A Comprehensive Guide To Product Design 2021

Updated: May 1

Products are not just things in retail store. Digital products like apps and websites are also products.


To build a great product "design" is the most important feature. This is what sets companies apart and gives them a real edge over competitors.

The one who is a part of product designing should be aware of the product development process in order to create a best work.


In this article, We'll focus on the main principles and approaches to design great products. Let's start by learning the basics of what product designing is and then work down to the individual phases of product design.


What Is Product Design?

Product 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 : The Foundation Of Design Process

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-centred design into a single unified concept. According to Tim Brown:


Design 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.

Good 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” part.



For a products or features, designers should be able to answer the following questions :

  1. What problem are we solving?

  2. Who has this problem?

  3. What is it that we want to achieve?

Answering these questions helps designers understand the user experience of a product as a whole, not purely the interaction (feel) or visual (look) part of the design, it helps to find an apt solution.

Finding a solution to a problem includes the following five phases:

  • Empathise Know your consumers completely through a research.

  • Define Create a point of view that is based on user needs and insights.

  • 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 a series of prototypes) to test your hypothesis and check if the path is correct with new ideas to improve.

  • Test Return to your users for feedback.




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 will help you to stay focused and to stay on the schedule.

While it’s impossible to provide a universal design process that fits all projects, it’s still possible to describe a general flow for designing new products, which is as follows :

  1. Defining the product vision

  2. Product research

  3. User analysis

  4. Ideation

  5. Design

  6. Testing and validation

  7. Post-launch activities

1. Define Product Vision And Strategy

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. As the old Japanese proverb goes, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”


Every design project needs a product 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 to define what you are not building. Being clear about the boundaries of your solution will help you to 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, you can adjust the direction of your product efforts.



Define Value Proposition

Value proposition maps out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it’s for, and when and where it will be used. Value proposition helps the team and stakeholders build a consensus around what the product will be.


Working Backward

A simple technique called “working backward” 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 backward can be applied to any specific product decision, this approach is especially important when developing new products or features.


For a new product, a product team typically starts by writing a future press release announcing the finished product. Such a press release, in a simple way, describes 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.


Tips:

  • 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 built. 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

It’s 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 define business goals and objectives for the project.


Schedule A Project Kickoff Meeting

The 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 designing and developing the product, 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).


2. Product Research

Once the product vision is defined, product research (which naturally includes user and market research) provides the other half of the foundation for great design. To maximize your chances of success, conduct insightful research before making any product decisions. Remember that the time spent researching is never time wasted.


Good research informs your product, and the fact that it comes early in the design process will save you a lot of resources (time and money) down the road (because fewer adjustments will need to be made). Plus, with solid research, selling your ideas to stakeholders will be a lot easier.


Conduct User Research

As product creators, our responsibilities lie first and foremost with the people who will use the products we design. If we don’t know our users, how can we create great products for them?

Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.

Good user research is key to designing a great user experience. Conducting user research enables you to understand what your users actually need. When it comes to product research, researchers have a few different techniques to choose from.


Users Interviews

Gathering information through direct dialog is a well-known user research technique that can give the researcher rich information about users. This technique can help the researcher assess user needs and feelings both before a product is designed and long after it’s released. Interviews are typically conducted by one interviewer speaking to one user at a time for 30 minutes to an hour. After the interviews are done, it’s important to synthesize the data to identify insights in the form of patterns.


Tips:

  • Try to conduct interviews in person. If you have a choice, in-person interviews are better than remote ones (via phone or web-based video). In-person interviews are preferable because they provide much more behavioral data than remote ones. You’ll gain additional insights by observing body language and listening for verbal cues (tone, inflection, etc.).

  • Plan your questions. All questions you ask during the interview should be selected according to the learning goal. A wrong set of questions can not only nullify the benefits of the interview session, but also lead product development down the wrong path.

  • Find an experienced interviewer. A skilled interviewer makes users feel comfortable by asking questions in a neutral manner and knowing when and how to ask for more details.


