The success of any product is largely determined by its design. It’s the first thing people notice, and as such, a great design is crucial for a company to stand out from its competitors and have an edge in this oversaturated and highly competitive world.
Defining proper methods and techniques will offer better solutions to problems and help you respond to your customer’s needs. That’s why you need to have a firm grasp of the essence of product design and its process to produce the best outcomes possible.
This article offers a comprehensive overview of what product design is truly about, along with a step-by-step guide to the product design process.
What Is Product Design?
In product design, we aim to develop a useful product that meets customers’ needs by identifying their problems and finding creative solutions to them. Additionally, the term is used to refer to the design characteristics of existing products that result from this process. An important component of product design is "design thinking" — a creative method of addressing problems.
The process of product design is complex and involves a variety of tasks, including research, prototyping, and testing. A core concept of product design definition is that it’s human-centered, but at the same time, it’s also more aware of market and business needs.
Product design is never-ending. It is not a linear process as there are no concrete steps to follow. Every designer follows their own structure, and the process can involve an unexpected number of modifications that are important for understanding the problem and finding the best possible solution.
From the conceptualization of the idea to the final product or service ready to be sold to the target market — the process of designing entails several steps.
Business Value Of Product Design
The value of a good product design is subjective — some people will get it at first glance while others simply wouldn’t understand. However, plenty of research and empirical data points to the business value of a great product design. For five years, McKinsey observed 300 publically listed companies across different countries and industries, studying the correlation between design approaches and economic success. And the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) they have reported reflects the design strength of companies.
This research illustrated that companies with higher MDI had an annual growth rate percentage two times higher than the average. Additionally, the research also found that companies that stood out from their competitors had a comparatively better financial performance.
It’s worth mentioning that great product design is crucial for both large and small enterprises but even more so for the latter as it can help them attract new users.
What Is The Difference Between Product Design And Other Types Of Design?
As mentioned earlier, product design isn’t linear, and some steps may require iteration depending on the stage of the product and its results. It’s also a continuous process as the work doesn’t stop after the product launch. You’ll need to continuously improve depending on the data and feedback received from your clients. However, product designers don’t partake in the manufacturing process, instead, they are highly involved in UI, UX, and interaction design.
Other than product design, here are some other common types of design.
When thinking about features or products, designers must understand the business goals and answer the following questions — what problems are we solving? Who has this problem? And what do we want to achieve?
Web design is an involved process primarily aimed at creating and maintaining websites. Like many other types of products, websites are developed for people, so the designing process should be as careful and meticulous as possible.
Motion Graphics Design
It is also known as motion design, and in this process, designers use graphic design principles to produce videos or films. Motion graphics design is a subset of graphic design, and it makes use of animation techniques.
Through this design, various web interfaces like landing pages and blogs are created. But to build these concepts, designers must understand the technology needed to make them interactive.
Graphic designers focus on creating visually appealing content such as banners, infographics, billboards, magazine layouts, and the like. There are different types of graphic design, such as UI, marketing, and visual identity graphic design.
Design Thinking As The Foundation For The Design Process
Design thinking is a method that offers practical solutions to problems. Tim Brown and David Kelley of IDEO originally coined this term, and it eventually became a popular approach for creating products. It involves ideas and methods of human-centered design into a single framework.
When thinking about features or products, designers must understand the business goals and answer the following questions — what problems are we solving? Who has this problem? And what do we want to achieve?
By answering these questions, designers can understand the whole user experience of a product and not just the feel or aesthetics of a design. Only after these questions have been answered does it make sense to move forward and find a solution to the problem your customers are facing.
Product Design Process
What does a product design process entail? It’s a complex step-by-step approach through which designers imagine, create and iterate products that solve the problems of their customers. For any business, it’s crucial to maintain a well-structured process with clearly defined steps to plan and integrate, which can be achieved through formulating a product design process.
From the conceptualization of the idea to the final product or service ready to be sold to the target market — the process of designing entails several steps. And there is no universal product design process that fits all products — whether tangible or intangible. It needs to be altered and adapted according to the needs and goals of a specific project.
Define Product Vision And Strategy
A product design process must always start with the team clearly defining a product vision and strategy. This creates a direction that guides you to accomplish the set goals and achieve the best possible results. To make sure your product will fly, it’s best to take the time to draft a detailed Product Requirements document.
At this stage, you need to reflect on your company and ask yourself why it exists. Think about what problems your company can solve and who can benefit from your products. Lastly, think about the ultimate user experience you want to create and your future goals. Vision helps you conceptualize what you’re trying to build and what you want to achieve, whereas strategy is your product’s journey.
You must spend some resources to define your vision, mission, values, and product strategy. This phase is essential as it sets the foundation and determines the success of your products and services. Only after you’ve defined them can you move on to the next stage of finding a solution to the problem.
Before starting the design and development process, you must research and determine whether there’s a significant demand for what you’re trying to offer. This can often be achieved by conducting user and market research.
Some popular methods for user research include:
Through this method, you can observe people carry out their usual tasks in their natural settings. This helps you to genuinely empathize with your target audience as you view things from their perspective.
