Great products are not made easily, there is a whole process behind them comprising of several steps. In this age, design is the most crucial feature of any product that provides a competitive edge over competitors and sets businesses apart.
No matter if you are a product manager, designer, marketing manager, project manager, or a program manager; you should understand the process of product development in order to create your best work till date.
To help you out, in this article, we shall understand the main principles and main approaches to design great products. We shall start with the basics and move to the advanced phases of product design including research, ideation, testing, and validation. Without further ado, let’s get straight to work.
Product design is developing a proper solution to a market opportunity generating from a problem and validating that solution with real users. In other words, product design addresses a problem that may arise due to some situations or market circumstances.
Design Thinking – Base of Product Design
The foundation for the design process is design thinking that is the method for practical resolution of problems. This idea was originally presented by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO. Today, design thinking has become a global approach to creating products. Through this approach, different methods and ideas of human-centered design are merged into a unified concept and that concept addresses the issues faced by real people.
Good product designers always apply this theory into the product design because it is solely focused on product development and not just the design part. It is a human-centered approach to innovation that comes from a designer’s toolkit to integrate the demands and needs of people, use of technology, and elements of business success into the same platform or product.
Business Objectives Come First
While moving forward in product design, designers should always understand the business objectives and create a consensus with them. To make this process simple; the best way is to make sure that they are able to answer these three questions:
- What is the problem that we are solving?
- Who are facing this problem?
- What do we want to achieve with the product?
If you are able to answer these questions, you are more than prepared to understand the user experience this product as a whole will provide. Again, being designers, you shouldn’t be just concerned with the look and feel of the product.
Phases of Finding Solution to a Problem
Finding solution to the market problem includes these five basic phases:
Conduct research to learn about the people for whom the product is being designed. You should learn as much as possible about the people or your intended users.
Create a point of view that is solely based on insights and user needs.
This is a fun process in which you have to brainstorm for as much creative solutions as possible. One problem has many solutions and this is what you have to figure out. GIve your team creative freedom to generate a range of potential solutions.
Generate a series of prototypes to test your hypothesis comprehensively. Prototyping allows the designers to know if they are doing it right. Also, it gives you other ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise in the previous procedure. You can incorporate those ideas in the existing prototype or generate a new one to test them out individually.
This is the phase where you turn up to your users to acquire feedback. Their feedback is extremely important because they are the ones who would be using the product once it is out.
Product Design Process
Since we now know what design thinking is all about, now let’s dive into the product design process. The design process comprises of a number of steps that product team has to follow during the entire product design process i.e. from scratch to finish. Having a structured process can help you stay focused and makes the process of performance tracking simple.
The steps of product design vary for each business and the problem being answered. However, we will discuss a general flow for designing a new product. This general flow includes the below listed steps:
- Product vision
- User analysis
Let’s discuss these steps in some detail.
This is one of the most important phases of product design that is actually completed even before the design process starts. The reason is that you have to understand the context of a product before you build it. This is the time when the product team should dig hard to define the product vision and product strategy.
A product where goals are clearly communicated to the entire team members has more chances to thrive in the market than those with unclear and vague goals. Having a vision for the product does almost half the job leaving the product team with a clear path to follow. The product vision sets the direction and guides the product development team. Vision is all about the essence of the product and it contains critical information that every member of the product team must know. Only then the members can contribute to a successful product.
However, product vision is incomplete without product strategy. The product strategy will define your product’s journey and the vision sets the destination. Having a clearly defined product strategy can help you adjust your direction of your product efforts in the correct way. In other words, product vision is why are you doing this and product strategy is how are you doing this.
Value Proposition – Key Aspect of Product Vision
When it comes to product vision, value proposition is an important factor that needs to be discussed. Value Proposition maps out the vital and main aspects of the product. These key aspects include: what it is, who it’s for, when it will be used, and where it will be used. These pointers create a sense of consensus among the team and stakeholders to know what exactly the product will be.
Talking about product vision and strategy, a technique known as backward working or working backwards is used that adds clarity to the vision of the product. In this technique, the team starts with the target users and working backwards to get to the minimum set of requirements needed to achieve what is intended. This technique is important during the development of new products or features. For new products or features, a press release is written for a future purpose announcing the finished product. In this press release, you should simply define what the product is and why it exists. It should also be explained why the product matters to the public and how it can help them with a specific problem.
Tips to Follow:
- The focus of the press release should be the users.
- Press release should be read to the potential users and their feedback should be collected.
- Read the press release again and trim the fat.
- Make sure everyone in the team is on the same page.
- This press release should be used as a reference during the product development phase.
Once you have clearly defined the product vision and strategy, it is now time for product research. Product research, which usually includes user and market research, serves as the foundation for the product design. It is crucial to conduct insightful research to increase your chances of success. The time you spend during research is actually your investment that will pay you well in the future.
Conduct User Research
A perfect product is developed after knowing exactly what the users want and how this certain product will help them. Think of it this way, how would you create a product if you don’t know what the users want.
Conducting good research is the key to designing a great user experience. When you conduct research, you come to know what the users need. There are quite a few techniques of conducting research available to you. Let’s discuss a few of them.
Having a direct dialogue with the users is a good way to gather information. What makes this technique a favorable one is the fact that it gives rich information about the users. Having this information can help the product team assess the needs and emotions of the users before a product is designed. The duration of the interview may vary depending on the complexity of the product.
