What Is Product Design and Why It Matters
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Surely product design is not a new thing for you. We all use this term here and there, but the moment when you consider hiring a product designer, you need to know more. As a SaaS design agency, we know a lot about product design. So let's start from the beginning.
What is product design?
Product design is the process of developing a usable product that meets customer's needs by defining the users' problems and finding creative solutions for these problems. The term is also used to refer to the result of this process, the design qualities of an existing product. Product design is based on design thinking, an approach for solving problems in a creative way.
We can define the following 3 characteristics to describe product design:
- Product design is a complex process that includes a variety of tasks, ranging from research to prototyping and testing.
- Product design is human-centered (as all the good things are), but involves more consideration of the needs of the business and market situation.
- Product design is never-ending (or almost so). You cannot say it is a clearly defined set of steps. Everyone follows the structure they consider the most suitable and efficient, but the process may include an unexpected number of iterations that are crucial for understanding the problem and finding the best solution to it.
Now, let’s dive into details and start with the core processes that lie at the heart of product design.
Main processes in product design
Product designers take care of the project during its whole product lifeсycle: from initial research to concept creation to prototyping and usability testing.
In this section, we will briefly explain a set of concepts that form the foundation of modern product design.
When it comes to making product decisions, we always have doubts whether our solution will succeed or fail. Product discovery lowers the risks associated with the feasibility of our ideas.
In a nutshell, product discovery is a process to fine-tune your ideas by learning what your customers’ true needs and problems are and then deciding on the best strategy to solve them.
The goal of product discovery is to quickly define whether the idea is good or bad and answer the following questions:
1. Will customers be willing to buy the product?
2. Will the product be easy to use for our customers?
3. Will engineers be able to implement our ideas?
4. Will stakeholders support our ideas?
In order to answer these questions, you have to carefully examine the market and potential users. Here are some design methods that help us during the product design process.
A user interview is a quick and easy way to understand how users feel, what they think, and what they believe to create a design that satisfies their needs. It allows to find out the customers' problems and pains as well as come up with effective solutions to these problems.
For instance, user interviews were a key element when we worked with Gridle. Having been on the market for several years already, the company had its loyal customers. We conducted six user interviews to understand what they expect from this product. It helped us to discover what the customers wanted to see in the new version of Gridle.
Customer journey map
One way to visualize the ideas the team developed while brainstorming is to create a customer journey map.
The customer journey map displays the points between the customer and the product that needs to be designed. The map also helps to understand what emotions customers experience, and what difficulties may arise during the customer journey.
Customer journey maps outline customers' steps and describe their thoughts and feelings.
While the customer journey map aims at the user experience design of the whole process, user flow focuses on the process of using the product.
User flows are diagrams that project the possible paths the user goes through when using the product until they achieve a certain goal.
Below is an example of a user flow designed by our team for Handprinter, a unique startup with the mission to make positive impacts on the environment. To make Handprinter easy to use, we simplified the user flow to only three steps.
Any method through which clients recognize the value delivered by your product is referred to as user experience (UX). It covers all customer interactions and touch points with your company and product. When talking about modern products UX generally involves various interfaces as well as various user touch points (marketing campaigns, sales process, customer support, and so on).
The role of a product designer is to consider the customer's journey, as they engage with the product at each touch point, and think on questions like:
- How can people discover about the product for the first time?
- What will the onboarding of a new user be like?
- How to quickly communicate value to the customer?
- How different user types may interact with the product?
- What can we do to increase user willingness to upgrade?
At Eleken we start mapping user experience with the help of wireframing.
A wireframe is a low-detail representation of a design that clearly shows:
- main elements of each page
- their structure
- user interaction with the interface and its approximate visualization.
Once you have a clear vision of what the team is going to build it’s time to visualize and test all the ideas and strategic decisions with the help of prototyping.
The prototype is the basic layout of the product that visualizes all elements and functions. It allows you to visually illustrate all ideas, as well as make edits with minimal effort and cost.
Prototypes may have different forms. It can be a drawing on a piece of paper or a complicated multi-page structure created in Adobe XD, Sketch, or Figma. Still, all prototypes do the same job - they synchronize the client's and the implementor's ideas about how the design should look.
Here is a list of problems and tasks that the prototype helps to solve:
- Visualization of the idea and understanding of how the product will look like at the early stages
- The ability to make changes and refine the vision at a minimum cost
- The ability to more accurately estimate the timing and budget of the whole development process
- Understanding the direction for the future development of the product.
- When creating a prototype, it's very important to validate and refine it.