The advantage of online questionnaires and surveys is that you can derive a large amount of information about your target audience in a very short amount of time. On the downside, obtaining deeper insights through this method can be difficult.
This is a widely used qualitative research method that can be done remotely or in person. The analysis of data through interviews can be time-consuming, but a major advantage is that it allows you to uncover deeper insights as compared to surveys and online questionnaires.
After user research, you need to make sense of the data you’ve just amassed. In this phase, you must draw insights from the data collected during the user research process. Getting an understanding of what your users want, need, or think will help product designers better understand why they behave in the way they do.
Using the information gathered in the user research phase, you can define key user groups and create user personas — fictitious characters based on those types of users who may interact with a product similarly. In creating personas, the goal is to develop reliable and realistic representations of the key target audiences. By creating user personas, product teams can identify the goals of users in different contexts, which is very beneficial during ideation.
Empathy maps help product teams visualize what they know about a customer. They can use this tool to understand the "why" behind customer needs and wants. As a result, teams will shift their focus away from the product they want to build toward the people who will use it. In the process of collecting information about the user and placing that information on a chart, a team gets a broader perspective of the user’s world and the opportunity that arises.
Learning from your competitors is also a critical step in the product design process as it allows you to gain insight into how they approach similar problems.
Team members brainstorm creative ideas to address project goals during the ideation phase. The most important considerations are not just coming up with ideas but also confirming that the most critical design assumptions are accurate.
When the product team has finished the ideation phase, they should know exactly what to build.
A product team has a variety of tools for ideation — from sketching, which helps visualize what a design will look like, to storyboarding, which illustrates how a product will interact with its users.
User Journey Mapping
The user journey map is a visual representation of the steps taken by users to accomplish a specific goal. This is typically outlined as a series of steps a person takes to interact with the product.
According to the business objective and context, user journeys can take many forms — in its simplest form, it is depicted as a timeline skeleton of user steps and actions. This layout simplifies the task of understanding and following the user narrative for the entire team.
Scenarios And Storyboards
After identifying personas, you can proceed to develop scenarios of interactions. The scenario describes a person’s day-to-day activities and how a product fits into that routine. Like a movie or comic, a storyboard presents the user’s story visually. Using it, designers can learn how people interact with their products in real life, enabling them to better understand what users really care about.
User and Job Stories
User stories are simple descriptions of what a user hopes to achieve with a product. Job stories, on the other hand, describe features from the point of view of jobs-to-be-done. They are an effective way to identify a problem without prescribing a solution.
The easiest way to visualize ideas is to sketch them. By hand-drawing a concept, the designer can see several different design solutions before deciding which to choose from.
In wireframing, we show the structure of a page, its hierarchy, and its key components. Team members and stakeholders can use wireframes to discuss ideas and to assist developers and designers in their tasks. Wireframes can be presented in sketches or digital illustrations, and in many cases, they are used as a skeleton for mockups — it is the backbone of a product.
Design Sprint is a five-day design framework that evaluates ideas and addresses challenges. Teams can use it to create prototypes and present them to users to verify the initial design hypothesis.
The goal of a design sprint is to rapidly envision the future state of a product, such as a website or an app, and validate it with other designers, users, developers, and stakeholders. This whole concept stems from the idea that, by setting a direction and rapidly iterating, it is possible to design products that provide maximum value for users.
When the product team has finished the ideation phase, they should know exactly what to build and start the design phase. During this stage, the product team will start developing the solution to the client’s problems.
Prototyping is crucial to delivering a good user experience. Prototypes are experimental versions of an idea that you can test before building the final product. When you create a prototype, you begin by designing only a few core elements (such as key user flows) and gradually expand it in breadth and depth over time as you build out each requirement. Upon completion, the prototype is given to the engineers for development.
A prototype can be a rough sketch on a piece of paper (low-fidelity prototypes) or an interactive simulation that looks and acts like the real thing (high-fidelity prototypes). This depends on where you are in the design process and what your prototyping goals are. The best prototyping method is one that minimizes work while maximizing learning.
After the prototype is completed, it is handed over to the development team to bring the product to life. It is during this stage the designer transfers the design to a developer for coding. To ensure that the developer understands how each element of the design works, the designer must clearly communicate it to them during the developer handoff. Designers and developers must work together to convey multiple layers of information and details.
A design specification describes details about a product, such as how the user interface will look (measurements, colors, and character styles), as well as what it will do (functionality, behaviors, and flows). Using this document, a developer builds the product in line with the designer’s specifications.
Tests ensure that a design concept is working as intended. It takes skill to test a product. If you do it wrong, you won’t learn anything. Do it properly, and you will likely get extraordinary insights that might impact your product strategy.
Testing your product in-house before releasing it to the public is called dogfooding. The "eating your dog food" technique is a popular way to test, as it allows your team to develop empathy and detect any potential problems.
Usability tests are designed to determine how well people can use the product. Instead of simply showing users a rough draft and asking if they understand it, a usability test involves actually watching and observing people trying to use the product for its intended purpose.
Tests with representative users can be relatively simple: Once a product’s interactive version is available to real people, a product team will be able to understand how they use it.
