When I first heard the phrase ‘Product Design’, I thought it’s definitely something about designing physical things like cups, chairs, smartphones, speakers and packaging for them. But what it really means turned out to be slightly different and I decided to explore that topic. ‘Product design’ came into the IT industry not so long ago and not every designer knows what it is about. This article is all about Product Design and the understanding of its role in the process of creating modern digital products.
Understanding Product Design
Product Design comprises of many other design disciplines, so let’s look first at the various forms of design that make up a good product designer and how they fit together.
- Interaction Design or UX. Explores behavioural patterns and investigates a ton of ways in which a particular product might solve the pre-identified problems users come up with.
- Visual Design or UI. This is that type of design that the non-designers think all designers do. It’s the process of working on the visual aspects of the product. But it’s not always sitting before the laptop with the drawing tablet and creating a masterpiece. This design area requires extensive knowledge of technologies and operation systems guidelines to create a logical and sensible User Interface in which a user is able to feel comfortable in the specific device.
- Motion Design or Animation. These designers are the cool ones. They can make your static user interface come alive by creating cool animations that will make the users more than happy.
- User Research. In the process of the user research designers literally penetrate the heads of the customers. They try to understand users needs by asking them the difficult questions.
- Data Analytics. Manages A/B tests and live products, collects and makes sense of enormous amount of data. Exact data analysts can predict the popularity of the product and help the product owner with the business plan by correlating the data.
- Prototyping. Why is it separate from the UX? Because prototyping is the integral part of the product development phase. It’s the process of crafting the interactive experiences quickly and with ease. It also enables us to test our ideas before investing in their realisation.
- Business Strategy. Identifies the business value behind every decision. In order to build something successful it is imperative that you understand why you’re building it.
Product Design is the whole process
What is the Product Designer for? He is there to help you identify, investigate, and validate the problem, and ultimately craft, design, test and ship the solution. Present a Product Designer with a solution, and he will tell you what’s wrong with it. Present him with a problem, and together with data analysts he will gather existing user data. He will assemble a cross-functional team from every corner of the business and brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Then, he will make a test plan with user research team. He will work late and create wireframe after wireframe, exploring the infinite set of possibilities.
He will throw together prototypes of the most interesting ideas and put them in front of users for quick validation. Then he will give you several fully formed concepts that all perfectly solve the problem at hand with clear strategy for how, when, and what to A/B test, and ultimately what the build and release plans should be. And he’ll support the developers through launch. He’ll work with marketing team to ensure the story is consistent with the product. He will care for the product long after the first version was shipped, following up on data and metrics to keep validating the design. A product designer will design the solution, until the problem changes.
Product Design is your product’s brand
Product Design is all about the brand. Even if you have the best marketing team that can bring you all the users in the world, if your product doesn’t deliver what your brand promises, those users will not stick around. Product Designers are the caretakers of the foundation upon which the business depends. Inconsistency between what your brand is promising and what your product delivers is what will cause you to fail. This means that it is important for the Product Design team to work closely with your marketing team.
Keep on track!
Product Design is all about solving the users’ problems. A key aspect of it is understanding the business value behind every decision you make. Data tells us what and how to do, user research checks our assumptions, and we measure our success through business and engagement metrics.
This is a field that is evolving every day. Product Design is still trying to figure out it’s place within this highly reactive space. Technologies progress so fast that half of the platforms we have to design for today, didn’t exist a couple of years ago. And obviously there are more to come in the next years.
So, we need to be flexible to adjust to these changes. We need to understand that design is dynamic. It’s ever-evolving. We need to focus on one problem to solve it and then apply the solution. We shouldn’t design one solution for each platform.
I recently started asking our development team about the problems we often face in our company. Sometimes we use old technologies that don’t provide us with the newest solutions. After calculating the results, they were quite predictable, but optimistic: every person on the team wanted to grow and learn new tools that could improve their workflow and help the whole team to deliver better products to the clients. It means that not only tools and our solutions should be adapted, but also people should be open to discover new things.
Discover and share!
Product Designers should share their knowledge with a team and creative society to be sure that everybody speaks the same language and knows what their job means within the industry. I met a lot of designers who call themselves Product Designers, but their portfolio only contains pretty pictures of user interfaces without even the slightest idea why it has been done in that particular way. We have to change this way of thinking about design as only meaning "how it looks like".
When we start working with clients, we expect knowledge about a wide range of disciplines from them. A client may understand some front- and backend coding, timing, budget, business value, analytics, management, etc. This is how we also should be thinking about a good Product Designer. Sure, they might have a beautiful portfolio, but can they be the key player throughout the entire product development process? A good product designer knows a bit of animation, prototyping, coding, research, visual and interaction design. They know when to deliver wireframes, and when to deliver pixel perfect mockups. They know when to use animation, and when to prototype. They also know how to present their work and argue their decisions.
In DeSmart, our Product Design team works on the different projects with clients from all over the world. We are changing the perception of design in general and Product Design in particular. In my time here, we’ve got the first visual designer to join the team, which is much less time- and nerves-consuming than working with freelancers before. And we will evolve our skills as well to build better products for our clients!