As we were working on Textmagic, a customer experience platform, we needed to create a user-centric design. We were building the prototypes in Figma and Textmagic's team showed those prototypes to users. They collected clients' feedback and analyzed them to learn how we can improve the design and develop new ideas for a better problem-solution (check the case study).
When the prototypes are ready, it's time to pass them to the development team and start the testing of the product design.
Good product designers test their ideas with real users on a regular basis. They conduct testing not only when a prototype or concept is finished; they make testing a part of their weekly routine so they can continually validate and tweak ideas based on the feedback they get from users.
Product designers’ goal is to evaluate if their ideas are worthy, if people want to buy the product, and if they don’t - define what needs to be changed.
UI design includes composition, typography, and how the visual brand is conveyed. So, when the screen structure is tested and approved, product designers can create a visual design for your product as well as develop a design system to make your app scalable.
Designers conduct visual research to gather ideas for the user interface and learn the market trends to be able to create not only appealing but also usable and competitive designs. Here are few methods they can use for this purpose:
When analyzing competitors, you can find the strengths and weaknesses of their products. This will help to determine the direction of the whole product design concept and understand how to develop a better design solution.
During rival analysis, the task is to find out why competitors made certain design decisions, what they wanted to achieve, and what goals they pursued.
Moodboards are a kind of preview of the future design. It helps to present and coordinate the visual components of the project:
- Color schemes
- Slogans or headlines
- Icons, buttons, patterns.
In general, mood boards include all the graphic materials that will communicate the concept and mood of the project.
Business value of product design
The value of good design is as obvious to some people as it is completely unclear to others. And, as you know, the obvious things are the hardest to explain rationally. Luckily, there are researches that bring substantial arguments to the importance of design in business value. McKinsey followed 300 companies in different countries and industries for 5 years to find out how design approaches correlated with financial success.
They measured the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) that reflects the strength of design in companies. The graphs presented in the research demonstrate that companies with higher MDI have the percentage of annual growth twice higher compared to the average.
The same research shows that the companies that truly stand out tend to have better financial performance than the competitors. If design helps big established companies to stand out, it means it is even more important for emerging businesses that have to thrive to attract and retain users.
Best product design examples
- Apple. Apple is definitely one of the world’s most design-conscious companies. Their design team is involved in every stage of the product development process, from the first concept to the finished product. As a result, everything, from their website to the latest iPhone model, looks clean, simple, and is desired by everyone.
- Airbnb. A product that changed the whole tourism industry by connecting short-time renters with their clients directly.
- Stripe. The valuable product and a human-centered approach to design make this company stand out and leave all the competitors behind. Sometimes it seems to us that all startups want their apps/websites design to look like like Stripe.
So, basically, most of the popular products that are simple but genius, easy to use, and, consequently, have success on the market are built by companies that understand the importance of design talent. So, if you're developing user-centered products, it's crucial to have a skilled product designer on your team.
How to build a killer product design team
A good design team is what helps you create an effective and valuable product from the users' point of view.
Here are several tips on how to build a product design team:
- Hire generalists. What your design team just can’t go without is UX and UI design. A generalist is a person who is skilled in a variety of talents that are applicable to both positions. Having a generalist on your team gives you someone who isn't scared to take charge of the entire design process, from building user flows to creating high-fidelity prototypes.
Product designers at Eleken, for example, are generalists all dedicated to their specific projects, where they are responsible for user experience, visual design, UX research, and everything needed to create high-quality design solutions.
- Think out the right team structure. To work productively your team members should clearly know whom to report to, whom to ask for advice, and the like. Building a clear product team structure brings transparency to your company and makes the team work more efficiently. As there are many ways to organize the team, you should analyze your business goals, resources, and product to make the right choice.
- Define a clear product design process. Designers will be able to deliver the final solution faster if they follow a well-organized design process. It eliminates misconceptions or miscommunications among the team members or upper management.
Following a well-established design process makes it clear for a team what they should do, when to do it, and what they should get as the result. Therefore, at Eleken, we have a defined product design process for different types of services. Here’s what our process looks like for an MVP design.
It's not simple to build a great design team, and it's not something that can be done in a couple of weeks. So, if you don't have the time to hire and educate in-house employees, and you’re not sure if an outsourcing vendor has the needed experience in your field, we can assist you with hiring a dedicated product designer focused solely on your project.
Eleken’s designers are all professionals with experience of working with SaaS solutions. They may collaborate closely with your team and help you develop a product from scratch, make a revamp or assist in expanding your product.