is a product? Until recently, the term was used only in relation to something
material and often found in a retail store. Nowadays, it is coming to mean
digital products as well. Apps and websites are modern products.
it comes to building great products, design is the most important “feature.”
We’ve moved into the stage where design dominates — it’s what sets companies
apart and gives a real edge over competitors.
you’re a designer, developer, product manager, program manager, marketing
manager, or project manager, it’s essential to understand (and have a reference
guide to) the product development process in order to create your best work.
this three-part series, I’ll focus on the main principles and approaches that
will help you design great products through modern
products. In part one, I’ll start with global things (like what product
design is all about), and in parts two and three, I’ll discuss the individual
phases of digital product design (such as
research, ideation, testing, and validation).
What is product design?
design is the process of identifying a market opportunity, clearly defining the
problem, developing a proper solution for that problem, and validating the
solution with real users.
Design thinking as the foundation for digital product design
thinking” is a method for the practical resolution of problems. Originally
coined by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO, design thinking has become a
popular approach to creating products. This approach encapsulates methods and
ideas of human-centered design into a single unified concept. According to Tim
thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the
designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of
technology, and the requirements for business success.”
designers have always applied design thinking to product design (whether
physical or digital) because it’s focused on end-to-end product development,
and not just the design phase.
thinking about products or features, designers should understand the business
objectives and be able to answer the following questions first:
- What problem are we solving?
- Who has this problem?
- What do we want to achieve?
these questions helps designers understand the user experience of a product as
a whole, not purely the interaction (feel) or visual (look) part of product
design. Only after answering these questions does it make sense to move on to
finding a solution for the problem.
Finding a solution to a problem includes the following five phases:
- Empathize. Learn about the people for whom you are designing. Conduct research to develop a deeper understanding of your target audience.
- Define. Create a point of view that is based on user needs and insights and write a hypothesis based on the data you have about your users
- Ideate. Brainstorm and come up with as many creative solutions as possible. Generate a range of potential solutions by giving yourself and your team total freedom.
- Prototype. Build a prototype (or series of prototypes) to test your hypothesis. Creating a prototype lets designers see if they’re on the right track, and it often sparks different ideas that you wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.
- Test. Return to your users for feedback. Validate your solution and improve it based on the feedback from your users.
with an understanding of what design thinking is, it’s time to define the
design process. The design process is a series of steps that product teams follow
during the formulation of a product from start to finish. Having a solid,
well-structured process is essential for two reasons: it helps you to stay
focused, and it helps you to stay on schedule.
it’s impossible to provide a universal, product design process that fits all
projects, it’s still possible to describe a general flow for designing new
products. This flow includes the following steps:
- Defining the product vision
- Product research
- User analysis
- Testing and validation
- Post-launch activities
Define product vision and strategy
of the most important phases of product design is actually done before the
design process even starts. Before you start building a product, you need to
understand its context for existence. It’s the time when the product team must
define the product vision and product strategy.
you ever worked on a project whose overall goal was not clear, in which the
people involved in the product design and development only vaguely understood
the product’s purpose? Quite often this happens because there is no vision for
the product. Unfortunately, this scenario happens all too often. In most cases,
this has negative consequences. As the old Japanese proverb goes, “Vision
without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
design project needs a vision that sets the direction and guides the product
development team. Vision captures the essence of the product — the critical
information that the product team must know in order to develop and launch a
successful product. Vision helps build a common understanding of what we are
trying to build here and why. Vision also helps you define what you are not
building. Being clear about the boundaries of your solution will help you stay focused
when crafting your product.
But vision is only half of the picture. The other half is
strategy. Product strategy defines a product’s journey. Your vision helps you
define a destination (the target condition) — the ultimate user experience
toward which you’re aiming. You can plan your route toward the target
destination by focusing on exactly what you need to build. By setting the goal
(the challenge), you can adjust the direction of your product design.
time and money on vision creation is a worthwhile investment because this phase
sets the stage for the success of a product.
Define value proposition
proposition maps out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it’s for,
and when and where it will be used. During the design process, value
proposition helps the team and stakeholders build consensus around what the
product will be.
simple technique called “working backwards” adds clarity and definition to the
vision of a product. As the name suggests, the product team starts with target
users and works its way back until it gets to the minimum set of requirements
to satisfy what it is trying to achieve. While working backwards can be applied
to any specific design decision, this approach is especially important when
developing new products or features.
a new product, a product team typically starts by writing a future press
release announcing the finished product. Such a press release describes in a
simple way what the product does and why it exists. As with any other press
release, the goal is to explain to the public what the product or new feature
is and why it matters to them. The press release should enable each team member
to envision the future product.
- Put the user at the center. The press release should center on the customer’s problem. When writing a press release, focus on the value that the product brings to customers.
- Read the press release to potential users and ask for their feedback. If the benefits listed in the press release don’t sound very interesting or exciting to the target audience, then perhaps they shouldn’t be included in the product design. Instead, the team should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with a proper set of benefits.
- Trim the fat. A press release isn’t a product specification. If the press release is more than a page, it is probably too long.
- Make sure everyone on the team shares the same vision. You need to not only define a clear product vision but also ensure that all team members share it.
- Use the press release as a reference during product development. Once the project moves into development, the press release can be used as a reference. The press release can function as a north star to guide your team in times of uncertainty.
Define success criteria
essential to have a clear business goal that you want to achieve with the product.
If you don’t know at the beginning of the project what the business goal is and
how success will be measured, then you’re headed for trouble. Defining explicit
success criteria — such as expected number of sales per month, key performance
indicators (KPIs), etc. — during this phase establishes targets for evaluating
progress. This also helps to establish a more results-driven process.
Tip: It’s worth interviewing
stakeholders to understand their expectations,
define business goals and objectives for the project.
Schedule a project kickoff meeting
kickoff meeting brings all the key players together to set proper expectations
for both the team and stakeholders. It covers a high-level outline of the
product’s purpose, who is involved in the product’s design and development, how
they will work together, and what the stakeholders’ expectations are (such as
the KPIs and how the success of the product should be measured).
Continue reading part two of A Comprehensive Guide to Product Design: Research, User Analysis, and Ideation.