Product Design can sound like a vague term. What do we mean by “product”? What exactly are we ”designing”? And what does design really entail? In this article, we'll be discussing these questions. Also, we'd like to focus on why product design matters and how does it work.
What is Product Design?
Let’s start by breaking this term apart. Most of the time, we associate the word product with a material object. Yet, this definition has broadened significantly over time. Now, it also applies to digital products, such as websites and mobile apps.
Moreover, design tends to be related with aesthetics. But there is a lot more to design than just how things look or feel like. Within this term, design is also about solving problems and about how things work.
So, what is it? Product Design is about finding the right opportunity to solve a problem in the market. Once found, the next step is to define and solve that problem. At last, there's the validation of that solution with real users. This definition may sound simple enough, but there are lots of areas needed to cover to create a product. These include UX/UI design, graphic and animation design. But, they also include user research, data analysis and business strategy.
Now that we have a clearer view of what product design is, we’d like to cover what it entails. But, before we get to the product design cycle, let’s focus on why product design matters.
Why does Product Design matter?
In a previous article, we’ve covered the relevance of design for apps. Well, the same concept applies to why product design matters in general. The design of a product includes what users see and how they interact with a product. Thus, product design can make or break your product. This applies both on user acquisition and user retention.
Good product design means that it's made with clear objectives. Also, it means you've gathered data about the target audience and potential competitors. Moreover, it implies you've gone over multiple possibilities to achieve the best result. It also makes the product friendly for users, and broadens your target audience.
Design Thinking for Product Design
Before we get into the product design cycle, let’s get some context. The design process most often revolves around the concept of Design Thinking. This term born in the 1950s and kept growing over the following decades. Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, offers a clear definition. “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation. It draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people. Also it keeps in mind tech possibilities, and requirements for business success.“.
When it comes to Design Thinking, there are three main questions to ask yourself about both a product and its features:
1. What is the problem being solved?
2. Who are the ones that have this problem?
3. What do we want to achieve?
Typically, Design Thinking comprises five main phases:
1. Empathizing: researching the users’ needs.
2. Defining: stating those needs and problems.
3. Ideating: coming up with ideas to fulfill those needs or solve those problems.
4. Prototyping: creating a potential solution.
5. Testing: trying those solutions out.
How does Product Design work?
1. Vision, Goals and Strategy
Before you start designing your product, you’ll need to work on what your vision and goals for it are. This means asking yourself what the problem is and why you are trying to solve it. This is important for those involved to understand what they are working towards. Your vision will illustrate the essence of the product, and also give your team the information and tools needed to successfully create it. You should also consider your Product Design Strategy or journey. This strategy has both your vision and your goals for the product. The question you are answering when it comes to strategy is "how are you solving the problem?". There are two things you should do to carry out this step:
● Value Proposition. Your Value Proposition includes what the product is for, who the product is for, and when and where it will be used. Both the dev team and stakeholders should be a part of it. Defining the Value Proposition allows everyone to agree on what the product will be.
● Success Criteria. You should know what you wish to achieve with the product you are designing, from the get-go. Success criteria can take on many forms depending on the specific project. For example, it can be sales' number, downloads for a mobile app or the number of visitors for a website.
2. Product and User Research
The next step of the product design cycle is research. Research might seem time-consuming, but it actually saves you time in the long run. Proper research means fewer changes later on, which will save you both time and money.
● User Research. Knowing your users is essential for adjusting to their expectations while leading to better User Experiences. Due to this, there are various ways to carry out User Research. You can have interviews, create online surveys or have a contextual inquiry. When it comes to interviews, you should try to conduct them in person. Plan your questions and make sure the interviewer has experience. For online surveys, you will be able to gather intel from a larger number of potential users and at a lower cost. You should try to keep online surveys short and ask open-ended questions. Finally, contextual inquiries are based on observation. Through this method, you ask potential users questions. With this, you observe their behavior as they interact with a particular product.
