However blurry the product design term might be, we can say without exaggeration, that the design itself determines the value, functionality and usefulness of the product. The design process affects what users feel while using your product. In that way, it decides whether the final product is a real innovation or just another merchandise.
Some well-known frameworks provide very useful guidelines for the product design process. One of them is the Design Thinking framework by Ideo. The other - Double Diamond mapped out by the Design Council. However, no product design process works every time, so we rarely follow the strict order of steps in business situations. Each project is unique. It depends on: its main goal, product stage, requirements, the team involved and budget. That is why we don’t have a universal recipe for the product design process. What we have in intent is a list of phases we usually follow while building products with our partners. As you can see the design process can be quite intangible and yet it plays an important role in a product's success. That’s exactly why we decided to describe it in more detail.
Strategy and planning
At this stage, we want to answer the main question of each project: what issue is our customer trying to address? At the beginning of the project, we gather and analyze all the information about users, the business and the product (if it already exists). Getting to know the project, learning as much as possible about expected results, business goals and user needs is vital to coming up with better solutions and design later on. At intent, we use two main tools to gather all the intelligence we need.
INTERVIEWS WITH STAKEHOLDERS
This method helps us to establish the foundations for any project. It provides valuable insights about business goals, technical constraints, usability problems and more.
Interviewing stakeholders means asking the right people the right questions. It also requires working closely with the client from the very beginning, and so it sets some solid foundations for further successful collaboration.
This method is very effective in transferring knowledge, defining a project's goals and its roadmap. The workshops can take different shapes. They depend on the size of the project and the complexity of a challenge. A workshop can be a two-hours-long call with one of the stakeholders or a three-day-long meeting consisting of strictly defined exercises that engages people who hold different roles - stakeholders, developers, marketing specialists or even external experts. During the workshops, we run different exercises including Customer journey mapping, Business model canvas, Value proposition canvas, User story mapping, Empathy map and Personas. The choice of the most suitable method depends on the project’s specifics. Mainly, though, on the goal, we want to achieve. After every workshop, we prepare a report. We also put down some recommendations that include the next steps our new partner can take in the process.
Discovery and research
All right, we have lots of information and assumptions about the product and its users. Now we should validate them. We need to find out the most about the product (if it already exists). To achieve this, we research its competition and the target group using quantitative and qualitative methods. Data-driven research should give a clear idea of ‘who, what, why, when and how’. The deeper this knowledge, the better the final result of the design process.
Since there are many different research methods, it is vital to know when to apply each of them. Conducting research takes time, but don’t even think of skipping this process. It provides great value to the product design and helps avoid costly mistakes.
Quantitative research methods can reveal valuable information about the state of the existing products and how people use them. When looking into Google Analytics, or any other analytical tool, it’s vital to determine what are the metrics we want to analyze. We might review for example traffic, conversion and user retention. It all depends on the goal of our research.
It’s important to keep in mind the quantitative data we get sheds some light on what people do on our website but not “why” they do it. We can explore this using the qualitative methods described later in this article.
An in-depth interview aims at collecting detailed information beyond initial and surface-level answers. Using this method, we can learn the details of the real-users’ perspectives and reveal the true needs of the target audience. This knowledge is crucial to creating a marketable product.
Surveys are a quick and relatively easy way to get data about your potential users. You can gather a lot of their thoughts without too much effort with the use of one simple form.
COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS & BENCHMARKING
Very few businesses can be successful without keeping an eye on the competition. Competitive analysis is very important. It allows you to objectively determine where you stand in comparison to your competition and to spot any gaps in the market your product might benefit from. Benchmarking, on the other hand, clearly indicates who the top players in your market are. Thanks to this method, you learn who to borrow effective design elements from.
You can also run a UX Audit to quickly identify potential usability issues of your product. Professional evaluation of the user interface identifies imperfect areas of your product and reveals which parts of a website or app are a headache for their users. The UX audit provides a list of issues along with actionable recommendations.
Once we have a deep understanding of the problem and users’ needs, it’s time to develop a relevant solution. At this phase, we brainstorm and visualize ideas and then gradually turn them into tangible user interfaces. This phase contains several sub-phases:
We must create flows before we jump into designing interfaces. Every functionality a user sees is not just a screen, it’s a flow - a process that is driven by users’ goals and occurs in a specific behavioral context. Preparing flows speeds up the design process and ensures that there are no dead-ends for the users. Different methods can be used to conclude this sub-phase: user flows, task flows, story mapping and/or use cases.
Sketching (and yes - we mean pen-and-paper sketching) is a great way to experiment with different ideas and to communicate them visually to others. We love it because it allows us to spend more time exploring different screen layouts and testing hypotheses without consuming too much time preparing designs on the computer.
In this sub-phase, a designer usually prepares lots and lots of wireframes. The trick is to create rough but clear representations of the chosen ideas which can give us enough to be able to imagine the final result accurately. The main function of wireframes is to convey a few visions of a certain screen. After everyone agrees on one, we can proceed with the design process while avoiding confusion among the team members.
This sub-phase’s outcome is to transform the static designs into more dynamic ones. In the interactive prototypes, the screens are enriched by adding some user-triggered transitions. The great value of the interactive prototypes is also that we can use them to test our solutions with real users to check how they perceive them.
Test and Iterate
At intent, we are big enthusiasts of the iterative process which is based on continuous improvement. This ensures we build the best possible version of the product. The iterative design process is a simple concept. Once you develop a prototype, you test it with users to see whether it meets their needs in the best way possible. Then you take what you learned from testing and upgrade the design. Following that, you create a new prototype and begin the process all over again until you are satisfied. Depending on the project budget and timeline, we usually run one or two iterations.
We always try to test our prototypes with real users, before we hand them over to developers. It allows us to get quick, actionable feedback on the product and uncover any drawbacks and issues that need to be addressed.
UI & Visual design
Once all the screens’ structures and flows are approved and tested with users, it’s time for some final polishing. The main goal of this step is to deliver a final product design, that is visually pleasing, consistent and aligned with the branding. The product can also be enriched by some animations or custom-made illustrations that will enhance the users' experience.
This is usually the final step of the product design process. It takes place when the finished UI is ready to be passed into the hands of the development team. At this stage, designers need to collaborate closely with the developers to make sure that they have a mutual understanding and that there are no knowledge gaps. The designer needs to provide design files and all the necessary assets, including icons, flows, animations, validation specifications and edge-cases for this phase.
Now that you know how the backstage of our product design process looks like, you can see the number of different steps involved in it and that most of them require the participation of diversified specialists that are skilled in design, research, business strategy and problem-solving.
We cannot repeat often enough that the design process is not about building cool looking products. It’s about delivering solutions that bring value by fulfilling business goals and responding to users' needs. That is why it’s crucial that designing the product is managed by professionals who know how to run a foolproof process. It allows them to deliver the expected outcome quickly and most accurately.
Contact us, and we will advise you on what product design process would be optimal for your product. Together we can build an innovation that users love and share.
There is no one-fits-all process, be flexible and choose the method that suits your product best
Understand business and users to make sure you build the right product
Iterate: test and modify until it works in the hands of users
Product design is not about creating cool looking products, it’s about building the right product that cures users’ pains and solves business problems.