At Imaginary Cloud, we believe the process of designing a product should be user-centered, integrating an innovative and practical approach that considers the users' goals, the business requirements, and a top-quality technical side.
This blog post introduces the definition and importance of product design. Plus (and perhaps more importantly), it includes a detailed and knowledgeable approach on our Product Design Process. This process consists of a well-structured and optimized product design methodology, considering results and valuable contributions from long experienced professionals.
Get to know the four phases to design a successful product, and make sure you do not skip a step!
Table of contents
- What is Product Design?
- Who is the Product Designer?
- Why is Product Design important?
- Why we developed the Product Design Process
- What is the Product Design Process (PDP)?
5.4. Technical Assessment
- The advantages of following the Product Design Process
- Concluding PDP
Product Design refers to the process designers follow to create, develop, and provide a solution for users, regarding specific market needs.
The concept of product design often overlaps with industrial product design, which refers to the ones created through mass production techniques (e.g., an iPhone, a toaster, a guitar, a chair, etc.). However, to clarify this ambiguity up front, this article focuses on digital product design, a subset of product design. A digital product is an intangible good set online, like a website or an app.
One of the biggest misconceptions about design is that it is all about aesthetics, but this is not exactly true. Aesthetics is indeed essential; however, design is about how the product works. It is about delivering useful and practical experiences with products. Simply put, product design seeks to provide solutions to problems, and this is the number one rule to successful product creation.
The product designer is responsible for creating products that assess users' specific business/market needs, providing valuable and usable experiences. To develop solutions, product designers must identify the end-users' problems, which is the first step of the product design process.
It is critical to know who will be using the product and not just what problem it is meant to solve. Understanding the user has become as important as perceiving the problem once it leads to the solution.
Moreover, the product designer may take on various job functions, which means that a UI developer, a UX designer, an Interaction Designer, an Experience designer, and a Prototyper, are some of the roles that fall into the category of product designer. Different companies can have different definitions and job functions regarding the product design process phases in which the product designer operates.
As technology keeps rapidly evolving, so does the importance of excellent product design. Creating an effective digital outcome requires a sophisticated process that goes beyond the looks. More precisely, it requires a good knowledge of business analysis, user research, psychology, and software development. Consequently, this understanding will allow designers to create a successful digital experience that meets the users' expectations and desires when navigating across a product. In fact, this will also contribute to the business goals.
When users have a positive experience with a product, they are more likely to recommend it and even become advocates of that same product. In a digital world, users seek products that make their life easier by providing quick and easy-to-follow solutions. For instance, the idea behind an app might be the most innovative and clever one; however, if the navigation and overall experience are confusing, slow, and hard for the end-user to manage, the product will most likely not succeed. Hence, a great idea will never be more than an idea if the product design does not meet the end-users' wishes.
Let us share a bit of Imaginary Cloud's history. Back in 2014, we designed a service called "The War Room". The promise was to have a product owner, a designer, and a dev team sitting in one room for three days to deliver an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). The results were a mixed bag. We did deliver a few projects, but they all failed miserably on the first market approach. 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.
At that moment, we realized that digital products need considerable research before being built. However, no documented design process was available for us to use. We urgently needed to do something about this, and we did: we created the Product Design Process (PDP).
The PDP is a collection of existing techniques, matured over time by the industry and chained together to ensure that the product design team's workflow is as efficient as possible.
To these days, our Product Design Process (PDP) is still at the core of how we deliver top-quality digital products, and we are very proud of the results.
The Product Design Process (PDP) consists of a user-centered design process for digital products that follow a multi-disciplinary approach. Its main goal is to create outstanding products with a fast go-to-market strategy. Plus, it can also be applied to projects that seek growth through optimization.
Our vision is simple: we want to deliver the best possible solution for specific problems once there are too many half-arsed competing products out there.
The PDP structure contemplates four different phases — research, ideation, execution, and technical assessment - that are then split into twelve steps. These steps are all part of the main framework, providing guidelines on how to design a product.
Next, you'll find a brief explanation for each phase of the product design process.
The first phase of PDP is UX designer's responsibility. The objective is to gather evidence that will support the decisions taken henceforth, ensuring that no decision is made based on vague assumptions. In this phase, the main aspects of the business model and user needs are identified.
1. Briefing: assures that the whole team is on the same page and has all the relevant information, which includes the project's vision and goals, as well as the business requirements.
2. User Research: in this step, the users' profile is discussed with the product stakeholders. Defining the target users' profile helps to identify their main goals and motivations. Therefore, user research guarantees product usefulness and effectiveness from the user's perspective.
