After years of many challenging projects and creating world class digital products, we decided it was time to document our formula and share it with everyone that also nurtures passion for product development. Our experience translated into a process, that ended up in a book with the best product development process for digital products.
But why create a process instead of following one?
A little bit of history. Back in 2014 we designed a service called "The War Room". The promise was to have the product owner, a designer and a dev team sitting in one room for 3 days and deliver an MVP. The results themselves were a mixed bag. We did deliver a few projects. But they all failed miserably on first with the market. The era of "if you build it they will come" was long gone. The Lean Startup or the Google Design Sprint were on everyone's bookshelves or bookmarks, but weren’t doing the cut. We realised that digital products need considerable research before being built, and no documented design process was available for us to use.
Our vision is simple: we want to be able to deliver the best possible solution for specific problems, because there are too many half-arsed competing products out there.
This is why we created the Product Design Process (PDP). It consists of a user centered design process for digital products that follows a multi-disciplinary approach. Its main goal is to design outstanding products with a fast go-to-market strategy, but it can also be applied to projects that seek growth through optimization.
The PDP structure contemplates four different phases — research, ideation, execution, and technical assessment - that are then split into several steps. Next you'll find a brief explanation for each of those steps.
The first phase of PDP is of the UX designer’s responsibility and its objective is to gather evidence that will support the decisions taken henceforth, ensuring that no decision is made based on vague assumptions. This is the phase in which the main aspects of the business model and user needs are identified.
Step 1. Briefing
Assures that the whole team is working on the same page and with all the relevant information to start the project.
Step 2. User Research
Guarantees product usefulness and effectiveness from the user's point of view.
Step 3. Design Benchmark
Allows to leverage the knowledge and skills of existing players and assure feature/design differentiation.
Ideation is the core of the creative process and it's where the concept of the product will be formulated based on the user’s needs and the business model, both identified in the Research phase. Here, the UX designer, the visual designer, and the product owner should work closely together.
Step 4. User Journey
Provides a vision of the global user experience, ensuring its consistency and fluidity. Serves as a base to establish the product requirements.
Step 5. Decision Matrix
Provides an indispensable basis for the project development plan ensuring that, even under time and cost constraints, a viable product can be developed.
Step 6. Wireframes
Improves interface usability and reduces design time by baselining the core information architecture.
Step 7. Mood Board
Assures that the product’s look & feel conveys the desired user experience and is aligned with the user profile and market strategy.
This phase is of the visual designer’s responsibility and focuses on creating a physical representation of the concept that has been defined up to this point.
Step 8. Style Guide
Assures the consistency throughout the application, baselining the visual coherence of different graphic interface elements.
Step 9. GUI Design
Provides stakeholders with the final aspect of the product’s screens in order to obtain approval before moving to the implementation.
Step 10. Prototype
Allows the navigation from screen-to-screen, facilitating the feedback intake either from stakeholders or from potential users and investors.
The objective of this phase is to guarantee that all requirements and ideas generated are realistic concerning their implementation and achievable given the available time and budget.
Step 11. High-level Architecture
Details how the product is going to be built, identifying baselines for the needed technologies and skills to build it.
Step 12. Project Plan
Allows a good understanding of how to build the product, how much effort it will require and the expected costs for each product phase.
It's crucial to respect the order in which the phases are enunciated, as the outputs generated by the steps in the previous phases are a requirement to those in the phases that follow. It's a common practice in design to develop several tasks at the same time. However, in most cases, this will be more harmful than efficient.
The advantages of following a design process
Following PDP provides a set of advantages when compared to using unstructured approaches. It can massively reduce the time and cost spent in product design and development, it enables the planning of realistic schedules and will also lead to a higher quality product.
It isn't possible to generate good ideas without understanding the problem at hands, and execution is not possible without understanding what needs to be built. Every time a new idea is prototyped on top of immature requirements, a great deal of what was already done will have to be rethought and redesigned. Forcing a complete rework will, at best, result in a product that will look patched instead of built as an integrated whole. That's why it's decisive to break the process in different phases and steps in a defined sequence.
While it's important to respect the order in which the phases are presented, you can find several steps that can be done at the same time inside each phase. This allows you to accommodate different project characteristics and team members’ preferences without compromising the product quality or the project time frame and budget.
If there's need to build on a product, the best way to do it is to revisit the previous phases and/or steps. For instance, if new feedback needs to be integrated in a prototype, the team should go back to previous phases before completing the needed changes. Making changes in the final design is always much more expensive than adjusting at each step according to the gathered feedback. That's why good communication is essential throughout the process.
Good communication is the key to success
Throughout the process, in each step, there should be at least three points of communication:
- An initial workshop;
- A status update when the execution of each step is at its midpoint;
- A final meeting to validate every step.
In between checkpoints it's important to focus on each step to be completed without any additional input that may cause unnecessary diversions. At each meeting, the team should always have additional value to contribute and for which to gather feedback.
Following the same idea, if the product owner is not available for the midpoint status update, the team should initiate the remaining steps of the phase to avoid project delays. A critical requirement for the success of PDP is this constant communication with the product owner that allow short cycles of feedback and, thus, short execution times.
Once PDP is completed and the first version is launched, it's important to improve on the product following a design/build/learn cycle. However, these post-launch changes are usually different from the ones that were identified during the development of the first prototype. They usually consist of small details derived from the users’ feedback and that have a low risk of compromising the existing graphic user interface design, improving upon a solid base that has already been defined through PDP.
Although most steps don't require previous specific knowledge, to master PDP it's recommendable to do additional research and collect as much references as possible. The main advantage of applying PDP is that it provides a clear understanding of the importance of each step and its deliverables, making it easier to avoid common mistakes such as jumping right into the later phases without proper bases to support the choices made.
PDP is now a stable process, but always with continuous improvement due to the ever changing field of product design. To guarantee the effectiveness of this approach we will continue to update it as necessary, integrating new tools and techniques that represent a clear improvement in the overall process performance.
Sounds interesting? Then you’ll love the book we published about it. We describe the Product Design Process methodology thoroughly in every phase, providing practical examples and showing exactly what you should have by the end of each step. All accompanied with awesome illustrations. Click here to find more about it or make your order directly on Amazon.