April 20, 2020

Why Product Design Needs to Be in the Top of Your Priorities

You hear that? That’s the sound of a light bulb coming on when you come up with a “brilliant” product idea. 

Now you’re dying to see that idea see the light of day. All you have to do is build the product straightaway, create a website to promote it, and then tell the whole world about it. Right?

Wrong.

Here’s the thing: Fall in love with an idea too much and your business is likely to die with it. 

Why? Two reasons:

  • Your “brilliant” product idea may turn out not to be brilliant at all.
  • You do have a brilliant product idea, but some refining is needed to turn it into a product people are willing to buy.

Whether you’re a startup looking to roll out a new feature or an enterprise seeking to expand to new markets, you’d be wise not to put all your eggs in one basket.

So, how do you create a product that people will love?

Product design can help you.

What is Product Design?

Product design is a holistic process of creating products that address the needs of its users. It encompasses the entire process of product development—from idea conception  to iterative product development to execution. 

If that definition sounds too broad, that’s because product design is a broad discipline. For ease of understanding, it’s best to think of product design as a method of problem-solving, where the aim is to deliver the best solution to a specific need. 

So, how do product designers and product teams find the best solution? And how do they decide which need or pain point deserves their attention?

Make no mistake, product design is a method that involves a lot of moving parts, which is why every startup needs a multidisciplinary approach to pull it off.

These approaches or disciplines include:

  • UX Design
  • UI Design
  • Project and Product Management 
  • Prototyping
  • Business Strategy
  • Data Analysis
  • Etc.

Each discipline is the responsibility of a specific department or individual. But for product design to work, you need to integrate all these disciplines into a single process.

The Product Design Process

There’s no one size fits all process to product design. Over the years, many different schools of thought on how to do product design have emerged, such as Design Thinking and IDEO’s Human-Centered design, to name a few. It may be best to look over each of these methods and then adopt the principles that you think will work best for your startup.

Whatever method you use, the same steps still apply, which are:

  1. Defining your product vision. What is the ‘why’ behind your company and product? Your product vision is what helps you create a product roadmap that will guide your product teams during the product creation process. It also helps you identify and home in on the problems and pains your target customers face.
  2. Perform product research. If you want your product roadmap to point you in the right direction, meet your target audience where they are. By conducting user and market research, you can get to the heart of your customers' pain points, which will in turn help you figure out the right solution. Effective product research methods include surveys, interviews, observation, and field trials, among many others.
  3. Ideation and brainstorming. The best way to uncover the best solution that will address your target audience’s unmet need is to generate as many ideas from across multiple disciplines in a nonjudgmental environment. Playing devil’s advocate is not allowed! Popular ideation techniques include wireframing, sketching, storyboarding or journey mapping.
  4. Design. Around this time you should already have a clear idea of what you want to build. But don’t go all-in yet with a full solution. Build prototypes first so you can test your product ideas before investing in the real thing. The kind of prototype (low-fidelity vs high-fidelity prototypes) you need to build depends on the requirements of your project.
  5. Testing and validation. Time to put your prototype to the test! By conducting usability testing with your target users, you can validate your solution in real-case scenarios. Make sure to gather qualitative and quantitative data so that you can make refinements and improvements to improve user experience. For more tips, check out the article 10 Simple Tips to Improve User Testing.
  6. Post-launch activities. The work is never over when you're doing product design—and that applies even after the product is out in the wild. How do you know if users are truly happy with the product? You can perform A/B testing to test assumptions you may have about your product, such as why your website or app isn't converting as well as you thought it would. You can also use Analytics tools (like Google Analytics, Heap, FullStory, and more) to gather insights about the behavior of your users. Integrating user feedback into your product's digital experience can also give you invaluable insights that will help you refine and make improvements to the product.


Keep in mind that the above steps are not always sequential. Product design is iterative, meaning that each stage might be repeated to ensure that each and every product decision is focused on adding value to your target users. 

The key here is to be open to failure, but in a way where you’re learning from your mistakes as you refine, repeat, and redo what’s necessary to come up with the best solution.

Why is Product Design Important?

No doubt about it, everyone needs to adopt the product design approach to create digital products that can turn their target audience into raving fans. Let’s go over the reasons why.

