It would be much simpler to design a product that addresses actual market and customer demands if you could see into the future. Before you even begin creating a product, you need to determine whether there is a market for it and how prospective buyers would respond.
However, in the absence of a crystal ball, it can be challenging to remain aware of changing stakeholder and consumer needs while developing a commercially viable product that aids users in achieving their objectives.
This is your product design 101: discover the characteristics of excellent product design, the advantages of a robust design process, and some typical problems (and their fixes). We also demonstrate how resolving these issues enables you to produce exceptional products by improving your ability to anticipate customer wants.
What is Product Design?
Product designers are essential to the design and development of tangible goods and experiences in addition to apps, websites, and other digital products.
A significant amount of the product development process is devoted to the involvement of product designers in all phases and facets. Product designers are involved in ideation, research, conceptual exploration, and pixel-tweaking, among other tasks. They take center stage frequently.
The process of developing new products or modifying current ones to address market needs is known as “product design.” A business’s objectives and user needs are bridged by effective product design.
While product design can, of course, include physical products, in this article, we’re going to focus on digital product design (although, for simplicity, we refer to it as product design). Product design is a multi-layered craft encompassing design, user experience, collaboration, and more. Many of a product designer’s day-to-day tasks will fit into one or more of these categories.
Product design’s foundations start with design thinking, which is a user-centric way to integrate the needs of real users into technological and business requirements. To understand product design, you need to have a good grasp of design thinking.
The role of a product designer is one that people often confuse with other types of designers—especially UX designers, interaction designers, and visual designers. There’s often a huge amount of overlap between responsibilities in design positions, and designers often have to be competent in many different aspects of design.
Many companies—including the likes of Meta, Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft—have eliminated the job title “UX designer” from their organizational structures and replaced it with “product designer”.
But this fact doesn’t necessarily signal a huge shift—or any shift at all—in the day-to-day functioning of designers with those roles.
So, what does a product designer actually do in the process of creating products? Here’s a summary of what the role looks like at a major tech company.
A product designer:
- Turns broad ideas and concepts into usable, valuable, well-crafted, and executed product(s)
- Is involved in all aspects of the product development process to do this
- Brainstorms, creates visual designs, flows, and experiences
- Contributes to strategic decisions about critical company goals
- Collaborates with product management, engineering, research, and content
- Represents work to product team and wider leadership
At this stage, it’s worth noting that while the role would look similar to this in larger organizations, in smaller ones it could be significantly more wide-ranging.
Product Design and Design Thinking
Product design is fundamentally based on design thinking, and understanding design thinking is necessary to comprehend product design. We’ll now go over the five processes that make up design thinking, all of which are centered around resolving user issues.
Stage one: Empathize. To design with a user focus, product designers first conduct research to learn about who they’re designing for.
The research stage in product design is crucial for meeting user needs and guiding the design process. It’s spent getting to know the user and understanding their wants, needs, and objectives.
Empathizing normally includes some or all of the following inter-linked activities:
- Desk research and preparation: This is where existing data like market studies and competitor analyses are reviewed. It provides you with a broader context for the product and uncovers potential opportunities.
- User research: UX research methods like surveys, questionnaires, usability testing, ethnographic studies, and interviews, can help you gain a deep understanding of the target audience by collecting data on user preferences and behaviors.
- User interviews: Whether in-person or remote, interviews will be key to your user research. You should practice active listening, and open-ended questions and create a comfortable environment for users to share their experiences.
- Analysis and reporting: This is when you analyze your data through categorization, coding, and synthesis to extract insights. You’ll need to be ready to report your findings clearly and actionably, with visual aids like charts and graphs if appropriate.
- Creating personas: These fictional characters represent different user segments based on real data. They’ll help you empathize with users and make design decisions aligned with their needs.
Stage two: Define. Based on users’ needs and insights, you can clearly define the problem.
This is a pivotal phase where the groundwork for the entire project is laid. The findings from the first stage are used to give crucial shape and direction to a product idea.
Read Also: What is Visual Branding?
With strategic thinking, visual representation, a deep understanding of the customer journey, a compelling value proposition, and a clear product definition—stage two is a critical bridge between ideation and execution.
Defining normally includes some or all of the following inter-linked activities:
- Product definition and strategy: This is about asking fundamental questions like what the product will be, its goals, features and functionalities, and how it aligns with broader business objectives. This definition serves as a guiding light for the development process
- Visual thinking: Visual representations—like diagrams, charts, and mind maps—help you to understand, conceptualize, refine, and communicate the product’s definition.
- Customer journey: This involves creating detailed maps to outline the entire user experience, from initial contact to final interaction. It helps in identifying pain points and opportunities for improvement.
- Value Proposition: Defining the product also involves clarifying its unique value proposition. What sets it apart from competitors? What problems does it solve for your users? The answers to these questions help you create a compelling product proposition.
Stage three: Ideate. Develop a robust solution for the problem you defined by beginning with a wide array of potential creative solutions.
Here’s where your creativity takes center stage as ideas, concepts, and innovative solutions are born. You’ll hold ideation sessions—with techniques like brainstorming, mind-mapping, bodystorming, provocation, and more— to develop as many new angles and ideas as possible.
Ideation generally includes some or all of the following inter-linked activities:
- Information architecture: Creating the product’s information architecture includes working on the structure, navigation, naming conventions, and search functionality. All have to be organized in a way that’s intuitive for users.
- User Scenarios: User scenarios—focussed on the personas established in stage one and their needs—will help you to envision how users would interact with the product. This can guide your ideation phase toward user-centric solutions.