- Always conduct interviews in person.
- Prepare your questions prior to conducting the interview.
- Let an experienced interviewer conduct the interview.
Surveys, both online and in person, enable the researcher to gather a large volume of responses that may open new doors of comprehensive analysis. If you go for online surveys, you should know that this technique is used for quantitative research but today, researchers also use it for qualitative research analysis. Online surveys are comparatively cheaper but the drawback of this technique is that there is no direct interaction with the users. Thus, assessment of important information coming from body language and tone is compromised.
- Keep the surveys short.
- Maintain a proper balance in open-ended and closed-ended questions.
Besides these two methods; contextual inquiry, market research, and competitor research (direct competitors and indirect competitors) can also be used depending on how concrete data is required.
Once a significant amount of data has been collected, the product team must make sure to organize the data in a way that it makes sense. In this phase, the major aim is to derive insights from the data collected in the research phase. By having a clear understanding of what users need can help UX designers get to know their point of initiation.
Modeling the Users
Once the results of research are known, UX designers can identify key users of the product and create representative personas. These personas are fictional characters created with the sole purpose of giving each user type a representation. These personas are supposed to be the users of the product and this is why they are used as a reference throughout the design phase. Once personas are created, they help designers know the demands and needs of each type of audience and move forward to the ideation phase.
- Always create personas based on real data.
- Don’t use real names, details of research participants, or people you know to avoid biasness.
This is a phase where the team members sit down to brainstorm on a range of creative ideas. These creative ideas address the project goals. The purpose of this phase is not just to generate ideas but also confirm if the most important design assumptions are valid.
There are a lot of different techniques of ideation. Sketching, storyboarding, and others are very commonly used techniques.
In order to generate ideas, one thing you should always have in mind is that how the users will interact with the product.
User Journey Mapping
A user journey map is the visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to achieve the goal. Usually this user journey map is presented in a series of steps in which the user interacts with the product.
Just like any other journey, this user journey can have a wide range of forms depending on the context and business objectives. In the simplest form, user journey map is presented in the form of a table having different phases that a user goes through.
Tip: Try to keep the user journeys simple.
Storyboards and Scenarios
Storyboards are also a good way for ideating the best possible scenarios of user interaction with the product. A scenario is a way to describe a day in the life of a persona including how the product can be of great help to them. Similarly, a storyboard is just like a comic book that explains how the product will benefit the users giving the designers a clear sense of what’s important to the users to follow.
- Build the storyboard on strong narratives.
- Design a clear outcome.
These are visual guides that represent a page’s structure and its hierarchy as well. By having wireframes, you can discuss the ideas with the team members easily because it is the only way to explain to them what you have in mind. Wireframing acts as the backbone of the product and these are usually presented in the form of sketches or digital illustrations.
- Keep the wireframes simple.
- Avoid using wireframes for product testing.
Once the ideas are generated, you should validate them one by one to understand which ones should be followed.
After ideation, since the product team has a bunch of ideas, they know what they want to build. During the design phase (and the most important phase), the product team starts to create the solution to the client’s problem and implement those concepts acquired in the previous phases.
Prototypes are an essential component of the design process because they help in delivering a good user experience. It is actually an experimental model of the idea that enables you to test it before building the final product. In other words, it is the non-functional model of the product or solution you are about to build. It just has some minor functionalities that can be tested and it grows in breadth and depth over time. The final version of the prototype is then developed for the users. Not only can you develop a prototype but actually review, refine, and iterate it as well. Although paper prototyping is also done at some places; today, digital prototyping is largely preferred that makes you test its look and feel as well.
Once the prototype has been developed and it has been approved, it is then handed over to the development team for coding. In this phase, the close collaboration of the designer with the development team is extremely important because they can help them understand how each component of the product looks and works like. This requires multiple layers of information and detail that should be conveyed eloquently.
Testing and Validation
This phase helps the product team to ensure the design is working as it was intended. Product testing is not as simple as it sounds like. It is an art that should be performed by expert people only. Getting it right can give you access to incredible and unexpected insights that may make you change your product strategy.
Usually, the validation phase starts when a full fledged design is rolled out. Just like the research phase, this phase may vary between projects.
Testing the product with the design team is one of the best ways to identify the usability of the product. The reason why it should be tested with the design team is that they provided the initial designs and information in terms of wireframes or other sketches and they know it better about all the needs of users.
Testing with Users
Once in-house testing has been completed, the product should be tested with real users as well. To make sure it is qualitative testing, only a specific group or type of users should be picked for this project. The main idea behind this real-user test is to check whether the design of a product works well with the audience you have identified for your product. This process is relatively easy because once an interactive version of a product idea is in the hands of real users, a product team will be able to see how the target audience uses the product.
And that’s it! Your product is ready to roll in the market. But wait! Just because the product is officially launched does not mean the product design is complete. It is an ongoing process that continues for as long as the usability of the product continues. Always try to improve the product on a regular basis to keep it relevant and up to date with the latest trends. Only then, it can be a great product that users will keep dear.
In product design, the most important thing to keep in mind is to design the product for the users. A great product is not the one that has great features but that delivers the right user experience to the users. Yes, features matter but if user experience is being compromised, they are of no use. Thus, define your target audience and research their problems and build a product that solves those problems completely.
We hope you find this article on product design helpful and informative. For more information or to get a quote for your product, feel free to email us at [email protected] or Contact Us by filling out the form here.