● Market Research. Besides thinking about your user, you should have your product's market in mind. Chances are, there are similar products in the market. This means you should take a look at what your competitors are (and aren’t) doing. This gives you the chance to gain a competitive advantage over the existing products. For example, you can come up with an extra feature your potential users need or want. Keep in mind that your competitors can be direct or indirect. Direct competitors have identical or very similar value propositions. While indirect competitors don’t have the same proposition, they have the same target.
● Data Analysis. Once you've gathered information from your users and product research, it is time to analyze all the data. You can interpret the data you have collected and make various assumptions based on it. With this data, you can create personas that represent key segments of your audiences. Also, you can build a map to determine what the product team knows about the user. You will use this information to guide your brainstorming and design process.
During this step, team members brainstorm potential ideas. This goes both to fulfill the project goals and the information gathered above. There are various tools that can help you in this step.
● User Stories. A User Story is a description of something specific the user wishes to do with your product. Creating user stories helps you prevent adding more features than necessary. Typically, a user story will have the following structure. As a (description of user) I to (action/feature) so that (outcome/benefit).
● Journey Maps. User Journey Maps help you capture the experience of a user while interacting with a product. It’s usually a representation of a series of steps to achieve a specific goal. User journey maps help the product design team understand the user’s narrative.
● Storyboards. This is a visual way to represent a user’s story. Storyboards are usually based on specific scenarios that describe how the product fits into the daily life of a user. These should have a structured story and a clear outcome.
● Wireframing. A wireframe is a two-dimensional outline of your project. It covers everything from structure and layout to user flow and intended behaviors. These can take the form of sketches or digital illustrations. Creating a wireframe helps you keep the product user-oriented. Also, it allows you to clarify its features.
4. Specification and Planning
You've gone through the brainstorming phase. Besides, you've decided which option fits your goals and the users’ needs. Now, it’s time to establish particular requirements and plan the design stage. You may also go through a Design Sprint before the actual design. Furthermore, you can prototype it to validate the idea or even a handful of different ideas. This is like creating a MVP to validate initial thoughts. With this, you can check if your product can solve the user’s problem.
5. Designing and Prototyping
If you have a clear idea of the product you want to build, it’s now time to create it. With this knowledge, plus its specifications, you can create a brief outline. Once you finished the design, it’s time to make a prototype! There are various design and prototyping tools you can use such as Figma or InVision. Yet, you can also make your prototypes on paper if you prefer. When it comes to prototyping, it usually entails three stages:
● Prototyping. This means creating an experimental model that helps you test your solution. You must do this before building the “final” version. Try to keep your first prototype small, and add or change features as you make progress.
● Reviewing. It’s important to get feedback from both stakeholders and users. This will help you to have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
● Refining. Once you get feedback from the reviewing stage, you can clarify what changes may need to be made. Apply these to your next prototype and start this process over until no more refining is needed. When you reach the ideal prototype, design will be ready for production and given to dev team for coding. You should take care to give clear specifications on how everything should look and work.
6. Testing and Validating
When the product gets developed, there's one final step before launching it to the market. This step is testing and validating. Testing helps your team to make sure the product work as intended. As you carry out the testing, you can check each aspect of your product. As a result, you'll check if they're properly working.
Usually, testing gets done in both internal and external matters. Both the team and potential users should test the product. The main type of testing done at this test is usability testing. This allows users to provide feedback that you can then use to identify any usability issues. Also, it collects qualitative data and determines the satisfaction with the product. There are various types of usability testings.
● Dogfooding: Here, the product is tested in-house.
● Moderated Usability Testing: A real person moderates the test with real users, whether remotely or in person.
● Unmoderated Usability Testing: Here, the user receives no guidance.
● Guerrilla Testing: In this case, users are randomly selected in public places.
Many people don’t think what has to be done before a product reaches their hands. Let alone, all that comes before (or after) it is actually developed. But it implies a lot of work! We hope we've given you a clear idea of what product design is. Further, we hope you can use this guide with future product design cycles.