This user experience testing method identifies usability problems, derives qualitative data, and evaluates whether participants are satisfied with the product overall. A product team needs to gather and analyze verbal and non-verbal feedback from users to improve the user experience.
Post Launch Measures And Refining
A product’s launch does not mean the design process is over — the product design process will continue as long as the product is in use. The team must continue to learn and better the product, whether that’s through resolving existing issues or including new features.
Analytical insights give you information about how your product is used in the wild. Analyzing metrics (search queries, bounce rates, navigation tome, etc.) from a tool like Google Analytics can provide insight into how people are actually using the product. Additionally, metrics can reveal behavior that is not explicitly captured by user tests. Continually tracking product performance will help ensure customer satisfaction and identify potential areas for improvement.
Feedback From Users
It is best to incorporate feedback into the product development process so that you avoid having to rework it. User feedback (either through online surveys or by analyzing customer service tickets) should be central to product development. The result from user feedback will help refine the product further.
What Types Of Tools Do Product Designers Use?
During the product design process, you’ll need various tools for assistance. From project management to communication and visual collaboration, numerous tools are loved and widely used by fellow designers. Here are our favorite recommendations:
Tools For Project Management
Jira is a well-known issue tracking and project management software developed by Atlassian. It is indispensable if you need to organize and prioritize tasks, bugs, and product characteristics. Many companies use the features provided by Jira to support, monitor, and coordinate the different parts of their Product Design processes.
When it comes to product design, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is that the design should always be for the people.
ClickUp is a robust cloud-based productivity platform that helps facilitate planning, in-team collaboration, and task management. It combines visual appeal and useful tools to create an intuitive and simple project management application. This is the tool that we partly rely upon at Halo Lab when cooking up our amazing products.
Trello allows your team to collaborate and manage projects online. It’s simple, lightweight, and straightforward. You can create tasks and stay organized with boards, lists, and cards. Within the cards, users can collaborate, share files, and leave comments.
Tools For Communication And Info Sharing
Today, Slack is one of the most widely used workplace communication tools. The tool allows employees to connect with coworkers from various departments, no matter where they are based. All crucial information is easily accessible to remote employees, keeping them productive at all times.
Remote communication has never been easier with Loom. You can effortlessly create professionally edited screen and webcam recordings, which are ideal for asynchronous presentations, quick updates, and explainer videos.
Google Workspace includes a wide range of communication tools, including Forms, Slides, Docs, Drive, Meet, Calendar, and more, making it perfect for virtual collaboration.
Tools For Visual Collaboration And Design
Another collaborative tool we find helpful is Miro, which you can use to visualize complex ideas and processes — even those that are more dense and complex.
You’ll notice right away how streamlined and simple the interface is, and the pre-built templates can help you get started. Whether you keep lots of information categorized on your "endless board" as mind maps or other kinds of hierarchies, Miro is worth consideration.
For teams that constantly collaborate and need new ideas that can be accessed through virtually any device, Figma is the industry’s favorite.
Figma’s ability to put the complexities of the digital design process into a browser-based tool makes it ideal for cloud-based collaboration.
Tools For Tracking
BuiltWith reports that GA is used on at least 30 million websites, by far the largest market share in the web analytics space. The Google Analytics app is free to use, but high volumes of data sampling occur if you do not have the Google 360 subscription.
As you already know, understanding the target audience is crucial for creating the hottest and most successful product. This is where Hotjar comes in. It is an incredibly useful analytics suite that helps companies collect qualitative data on how users interact with their products. Hotjar’s analysis tools cover interactive heatmaps, conversion funnel reports, visitor recording, and more. This offers great help for product makers in creating and delivering the most user-friendly solutions.
If you’re just learning about conversion rate optimization, Convertize can serve you well, and it’s also suitable for more advanced users. The platform offers A/B testing and personalization, and the drag-and-drop visual editor makes it easy to use. Its best feature is the ability to automatically redirect traffic to your best-performing pages.
Best Product Design Examples
By connecting short-term renters directly to their clients, Airbnb revolutionized the entire tourism industry. However, initially, Airbnb registered very low growth and bookings for their rentals. This compelled the founders to analyze what was going wrong with their business, eventually replacing the amateur photos on their site with professional ones and registering higher growth.
This ride-booking app is one of the most human-centered products available in the market. By booking a cab via Uber, customers are able to receive an estimated arrival time, take the most efficient route and not worry about paying additional costs. This removes many of the pain points people usually encounter while trying to hire a taxi through the conventional method. The transparency in using the app and the simplicity of its UI makes Uber an outstanding example of great design.
This company stands out from the competition because of its valuable product and human-centered design approach. Their website contains no annoying frills, yet it’s fresh and playful, and their animations provide so much information that you don’t even need to read the product’s copy to understand how it all works. Because of their success, many startups want their app and website designs to be similar to Stripe's.
When it comes to product design, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is that it should always be for the people. A combination of great features and the right user experience for the right group of people is essential for a great product design. To do this, you need to understand your target audience and their problems and build a product that addresses these issues in a way no one else is doing. And in doing so, you have the power to transform the lives of people.