place. Whether it’s brainstorming designs, analyzing user feedback, or talking to stakeholders, you can do it all in Switchboard.

Build faster with fewer meetings.

Switchboard lets you create dedicated rooms to share feedback and designs during meetings or on your own schedule. 

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Frequently asked questions about the design iteration process 

What is the iterative design process in Agile? 

In Agile, the iterative design process involves planning, design, development, testing, review, and incremental delivery. Teams collaborate to select user stories from their backlog, create designs, and develop features in sprints rather than tackling everything at once. This iterative approach ensures continuous improvement and customer-centric product development with short development cycles.

What is the iterative design process in UX? 

In UX design, the iterative design process involves researching the user experience to understand user needs. Then, you can create a prototype, test it with users, analyze feedback, and iterate on designs until you’ve enhanced the user experience sufficiently to remove friction and keep people on your page. 

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