The Process of Product Design
The Product Design process acts as an essential framework that designers utilise to solve issues. The ideas and abilities necessary for a product designer are varied and keep changing depending on the stage in which the process is at. Product designers don multiple hats all at once, ensuring no two days ever look the same. Their daily work schedule includes problem-solving, researching, designing, and being product managers.
However, before diving into the product design process, it is necessary to ask oneself and their team why they’re building a particular product. Having a clear vision provides a purpose and gives a solid definition of what is to be built. It also helps to focus on the needs of the users and consider the expectations of the stakeholder.
The product design process is a well-detailed intricate process wherein the designer discovers and accordingly develops a product, keeping the user and the business perspective in mind.
The stage is when everyone in the team sits to discuss the potential launch of a new product. The discussions revolve around target users’ requirements and their pain and pleasure points, business needs, and specifications. During this stage, all sorts of ideas and suggestions, no matter how unattainable they sound, are put forth. All sorts of criticisms and possible difficulties are also considered. Simply put, this is the stage of collecting all the raw data available, before diving into the specifics.
The brainstorming stage gives a definitive definition of the problem at hand and leads to idea generation using the most creative approach. Among the ideas suggested, the most viable ideas are taken into consideration.
Empathising with the user
Empathy is defined as the ability to clearly envision a world from another’s perspective and try to understand their emotions and feelings. When it comes to product design, empathising refers to a clear understanding of what your user expectations are from the product being built. It is important to evaluate whether there is a good demand for the product, before starting to work on the design and development process. A product-market fit is often validated by conducting user research.
Some of the most preferred user research methods include:
User interviews — a qualitative research technique that can be conducted both remotely and in person. It helps to uncover insights directly from users instead of analysing surveys and research.
Contextual inquiry — a method of observing people do their day-to-day tasks in a natural setting. It aids in empathising with the user by putting oneself in the user’s shoes.
Online surveys — a quantitative method that provides a huge amount of data in a short period.
Market research — a method that helps to understand competitor approaches towards similar problems to gather insights from their design patterns and learn from their mistakes.
After collecting insights from user research the data is synthesised and findings are grouped into common themes. This allows to form insights from the raw data available and also aids in decision making. These insights are also known as affinity mapping.
Affinity mapping helps us, not only understand the user better but also aids in categorising them under specific user personas. Persona mapping aids in forming dependable and practical representations of primary audience segments that helps focus on empathising with users.
Defining the problem
After gaining a good understanding of the problems, the focus is shifted to specific user issues. The issues are turned into definitive problem statements and are important in understanding the goals of the design project with a clear path to work on. This stage concerns making use of the data gathered during brainstorming, synthesising it, and then setting a single goal to solve while figuring out ‘How’, ‘What’, and ‘Why’.
The define stage often referred to as the discovery phase helps us gather insights to refine previous assumptions. We start to focus on the core problem to be solved and then look to draw out a potential field of action around it. Having a defined problem statement also helps steer focus in the right direction for all those involved with the product and draw a direction on the final achievements and deliverables.
After the problem statement is defined, comes ideation. Ideation is when all teammates sit to brainstorm over a range of creative ideas with solutions that help in addressing the problem statement. It begins with a good and clear understanding of project goals and narrowing down the focus on what we are looking to solve at first.
The product ideation phase is effectively a strategy session/sessions that act as a formalising part of the product development process. It brings forth ideas, solutions, and suggestions from the entire team to be able to leverage insights and experiences. Ideation is a valuable step because it helps to build trust with the stakeholders and ensures the future vision of the product is well aligned.
Competitors are used as a reference to understand the market and to learn from the mistakes and methods. Product designers often look into design offerings, visual designs, and overall user experience in the competitors' product offerings.
Mapping user journeys
Mapping of user journeys is the process that a user follows to achieve a goal. It is usually presented in a sequence of steps in the form of a timeline skeleton. This layout makes it easy for all teammates to follow the user chronology.
Sketching is valuable in the sense that it allows stakeholders to align on the vision of the product. It is a drawing exercise that also motivates non-designers to come forward with ideas that foster collaboration of creative ideas.
During sketching, product designers often refer to the problem statement and the user journey map to be able to frame the problem and define the scope of work better.
Design principles aid in providing solutions that help establish what is envisioned for the product while ensuring it doesn’t turn into what isn’t expected of it. They act as the north star towards which one works.
Having set design principles helps stay focussed on the task at hand and ensures timely outcomes as well.
Once the solutions have been worked on and you’re satisfied with the results, they are designed to create clickable prototypes. It is considered a vital step in the product design process. Prototyping is the experimentation stage wherein designers look to implement the test designs on actual users to see how they interact and react with the product. It helps them understand the possible difficulties one might face when using a product and also make necessary changes.
Components aid in speeding up the design workflow. A master component is created when a UI element is first turned into a component. It helps to define the properties of that particular component. Similarly, an instance is the copy of the master component that can be reused across designs.
Utilising a design system
Opting for a design system acts as an effective way to speed up the design workflow. It consists of a collection of elements that are combined and reused in order to build and rebuild new and pre-existing products. It helps to maintain consistency across designs.
Building prototypes also requires refining them. Feedback is an essential step to building a great product. Previewing helps to test a prototype and its interactions. It is done through queries and comments and on the basis of which final solutions are developed and set together for validation. Previewing helps to create transitions and interaction states between screens, connecting them with the help of nodes.
Solution testing and validating
Usability testing is a central part of the design process. It enables the product designer to get feedback from end-users during the ideation stage, before designing the end product. It is a crucial step to identifying usability issues upfront before putting in further time and investment into developing further solutions.
While the initial solution testing requires the building of low-fidelity prototypes. Once the ideas get approved and we look into further solutions, high-fidelity prototypes are built.
Estimating Success Post-Launch
Once a product has been designed, and ready to be put out in the world for use, it is important to track its performance, at the hands of users. Some of the key metrics to monitor are - adoption, activation, drop-off, retention rates and churn.
It is also necessary to get into the habit of performing A/B testing regularly, on the design changes and iterations before rolling them out. Along with analytics, user feedback from surveys, and in-product questionnaires also provide valuable insights regarding the success of the product.
While the launching of a viable product seems like a job is done, it is often far from it. The process of product design is a constant process, wherein testing and designing are constantly done to better it. Improvements are a key to a good human-centered product and to guarantee its continued success.
The key takeaways of the product design process are to ensure that it is user-focused, and applies the steps of design thinking while being executed as a non-linear and iterative process. The idea is to design with people and for them, which is why it is essential that they stay at the center of all product design decisions, always.