Online Surveys

Surveys and questionnaires enable the researcher to get a larger volume of responses, which can open up the opportunity for more detailed analysis. While online surveys are commonly used for quantitative research, they also can be used for qualitative research. It’s possible to gather qualitative data by asking open-ended questions (for example, “What motivates you to make a purchase?” or “How do you feel when you need to return the item you purchased from us?”). The answers to such questions will be very individualized and in general cannot be used for quantitative analysis.


Online surveys can be relatively inexpensive to run. The downside of this method is that there’s no direct interaction with respondents, and, thus, it’s impossible to dive more deeply into answers provided by them.


Tips:

  • Keep it short. Don’t forget that every extra question reduces your response rate. If the survey is too long, you may find that you don’t get as many responses as you’d like. Better to send a few short surveys than to put everything you want to know into one long survey.

  • Open-ended versus close-ended questions. Asking open-ended questions is the best approach, but it’s easy to get stuck in data analysis because every user answer requires researcher time for analysis. Plus, users quickly tire of answering open-ended questions, which usually require a lot of reading and typing.


Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a variety of field study in which the researcher observes people in their natural environment and studies them as they go about their everyday tasks. This method helps researchers obtain information about the context of use: Users are first asked a set of standard questions, such as “What is the most frequent task you typically do?,” and then they are observed and questioned while they work in their own environment. The goal of contextual inquiry is to gather enough observations that you can truly begin to empathize with your users and their perspectives.


Tips:

  • Don’t just listen to users; observe their behavior. What people say can be different from what people do. As much as possible, observe what users do to accomplish their tasks.

  • Minimize interference. When studying the natural use of a product, the goal is to minimize interference from the study in order to understand behavior as close to reality as possible.


Conduct Market Research

You cannot ignore competitors if you want to build a great product. To be competitive, you need to know what products are available on the market and how they perform. That’s why conducting market research is a crucial component of the product design process. Your ultimate goal should be to design a solution that has a competitive advantage.


Competitive Research

Competitive research is a comprehensive analysis of competitor products and presentation of the results of the analysis in a comparable way. Research helps product teams understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given market segment.

A competitor is a company that shares your goals and that fights for the same thing that your product team wants. There are two types of competitors:


  • Direct competitors. Direct competitors are ones whose products compete head to head with your value proposition (offering the same, or very similar, value proposition to your current or future users).

  • Indirect competitors. Indirect competitors are those whose products target your customer base without offering the exact same value proposition. For instance, an indirect competitor’s primary product or service might not capture your value proposition, but their secondary product definitely does.


The product team should consider both types of competitors because they’ll affect the overall success of the product. As a rule of thumb, shoot for identifying the top three direct competitors and obtaining the same number of indirect competitors.


The most efficient way to do comprehensive competitive research is to collect all relevant data about your competitors in the form of a matrix. The matrix will help you keep track of everything that needs to be compared.


Tips:

  • Start listing competitors before doing competitive research. Most likely you will begin to learn about competitors way before you conduct competitive research. For example, during user interviews, users might share names of products that they think are similar to the one you’re proposing. During stakeholder interviews, the product owners will certainly give you a few names of products they see as competitors. It’s worth creating a spreadsheet that will be used to collect the names of competitors right at the beginning of the project, and try to fill it as you do product research. Add new names to the list so that you don’t forget them.

  • Use a cloud-based tool for competitive research. Tools such as Google Spreadsheet make it easier to share the latest up-to-date research information with a larger group of people (both teammates and stakeholders) and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Consider reading Conducting Competitive Research by Jaime Levy for more tips on competitive audits.


3. User Analysis

After research, the product team must make sense of the data it’s collected. The aim of the analysis phase is to draw insights from the data collected during the product research phase. Capturing, organizing and making inferences about what users want, think or need can help UX designers begin to understand why they want, think or need that.


Modeling The Users And Their Environment


Personas

Based on the product research results, UX designers can identify key user groups and create representative personas. Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a product in a similar way. The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of the key audience segments for reference. Once created, personas help product teams to understand the users’ goals in specific contexts, which is particularly useful during ideation.



