This is a brief overview of how I enjoy working. I've found this method, for most applications, produces creative and effective solutions that push the objectives further than original estimates and expectations.
ALWAYS Analog First
There's no better way to maximize the number of ideas and concepts you can work out than in a sketchbook. My book is filled with designs, questions, notes, diagrams, clippings…everything! I do a brain dump and work through possible solutions before ever drafting or adding to a Business Requirement Document (BRD). Once multiple paths have been exhausted and played out, then it’s to commit more purposeful and meaningful ideas to hard copy.
It's always important to keep the perspective of the user at the front of your mind. Based on the objectives drafted in the BRD, what do you want a user to achieve? Where are they going…why are they going there? What are potential stumbling blocks or areas of frustration? Many of these questions can be teased out with good workflow design.
Rough Wire Framing
After I’ve figured out what needs to be accomplished and how the user is getting there, the sometimes overlooked but vital question of “what am I doing to help them” needs to be answered. Creating a visual information and importance hierarchy is sometimes best achieved by avoiding a design bias. Putting ideas through a wire framing application brings workflow design to life and lets you walk through ideas and concepts as a user would. Moving through solutions in a physical space further refines the process and resolves lingering issues and dead ends.
For larger or reoccurring projects, I like to create custom widget libraries that mirror the style guide of the application. This helps with consistency and keeping the holistic design of an application intact. It also helps the developers to know that when they build the page, they're not making one-off solutions and can thus utilize existing parts of frameworks or directives.
High Fidelity Mockups
Once ideas, workflows, and design hierarchies are vetted, high fidelity mockups show what the finished product will look and feel like. This state is great for honest user and stakeholder testing. Leveraging my custom templates allows me to quickly convey the final look and feel of a solution without spending development efforts. The end result is a living, breathing husk of the final product that leaves no room for error or misconceptions.