3. Design Benchmark: analyzing the landscape of similar and complementary products, design patterns and technologies used in the industry, contribute to positioning the new product. This step 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 is where the concept of the product is formulated based on the user's needs and the business model (both identified in the Research phase). Here, the UX designer, the product designer, and the product owner should work closely together.
4. User Journey: the user journey is where the ideal user experience is mapped by describing each user's action. In this step, various user scenarios are written and validated. Overall, it provides a global user experience vision, ensuring its consistency and fluidity. Moreover, the user journey also serves as a base to establish the product requirements.
5. Decision Matrix: provides an indispensable basis for the project development plan, ensuring that a viable product can be developed even under time and cost constraints. This step is crucial to prioritize the users' and product's goals while considering the product life cycle's current stage.
6. Wireframes: in the wireframes' step, the skeleton of the screens starts being drawn. The pages structure and navigation flow are established to ensure interface usability and reduce design time by baselining the core information architecture.
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 step aims to understand the product's "mood" through a collection of pictures, words, and other visual elements.
In this phase, the product designer focuses on creating a physical representation of the concept that has been defined up to this point.
8. Style Guide: it's where the baseline to style the graphic interface happens considering colour palette, fonts, image style, input fields, buttons, and so on. This step assures the consistency throughout the application, baselining various graphic interface elements' visual coherence.
9. Graphic User Interface (GUI) Design: it executes the end-looking screens by applying the Style Guide to the Wireframes. The ninth step provides stakeholders with the final aspect of the product's screens in order to obtain approval before moving to the implementation.
10. Prototype: in this step, a click-through Prototype is developed to be accessible online and shareable with other devices and users through a link and password. The Prototype step allows the navigation from screen-to-screen, facilitating the feedback intake either from stakeholders or potential users and investors.
The main goal of this phase is to guarantee that all requirements and ideas generated are realistic concerning their implementation. They must be achievable considering the available time and budget previously setted.
11. High-level Architecture: this step develops the technical design with the ideal balance between complexity and reach. Further, it is also where the external dependencies from third-party providers (e.g., Stripe, Facebook, Amazon) are identified. This step details how the product will be built, identifying baselines for the needed technologies and skills to make it.
12. Project Plan: the last step defines the major milestones and provides a general understanding of the project's structure, phases, intersections and interdependencies. It allows a good comprehension of how to build the product, how much effort it will require and the expected costs for each phase.
It's crucial to respect the order in which the phases are enunciated. The outputs generated by the previous phases' steps are a requirement to those in the stages 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.
Following the PDP provides a set of benefits when compared to using unstructured approaches. It can massively reduce the time and cost spent on product design and development, it enables the planning of realistic schedules and will also lead to a higher quality product.
It is not possible to generate good ideas without understanding the problem at hand. Consequently, execution also becomes impossible 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 or redesigned. Forcing a complete rework will, at best, result in a product that will look patched instead of building as an integrated whole. That is why it is decisive to break the process in different phases and steps in a defined sequence.
While it is essential to respect the order in which the phases are presented, you can find several steps that can be done simultaneously within each stage. 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 steps. For instance, if new feedback needs to be integrated into a prototype, the team should go back to earlier stages before completing the required 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 crucial throughout the process.
Good communication is the key to success
During the process, in each step, there should be at least three points of communication:
- An initial workshop;
- A status update when each step's execution is at its midpoint;
- A final meeting to validate every step.
It's critical to focus on each step to be completed in between checkpoints without any additional input that may cause unnecessary diversions. At each meeting, the team should always have added value to contribute and gather feedback.
Following the same idea, if the product owner is not available for the midpoint status update, the team should initiate the phase's remaining steps 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 essential to improve the product following a design/build/learn cycle. However, these post-launch changes are usually different from those identified during the development of the prototype. They typically consist of small details derived from the users' feedback and have a low risk of compromising the existing graphic user interface design. This will allow to improving upon a solid base that has already been defined through PDP.
Although most steps do not require previous specific knowledge, to master PDP, it is recommendable to do additional research and collect as many references as possible. The main advantage of applying PDP is that it clarifies 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 product design's ever-changing field. To guarantee this approach's effectiveness, we will continue to update it as necessary by integrating new tools and techniques that will improve the overall process performance.
Sounds interesting? Then you’ll love our Product Design Process book. It describes the 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. You can make your order directly on Amazon or Barnes&Noble. Enjoy your read!