Tips:

  • Base the persona on real data. It can be tempting to invent some details about personas to make them attractive. Avoid that temptation. Every bit of the information in the persona should be based on the research. If you don’t have some information, do research to fill in the gap.

  • Avoid using real names or details of research participants or people you know. This can bias the objectivity of your personas. (You’ll end up focusing on designing for this person, rather than a group of people with similar characteristics.)



Empathy Map

An empathy map is a visualization tool used to articulate what a product team knows about the user. This tool helps a product team build a broader understanding of the “why” behind user needs and wants. It forces product teams to shift their focus from the product they want to build to the people who will use the product. As a team identifies what they know about the user and then places this information on a chart, they gain a more holistic view of the user’s world and the problem or opportunity space.



Tip:

  • Turn your empathy map into a poster. It’s possible to create a nice reminder of what user thinking or feeling is, by turning the empathy map into a poster. Create a few copies of the map and hang them around the office. This helps to ensure the user remains on people’s minds as they work.


4. Ideation

The ideation phase is a time when team members brainstorm on a range of creative ideas that address the project goals. During this phase, it’s critical not only to generate ideas but also to confirm that the most important design assumptions are valid.

Product teams have a lot of techniques for ideation — from sketching, which is very helpful for visualizing how some aspects of the design will look like, to storyboarding, which is used to visualize the overall interactions with a product.


Generate Ideas


User Journey Mapping

A user journey map is a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. Typically, it’s presented as a series of steps in which a person interacts with a product.


A user journey can take a wide variety of forms depending on the context and business goals. In its most basic form, a user journey is presented as a series of user steps and actions in a timeline skeleton. Such a layout makes it easier for all team members to understand and follow the user’s narrative.


A simple user journey reflects only one possible path during one scenario:



Tip:

  • Don’t make user journeys too complex. While designing a user journey it is easy to get caught up in the multiple routes a user might take. Unfortunately, this often leads to busy user journeys. Focus on creating a simple, linear journey (the ideal way to get users to the given goal).


Scenarios and Storyboards

After you’ve identified personas, you can write scenarios of interactions. A scenario is a narrative describing a day in the life of a persona, including how a product fits into their life. A storyboard presents the user’s story in a visual way — similar to a movie or comic. It can help product designers understand how people interact with a product in real life, giving designers a clear sense of what’s really important to users.


Tip:

  • Build a strong narrative. The narrative in the story should focus on a goal the character is trying to achieve. All too often, designers jump right into explaining the details of their design before explaining the backstory. Avoid this. Your story should be structured and should have an obvious beginning, middle and end.


User Stories

A user story is a simple description of something that the user wants to accomplish by using a product. Here is a template for user stories:



Tip:

  • Use user stories to prevent feature creep. Feature creep is the tendency to add more features than a product requires. When designing a product, try to refuse adding any feature without a user story that explains why that particular feature matters.


Plan The Structure Of The Product


Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is the structure of a website, app or other product. It enables users to understand where they are and where the information they want is in relation to their current position. Information architecture results in the creation of navigation, hierarchies and categorizations. For example, when a UX designer sketches a top-level menu to help users understand where they are on a website, they’re practicing information architecture.

Information architecture would benefit from the involvement of users in the IA development process. Product teams typically use a technique called card sorting for this purpose. Designers ask users to organize items (major features or topics of the product) into groups and assign categories to each group. This method helps you find out how users expect to see information grouped on a website or in an app.


Card sorting is a method that is used to help determine the information architecture of a digital experience.


Tip:

  • It’s possible to conduct a card-sorting session online. Online card-sorting tools allow for easier scaling to a higher number of study participants. One of the most popular online tools is OptimalSort (which is free for card-sorting studies with up to 10 participants).


Generate User Interface Ideas


Sketching

Sketching is the easiest way to visualize ideas. Drawing by hand is a fast way to visualize a concept — enabling the designer to visualize a broad range of design solutions before deciding which one to stick with.


Sketching helps designers express their ideas in a way that the other team members can understand.