Table of contents
- What Is Product Design?
- Product Design Strategy
- UX Research
- Ideation & Design
- Prototyping & Testing
- Product Design Process in practice - InGame Case Study
Product Design definition
Let’s start from the very beginning by explaining what Product Design actually is.
Product Design is a comprehensive approach of creating a product based on both - the target clients’ needs and business goals.
The idea of placing the user in the centre of the design process reaches the ‘80s so it’s still quite fresh but not exactly new. From that time thousands of companies decided to implement this approach into their business strategy and a lot of new theories, techniques and frameworks appeared around it. The IT industry, as a typical early adopter seeking for innovations and open for new solutions, introduced Product Design quickly and broadly. It has had a vast influence on the rapid popularization of technologies among non-tech users. Today most of the best IT companies develop their own Product Design Processes to limit the risk of market failure, clearly expose the values and distinguish from the competitors.
Product Design methodologies
As it was mentioned Product Design is user-centred but also should be business-driven so its development paths are determined by evolving requirements of the target group as well as by the remaining trends in the company’s management. The Product Design methodologies help to systematize the process and equip with the particular tools and solutions to keep the right workflow.
One of the most commonly used in companies although less and less applied in technology-related industries. It assumes the transparent process in which every stage should be finished to start another one. This way we can keep the apparent order and prepare a formal plan from the research through design and development to the product release.
The problem with the waterfall approach the IT companies particularly met is its inflexibility and difficulties in introducing modifications when the specific stage has already ended. For the enterprises performing in constantly and briskly changing the environment, the process is often too rigid and jeopardizing the project success in terms of remaining its up-to-dateness.
Established in 2001 Agile was the answer to peculiar requirements of creating digital products and to the defects of the waterfall approach. It makes software development more effective and responsive by cutting it into the small, repeated parts - iterations (sprints). Every each of them is run within the process including elements like planning, dailies, reviews, retros, and refinements. That ensures everyone is up to date with the project’s progress, the workflow is maintained, and that necessary modification can be deployed at a very early stage. Agile also assumes working in multidisciplinary, self-organized teams which creates a great space to exchange opinions of experts from different fields. For Product Designers, it provides the conditions of close collaboration with software engineers and an opportunity to gain fast, technical feedback about their ideas.
- Lean Startup
This methodology is focused on creating the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) - the basic version of the product consisting of the most important features. Building it requires prioritization of functionalities and sometimes resigning from some of those which are not essential to meet users’ needs and achieve business purposes. This approach will above all speed up releasing the product and introducing it to the first clients which is crucial in innovative projects and in highly competitive markets. MVP provides a chance to verify the assumptions and the idea with the real users and then improve the particular areas.
- Design Thinking
Design Thinking is one of the most in-demand design methodologies established more than 25 years ago by IDEO, product development company. So what it is about?
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
— Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
To achieve above-cited results teams should be interdisciplinary so members can look at the issue from different perspectives. The whole Design Thinking work needs to be oriented on creative problem solving, experimenting, and testing ideas. The Product Design Process starts with “empathize” stage within which we try to get to know (but not judging!) the users by interviewing and observing them. Based on this research we define particular needs and insights to clarify the problem we want to solve. Then there comes the brainstorming in which even the most extraordinary ideas should be generated as the selection will come later. When we choose the most proper ones we can start prototyping phase. With the physical form of our idea, we are able to test it, get feedback and refine the solution.
Design Thinking offers great fundamentals and the general philosophy of conducting the Product Design Process so it’s no surprise that companies like IBM, Apple or SAP broadly implemented it and created a lot of successful solution based on it. It also inspires to further explore methodology and developed it as Google has had with building the Design Sprint.
This framework captures the IDEO’s methodology in a 5-day sprint to run the process quickly and effectively. Although it provides a very detailed plan, it can be adjusted to project’s specification and abilities.
Why product design is important in business strategy?
Product design isn’t just about a fancy look, impressive features or user-friendly interface. It’s a comprehensive approach which should put the users in the centre of the process to create a product fitting their needs and expectations. But no company is building a solution just to satisfy a group of people - their goal is to achieve it to simply make money on selling the product. That’s so obvious, right? So the vital mission of Product Design is to support reaching business goals.
To make it happen UX Designer should be engaged in the project from the very beginning to validate the first assumptions and ideas. At the later stages of development, this role will modify and Product Designer will control the results with set requirements and advice on what should be changed and how.
This constant UX support can significantly limit the risk of appearing the faults so at the end also save money and time put into designing and developing the product.
