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How Does Product Design Fit Into the Development Process?

by Greg Cargopoulos

How Does Product Design Fit Into the Development Process?

Design plays a critical role in the success of any software application, but it can be challenging for designers and developers to effectively work together. Communication breakdowns can quickly lead to stress and frustration, making it essential to develop the right processes to communicate and effectively deliver software to customers.

Let's take a closer look at what product design is and how you can incorporate it into your development process.

Product design is essential to software development, but how does it fit into the overall process? We look at two strategies you can use to keep design and development on the same page.

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What is Product Design?

Software applications have become incredibly powerful, especially with the rise of deep learning and cloud computing. But our ability to harness that power depends on the quality of the human-computer interface. For example, a bank's mainframe terminal is extremely powerful, but everyday bank customers would be hard-pressed to access these capabilities.

Many people equate design to aesthetics – or how something looks. While that’s part of the equation, design thinking goes a step further to turn fuzzy goals into tangible workflows and prototypes. In other words, designers focus more on problem-solving than pixel-perfect designs, ensuring that organizations are building the right thing to solve a real problem.

User experience (UX) design involves managing users' journeys as they interact with a software product. In our example above, a UX designer might interview customers to determine what services they need from a banking application and then build a user interface to access them. Or, they might survey customers to discover pain points in an existing app.

User interface (UI) design is a subset of UX design that focuses on the actual construction of a product's interface. So, for instance, after a UX designer determines what a customer wants to do in a banking app, UI designers will create a layout, write copy, add buttons, and handle all of the nitty-gritty details of the interface's implementation.

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Design in the Development Process

Many organizations leverage Agile development workflows, which involve releasing small chunks of functionality to customers over time rather than a "feature-complete" product all at once. More importantly, Agile development acknowledges that the scope may change at any time based on how customers experience these small chunks of functionality.

In many cases, UX design guides Agile development cycles. For example, UX designers might interview customers and create a new workflow. As part of the process, they will develop wireframes or interactive prototypes that serve as a roadmap for feature development. And they'll also generate the files necessary for developers before any hand-off.

Designers then typically take the passenger seat as developers work on implementing new features. Sometimes, developers may want to reconsider design decisions or make subtle changes. These discussions usually involve the product manager, designer, and developer, who can work together to make the best decision.

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Communication Strategies & Techniques

Effective and efficient communication between designers and developers during planning and implementation is essential for success. Fortunately, there are several strategies and techniques that you can use to incorporate design into the development process and facilitate communication across the whole team.

Design Sprints

Design Sprints are a five-day process that helps validate ideas through prototyping and testing them with customers. The process involves a stakeholder, facilitator, marketing expert, customer service representative, design expert, tech expert, and financial expert. By including the entire team, you can make quick decisions easier.

The design sprint process takes about a week. Source: UX Planet

The actual process involves five steps that typically take one day each:

  1. Understand – Map out the problem and pick a specific pain point the product should focus on solving for the customer.

  2. Ideate – Sketch out competing solutions on paper to explore the entire problem space without criticizing or scrutinizing ideas.

  3. Decide – Collectively vote on the best solution and turn the idea into a testable hypothesis.

  4. Prototype – Develop a realistic prototype.

  5. Test – Get feedback from real live users.

Using Design Sprints, you can ensure that designers and developers (along with other team members) are on the same page. You can also secure buy-in across the entire team and iron out any significant concerns or problems before investing time and resources into building high-fidelity designs and writing code.

Behavior Driven Development

Behavior-driven development (BDD) focuses on building concrete, real-world examples illustrating how software should behave. Then, using a human- and machine-readable language, these examples become automated tests developers can use to ensure they deliver value. It also creates a kind of "living documentation" as a byproduct.

Example mapping can help clarify how a feature works. Source: SpecFlow

At its core, BDD involves Discovery Workshops where a product owner, developer, designer, and tester can map out user stories. Concrete examples help clear up any ambiguities and ensure that designers and developers are both working on the same assumptions about the user workflows and expected capabilities.

Both Design Sprints and BDD focus on constant and high-quality communication between designers and developers. Design sprints bring together stakeholders, designers, developers, and others to come up with the best possible prototype. Meanwhile, BDD brings designers, developers, and testers together to agree on functionality.

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The Bottom Line

Good design is essential to the user experience, which makes communication between designers and developers necessary for success. Fortunately, there are a handful of strategies that you can use to incorporate design into your development process and ensure that everyone is on the same page when delivering new features, including design sprints and BDD.

If you're interested in UX design services, Intent specializes in developing compelling user experiences for wearables and internet of things technologies. We have over a decade of experience helping bring these kinds of projects to market, working with brands like Oura Ring, Roku, and Jeep.

Contact us today to discuss your project!


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