- Lo-Fi Sketching: In this stage, you’ll need to put your ideas on paper quickly and informally. These sketches serve as a visual brainstorming tool so the team can rapidly explore concepts.
- Benchmarking: Benchmarking involves studying competitors and industry leaders to gain insights into best practices and innovative features. Doing this can help you identify opportunities to differentiate the product and excel in the market.
- Accessibility: This is about evaluating ideas not only for their creativity but also for their potential to create accessible and inclusive experiences.
- Design studio and design critiques: Collaborative brainstorming sessions—also known as design studios—often take place during ideation. Design critiques are an opportunity to review and refine concepts and get feedback from your peers. As the ideation stage draws to a close, you’ll narrow your ideas down to a few to move forward with. Both design studios and design critics can help with this.
Stage four: Prototype. Using the solutions from the ideation phase a prototype (or multiple prototypes) will be built for testing. Prototypes give you tangible evidence that you’re on track (or not) and can reveal new insights.
This is when abstract ideas and concepts are transformed into tangible, interactive representations of the final product. It’s when the design truly comes to life. Prototypes (scaled-down versions of the final product based on solutions identified in the ideate stage) are a critical bridge between design and development. They allow for user testing and refinement before building the final product.
Prototyping generally includes some or all of the following inter-linked activities:
- UI Design: This is when you take the concepts and visual designs from the earlier stages and translate them into a fully-fledged user interface. This includes refining the layout and visual elements, ensuring consistency in design elements, and crafting a UI that’s visually appealing and functional.
- UX writing: UX writers play a crucial role in the prototype stage by creating and refining the UI copy and microcopy. They create clear, concise, and user-friendly copy to guide through the product with intuitive messaging.
- Responsive web, mobile, and natural user interface design: Prototypes must be responsive, so make sure your product’s UX is consistent and optimized for responsive web design, mobile applications, and natural user interfaces like voice or gesture interactions.
- Working with the development team: A lot of collaboration between design and development happens in the prototype stage. You’ll work tightly with developers to ensure that the design vision can be effectively translated into code. Expect discussions on technical feasibility, optimization, and any potential challenges.
- Rules, practices, and limitations of implementation: This is related to the above. Designers and developers must follow specific implementation rules and stay on the right side of technological limitations. This includes platform-specific guidelines, coding standards, and the constraints of your chosen technologies.
Stage five: Test. Here’s when you refer back to the users to make sure your designs are working the way that they had planned. This leads back to the ideation phase for design and product refinement until it is just right.
As you’d expect, testing means your product designs are put to the test. This is crucial for validating design decisions and ensuring the final product meets user needs and expectations. Evaluation can happen through usability testing, analytics, and quantitative metrics.
Testing generally includes some or all of the following inter-linked activities:
- Usability testing: Methods you employ might include moderated user testing, unmoderated remote testing, and guerrilla testing. All will help you evaluate how real users interact with the product.
- Web and mobile analytics: If possible, you can use analytics tools to collect data on user behavior within the product. This data can give you quantitative insights into user interactions, navigation patterns, and usage metrics, all of which can help you identify areas of improvement.
- Quantitative UX Metrics: Quantitative UX metrics, such as conversion rates, bounce rates, and task completion times, are used to assess the product’s performance objectively. These metrics provide concrete data to evaluate the success of design iterations.
- Data analysis and reporting: This includes identifying and synthesizing patterns, trends, and pain points from the data. Your analysis will inform design decisions and improvements and you’ll have to report your findings to stakeholders.
As stated, the conclusion of the testing stage often leads back to the ideation stage, or even earlier. It’s also sometimes the case—depending on the organizational and team setup and way of working—that the steps aren’t followed linearly.
Are Product Designers in High Demand?
Put simply, product designers are the architects of the digital world. They craft our experiences in the virtual realm. It’s product designers who give users smooth, enjoyable experiences by making sure everything is where it should be. Nearly all companies now recognize that good UX is a must-have, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise the same companies are scrambling to hire the product designers who can create interfaces that keep users coming back for more.
And—as the stats in the last section show—the global marketplace is incredibly competitive. As enterprises and startups look for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, a well-designed product is often the difference maker. It can turn a small startup into a household name or rejuvenate a legacy brand.
Product designers are the key to making products and services more appealing and functional. Ultimately, this makes them key to the financial success or failure of their company’s bottom line.
A huge part of the continuing appeal of the most successful companies is innovation. They’re in very different spaces, of course, but think about the evolving product ranges of Dyson, Apple, and Tesla. They’re all market leaders who have gained an edge because of their innovation.
Product designers are the visionaries behind much of this innovation. They conceptualize groundbreaking products. As Meta says in their job description, they need product designers who can “take broad, conceptual ideas and turn them into something useful and valuable for our 2 billion-plus users”.
On top of this—but equally crucial—is the role product designers play in making technology accessible to everyone. They ensure that digital products are inclusive and user-friendly for people of all abilities. Accessibility is a non-negotiable—companies that do not provide accessible apps or websites are often legally mandated to do so.
The likes of Netflix, Amazon, Target, and Peloton have all either been sued or are in the process of being sued for not adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in providing apps or websites that are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust enough to be understood by people with disabilities.
Not only is being sued for not providing accessible content the worst kind of PR for companies who strive to appear as modern and inclusive, it can be a major financial hit, too. The role product designers play in creating accessible apps and websites is just another reason they’re in such high demand.