Design

Letting You In on the Benefits of Product Design

What is product design? This might cover software, a physical product, or even a process you’re trying to rollout at your company. Product design is a process of creating useful products, experiences, or processes, by focusing on the problems of real people.

Product design incorporates design thinking, innovation exercises, and strategy to determine the best approach to meet users’ needs. Chances are, if there’s a product you love, it went through a formal product design process. Product design focuses on user needs and not providing just a bare minimum “tolerable” experience.

Haven’t I Heard This Before?

Now, some of this probably sounds pretty familiar to you. Design thinking, innovation thinking, and user focused design have basically become synonymous with product design. In other words, it’s all about creating the best thing for the user that you can.

To that point, good product design isn’t just UX. It doesn’t exist only in the UI phase. It’s certainly not restricted to prototyping or development. Ideally, all parts of the process are working toward the same goal of creating the best thing they can and validating along the way.

We’ve designed a lot of software, so we’ll use that as an example of what type of work you should expect from your product design team.

Market Validation

Does what you’re building have a valid place in the market? Market size and fit, consumer need, demographic research and buying patterns all need to be established at the start. You have to look at the competition as well, for gaps and opportunities you might be able to benefit from.

Business Strategy

Assuming you’ve made it through the market validation, create a business case that what you’re looking to build has a home in its market. To get started, answer the following questions: Why are we building this? Does it fit our business model? How will this be profitable? Are we different from the competition?

Rarely asked, but highly important: Is the present the right time to do this?

User Surveys & Research

Now that you’ve answered those questions to satisfaction, move on to user surveys and research. You’ll benefit by gaining insight into your target demographic. Their feedback will drive the design to meet their needs. You might even find a real differentiator that will set you apart from current offerings on the market.

Innovation Workshops & Design Sprints

You’ve made it this far! You feel validated and you have the research to back it up. Innovation workshops are key to ensuring that the vision for the product aligns across all teams and stakeholders. These workshops use a number of activities to guarantee that even the non-creative types on your team are valued for their creativity. Design sprints take the ideas for the product and quickly generate prototypes. This allows immediate testing and feedback.

UX: Prototyping & Wireframing

Now that you’ve tested key elements from the workshops and sprints, it’s time for a dedicated UX phase. This is where you’ll formalize user stories, logic maps, and user journeys. UX creates deliverables, like working wireframes, that illustrate the vision of the product as it forges ahead. As mentioned earlier, this is another great opportunity to validate with your target audience. The prototype can be tested and revisions can be made in this step without the degree of disruption that might happen later in the process.

UI: Branding, Design Systems, & Feel

At this stage, you want to start applying brand elements to the entirety of the product. From fonts to colors, user interface establishes the first impression of the product once its in users’ hands. UI should create a design system, so that as the product continues to live and iterate, new elements can be created that seamlessly match the desired look.

Motion Design & Animation

For us, motion design is part of our UI process, but we’ll address it here as an individual element. We’re singling it out because it’s frequently overlooked in software development. Often, no one will plan for motion or animation, and you’re lucky if you have someone on your team who considers those things later in the process. Take the time to plan out and storyboard the instances where motion or animation brings your product, especially software, to life.

Development

Simply put, development is the production of the product. Within software, design and development go hand in hand. An attractive program that crashes is no better than an unattractive program that’s stable. Neither product is something the user wants to use.

Don’t Forget Testing

And did we mention testing? I think we did! You have an opportunity to test ideas along every step listed above. That doesn’t always have to mean assembling a focus group. Sometimes it’s as simple as polling the office with “which one do you like more?” There are all kinds of ways to solicit and use feedback along the way.

Execution Matters

When all is said and done, execution is what matters. When it comes to satisfying users, the way a product is built matters more than the idea itself. That’s the foundation of product design. In the app boom, there were a ton of apps that all did the same thing. Now, we’ve seen the “me too!” contenders fade away, while those offering great user experiences stood the test of time. The products with the best, most usable designs won out.

Q Manning, GM of Rocksauce Studios, answers your questions about product design.

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