Mastering The Product Design Process

Louise North.
August 10, 2023

When we talk about product design, we mean designing an entire product. Although product design techniques can certainly be applied to smaller elements of projects, typically, this term refers to a holistic design approach that looks at all aspects of an app or service.

Mastering The Product Design Process.

To guarantee the success of any digital project, its design approach must match up to the specific issues it faces.

Successful product design approaches tend to follow an iterative model. Once problems are identified, draft solutions, and test their viability before going back through these cycles to refine. Many successful products experience multiple iteration cycles before taking their final form.

Process requirements depend upon project type and context; groundbreaking products might necessitate more extensive preliminary research than products available to existing markets; nonetheless, having a structured framework in place can ensure products reach their potential.

For optimal results, adopt an approach tailored towards users:

Step One: Objectives

Start by considering what the goal of your product is — is it to increase brand visibility, enhance accessibility, roll out a new feature or function, expand audience size, or reduce user dropoff? Or is your objective simply to drive increased profits?

An integral component of success in any endeavor lies in understanding your primary objective. Your primary motivation can help direct all future decisions you must make.

Although it can be tempting to address multiple challenges simultaneously, focusing on specific issues can often prove more successful and provide a strong base for subsequent iterations.

Step Two: Understanding & Empathy

Position yourself within the mentality of your users.

Understanding a customer’s actual needs can be tricky business. Often, customers express their solution to a problem, rather than explaining their problem. Comprehensive user studies can be invaluable in uncovering real needs.

Remember: it isn't up to customers to tell you what they need; your job should be to unearth that need.

Talk with Stakeholders — Too often, we overlook stakeholders thinking of our client's customers as the actual clients we need to serve. But ignoring stakeholders’ wants could be disastrous; as industry insiders, they provide valuable insight. Just make sure not to base decisions solely on their input, as there may also be inherent biases.

Conduct User Studies — conduct qualitative user studies such as one-on-one interviews to understand user challenges better. Quantitative techniques like A/B tests may offer more expansive views.

Most compelling user tests occur under real-life scenarios with users unaware they are being observed; however, such studies can be challenging to implement for early-stage products, and their user testing phases are often inconvenient to conduct. Semi-structured or guided user tests tend to be more suitable as a compromise approach while still yielding meaningful data.

Analysing User Data — Simply collecting information isn't enough - analysis is critical! Look out for any recurring themes and prioritize those. If a majority is experiencing difficulty using an app in bright sunlight, that should be addressed immediately; by categorizing problems together, you could identify related issues and focus on these more closely.

Create User Profiles Based on Research — Personas are fictional representations of target users that help convert data into actionable strategies; however, they can unintentionally reflect designer bias. They work best when based on real users or amalgamations of real users.

Step Three: Define an Existing Problem

Through extensive research and insights, it’s possible to identify critical challenges and transform them into actionable goals.

Consider framing issues as questions, such as "How can we encourage users to share critical data?" Recognizing a problem doesn't always indicate product flaws; sometimes, it identifies market opportunities.

Focus on one challenge at a time; if multiple arise, address each individually.

Steps Four & Five: Brainstorming and Revisions

At this stage, creativity comes into its own: brainstorm ideas freely without regard for quality; the goal should be to come up with as many potential solutions — no matter how unlikely — as possible.

Once your ideas are all together, develop them to produce something polished and finished.

Adhere to Design Standards — When companies have design standards in place, take full advantage of them! Design standards provide boundaries that help refine ideas.

Investigate Competitors — User studies can identify problems; competitor analysis provides potential solutions. Consider ideas from competitors’ products but avoid direct imitation; instead, use your research from Step 2 to understand why competitors made design choices and to gain their rationale behind design choices.

Focus on User Goals — Define potential user actions using this pattern: "In situation X... I want to Y in order to Z." This helps visualize an end user’s journey; sketching each step they take towards accomplishing tasks keeps your design grounded; such as considering whether users must log-in before accessing specific app features.

Step Six: Crafting Mock-ups

Once an idea has been conceptualized, the goal should be to quickly build and evaluate basic prototypes as soon as possible to begin testing your concept.

Digital tools may aid prototyping efforts, while even hand-drawn sketches may do the job. The goal should be efficient learning at minimum cost expenditure.

Gain as much knowledge of user reactions as possible, while spending as little money and time as you can.

Step Seven: Verification

Test your mock-ups. Your idea should be scrutinized at this step to ascertain if it addresses user needs effectively.

Tests can either be guided (moderated) or independent (unmoderated). Independent tests usually lead to more honest feedback; however, new products or features might require moderated tests — particularly if you don’t have functional onboarding in place yet.

Step Eight: Final Product

It’s all too easy to keep refining to the point that you forget to launch the product. Remember: until your product is live, with real users, it isn’t really a product.

Step Nine: Iterative Refinement

Product design isn't a straightforward journey. As you fine-tune solutions, deeper insights into challenges will emerge.

Always be ready to loop back in the process. Avoid skipping steps. Don't let a captivating solution skew your perception of the actual problem. Adaptation and growth are continuous in product design. Always evaluate and look for fresh avenues to apply your proven methodology.

Louise North

Louise is a staff writer for WebdesignerDepot. She lives in Colorado, is a mom to two dogs, and when she’s not writing she likes hiking and volunteering.

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