1. Focus on a pain point that counts

Did you know that the number one reason why most products fail is because they’re not addressing a real market need? You can have the best technology, the most talented people, and the best everything, but without a deep understanding of the consumer and their core problem, you can’t create a product or solution they will care about in the long term. 

So, why do so many businesses keep committing this mistake? It’s because they tend to take what consumers say at face value. This puts in mind Henry Ford’s famous quote which says: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” Well, people don’t need a faster horse. They need a car (or a teleportation device?). The point is this: Your customers don’t always know what they want. And they won’t know what they want until you show it to them.

“So should I stop asking them?” you might be thinking.

No. That only means you have to ask smarter questions—questions that get to the root of the user’s problem, questions that help you understand their underlying beliefs and motivations. 

Protip: Asking a good combination of open-ended and closed questions should paint you a fuller picture of what customers want, which will help you create solutions that will provide them with real value. You can also use the 5-Whys method. In this approach, you simply ask why a problem is occurring (e.g. “Why are businesses not seeing an ROI?”) five times in succession to get to the root of the problem.  The idea is to keep asking why for each answer generated until the entire team can agree that the root cause has been identified (it may take fewer or more than 5 whys). 

2. Test your assumptions before investing resources

Every product started with an idea. And in the process of moving that idea forward, you’re bound to make assumptions about the product and how users will interact with it. 

The problem with assumptions is that they don’t always hit the mark. And the last thing you want to do is move forward with those assumptions before testing and validating them. You know you’ve got a problem when you launch an app only to discover that most users don’t know they’re supposed to swipe the screen to get to where they need to go. 

By using the product design approach, you can prevent this mistake, saving you time, money, and frustration in the process, but most importantly: launching a product people love. This is because every idea, assumption, or artifact is tested and validated, helping refine and improve your product.

Protip: The most effective way to test and validate your assumptions is to build prototypes.  When building prototypes, make sure they’re designed to solve a single problem, but in a way that makes room for new insights that may help you build a better product. 

3. Design with empathy

Want to create products your users will love?  Then start detaching yourself from your own biases and put yourself in their shoes. You need to design with empathy.

Empathy provides you invaluable user insights that numbers alone can’t. Your personal biases and preconceived notions, after all, may cause you to misrepresent or misinterpret those numbers. Your analytics will tell you that your customer churn rate has increased. But empathy will tell you exactly why your customers are leaving.

There’s a reason why ‘Empathise’ is the first step in the Design Thinking process and why empathy is foundational to IDEO’s human-centered design approach. When you examine every idea, assumption, or product decision through the lens of empathy, you are less likely to be swayed by your personal biases, helping you create products that your users will truly care about. 

Protip: Creating user flows is one great way to improve empathy for your users . User flows (sometimes called “UX flow”) are diagrams (or flowcharts, if you will) that show how your users interact with your product from beginning to end (think LEGO or IKEA manuals!). Surely, as a product developer, you know how easy it can be to form blind spots to how users experience your product, right? What a user flow does is help you visualize your users’ emotional and cognitive patterns across every touchpoint throughout that interaction. The insights gained from that visualization are what will help you create better experiences for your target users.

4. Helps you stick to your product vision

At this stage, your company needs to build a strong foundation with which to grow, and it all starts with having a strong product vision. This is why it’s critical that you understand your product vision and stick to it. After all, it takes a strong vision to rally people towards a common goal.

The product vision is one of those things that most companies have but always take for granted.  Teams tend to lose sight of it as the product development process evolves and grows in complexity.  This isn't likely to happen when you adopt a product design approach. Since the process is iterative in nature, the product vision, and by extension, the product roadmap, is regularly updated and examined by the product designer and the team. 

Protip: The way you write your product vision statement can greatly impact how well your teams are working together. To ensure that your product teams have a shared understanding of how things should be done, make sure that your vision statement is customer-focused, ambitious, short, and emotional.


Final Word

In a world where customers are being given too many choices, it can be difficult for any company to find the right product for the right people. But when you foster a collaborative environment where learning is maximized and every decision is made for the benefit of your target users, you have a much better chance of developing solutions that create great experiences.

By 
Leo Zakour