Product design is the process of identifying a market’s needs and creating a solution that addresses them, in the form of a product that is valuable to users and sustainable for the business.
We live in a world filled with incredible product design. Streaming media players that provide us with remarkably perceptive recommendations based on our listening or viewing history. Productivity software that automates so much of the menial work of the past. Even meditation apps help us achieve mindfulness by ourselves with just a few guided steps.
These products are the result of careful consideration and research, as well as extensive market validation and testing. This article explores the product design process and how you can use it to create enriching experiences like these for your users.
Table of contents
- What is Product Design?
- What Roles are Involved in Product Design?
- What is the Product Design Process?
- Product Design: A Continuous Process of Improvement
What is Product Design?
Product design is the process that refines your product idea into a complete solution to your market’s needs. It considers not only the features that will make it into the product, but also how easy and intuitive it is to use, and how it looks as well.
Effective product design doesn’t just address user needs like a checklist of issues. It also inspires positive emotions and targets users’ frustrations.
What Roles are Involved in Product Design?
The product design process involves many areas of expertise. Here are some of the roles that may dip their toes in product design.
Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts use various user research methods and tools to identify user sentiment. Their expertise in understanding what users find valuable will inform your product design process. At the end of the day, your product should be geared towards helping your users, and market research analysts help you determine how you can help them, and whether your existing products are working towards this goal.
User Experience (UX) Designer
UX designers are experts at making products feel good to use. Whether that means creating an elegant interface, a frictionless user flow, or an intuitive information architecture that makes it easy for users to find what they need, UX designers are the lifeblood of any product’s usability.
Complex products will require lots of different people working on them. They’ll need experienced product specialists who can manage their overall strategic direction.
Product designers have skills in various fields of product design and can help guide the design team in staying on track with the project and making sure that it’s still aligned with high-level goals.
What is the Product Design Process?
As a uniquely multifaceted creative process, product design isn’t always going to involve a linear set of steps and milestones. However, the following steps are a useful framework you can pattern your process after.
1. Empathize with Your Product’s Target Market
Your users are people, not just problems! You should start the product design process by identifying the needs and pain points in your prospective user base, as well as how they feel and what you can do to make them feel better.
There are various research tools you can use in this stage, such as:
- Focus group discussions
- Competitive research
Use the insights from your research to gauge your product/market fit, or how much your product idea can address the demand in your market.
2. Define Your Problem
Once you’ve identified your market needs, it’s time to define the core problems that you want to solve. You need a clear problem statement that sets a concrete objective for your product.
For example, imagine that you’re a transport company from 2010, long before the dominance of ridesharing. After doing your market research, you determined that your users’ main issue with taxis is that they’re hard to find and hail.
Your problem statement could then be, “Users need a way to call a taxi even if none are visible in the area.” You could also frame it as a question: “How can we give users access to taxis without them being in visual range of each other?”
3. Ideate Your Solutions
With your problem in place, it’s time to ideate solutions to the problem. Use all the information you have to create new ideas and solutions. Look at what your competitors are doing well, and where they might be lacking. Understand your user stories and think of rough feature ideas that tackle them.
The goal here is not to create a completely thought-out product ideal. Rather, you want to give your product design team enough freedom to work out a variety of solutions that you can test rapidly. This is because you should also be discarding ideas rapidly if they prove to be not viable. After the ideation phase, you’ll have solutions that you’re happy with.
Now that you have some features and solutions in mind, you can bring them to life with prototypes. Prototypes aim to provide a rough approximation of the product or feature’s functionality. The goal is to convey as much information about the design as possible, without spending too much time building the prototype.
Prototypes can be as simple as cardboard cutouts or sketches, or as complex as fully interactive clickable screens. As long as they give your stakeholders an idea of what the design intends to do, you can use any medium you’re comfortable with.
5. Test Your Designs
As you build your prototypes, you should continuously test them, both internally and with your users. Internal testing puts more eyes on your prototypes, which can help your team identify issues that they might not have noticed individually. You also need your users’ feedback to identify whether you’re on the right track in addressing their problems.
Product Design: A Continuous Process of Improvement
Product design isn’t a one-and-done affair. It’s continuously iterative, taking into account new insights, user feedback, and changing goals. Having the right people on the job and following a flexible product design process can help you stay on track.
What matters is that you always consider design to be a critical component of any product that you create. It’s not just about the problems you solve, but how you approach solving them, that matters when truly delighting your customers.