This step should be made even before the whole Product Design Process will start. The vision sounds quite subtle and fuzzy but it needs to be highly tangible and clearly define what kind of product you want to create and who will use it. Answers to these questions should be based on in-depth analysis of the target audience including their needs, insights, and also the problems they face and which can be solved with your product features. But user profile is not the only issue that needs to be studied at the very beginning of your trip. The equally important fields are an environment and a context so - competition, market conditions, law requirements, etc. All of them should be reflected in your business strategy, marketing, and sales plans and taken into consideration in the Product Design Process. They are also a groundwork to create Unique Value Proposition - the main benefit for choosing your product, making it stand out from other, similar ones and encouraging to pay for yours.
How do you know if your project succeed? Without setting goals first, you won’t be able to judge it accurately. Reaching particular markets, gaining a specific gross profit or a number of clients - these are measures showing how do you perform and what should be changed to achieve success. They are also essential for Product Designers to follow up the results of their work so does the project meet users’ needs and business goals you established.
Why UX research is an essential part of the Product Design Process?
The 1:10:100 rule established in quality management by George Labovitz and Yu Sang Chang is applied across many fields including digital project development. It illustrates in a very vivid way the real cost we need to bear in a particular stage of the process to react for the defects. So what it is about? In short: 1 dollar spent on prevention will save us 10 dollars on correcting errors and 100 dollars on a failure caused by the poor quality of preparation and analysis. Implementing this rule in UX shows the great role of research in the whole Product Design Process.
Entrepreneurs, especially in startups, often have a very strong belief that their products will meet the users needs and their enthusiasm might distort their viewpoints on some matters detected during the development. Subtle but meaningful premises found then are belittled or misinterpreted because of confidence of own knowledge of the user and the market circumstances. With this attitude, even engaging Product Designer who would conduct the most effective workshops won’t fully exploit the potential of the UX process. So research is vital not only for companies that have barely an outline of their business but also for these which prepared some analysis and are looking for a second opinion to verify them.
Benefits of conducting UX research:
- discovering the real expectations, needs, and requirements of users,
- fresh, external look at the product, ideas, and already gathered information and knowledge,
- detecting potential weak spots to prevent making errors in the design and development stages,
- verifying the business model and particular features
- a better understanding of the product and preparing for situations entrepreneur would not foresee on his own.
UX research methods
There are numerous techniques used by Product Designers in UX research. Choosing a particular one depends on the specifics and profile of the project, business goals and strategy and of course budget. To name some of the most popular and effective ones:
- Card sorting - a way of building proper information architecture of a digital product based on users’ categorization of words or phrases which the researcher has put on the cards.
- In-depth interview - time-absorbing method but worthwhile as the interview provides comprehensive and detailed information about the user, his needs and behaviors.
- Focus groups - opinion exchange along with a group of users run by UX researcher. There are more dynamic but also unpredictable so it’s essential to properly moderate them and interpret the information gained from participants.
- Field studies - a range of UX research techniques which allows you to observe users in their everyday life and specific situations. They ensure the insides of how the product might be used in a particular context and environment which is natural for the person.
- Concept testing - confronting the very early stage prototype with users to verify basic ideas and concepts.
Product Design Workshops
A great part of the whole product design process usually takes place within discovery workshops. Although their final structure and agenda might differ, the basics are pretty much the same.
Check the different types of project initiation workshops:
The main goal is to get to know the product inside out by both sides - the company and its IT partner. For the design team, it's the best opportunity to gather the business requirements, understand the business model and expectations of the product's owner and explore the users' needs. But that's also a great moment for the company to verify the ideas and the basic assumptions of the product. Especially since one of the fundamental assumptions of the product design workshops is the diversity of participants. They should involve experts from different areas - UX and UI designers, software developers, QA specialists, Project Managers and client's representatives.
That creates an excellent space for sharing the opinions and looking at the problems from various perspectives. Idea verification is one of the crucial benefits of Product Design Workshops for startups. Ability to talk over the concepts with specialists, discover real users needs, systematize the assumptions and the whole knowledge about the project is extremely valuable especially when they try to gain the funds from the investors. They can also help (depending on the scope of particular workshops) to set the fully-fledged project specification, tech requirements and estimate time and budget needed to develop the app.
But the advantages of the workshops do not end in here and they concern not only the startups. The validation might be the value also for the enterprises willing to rebuild their digital products - just see what our client - Millward Agency gained after the product design workshops.
Even if the project is in a more advanced stage with established MVP and some first prototypes the workshops or at least extended scoping session is an opportunity to meet the team, provide it with full information about the product and its business environment. If well-run they can cut the costs and time of development by limiting the risk of misunderstanding and faults.
How to run a successful brainstorming and get great ideas?
When all of the necessary information about users and the business environment will be gathered, Product Designer has to turn this knowledge into particular ideas. Conducting this part effectively requires proper moderation and organization. To achieve that there are numerous techniques which support running the brainstorming sessions. Here are some of the widely used on this stage of the Product Design Process:
- Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) - a powerful yet accessible tool which helps to check if two parts of this model: Customer Profile and Value Proposition fit each other. The first block is dedicated to the user’s expectations, needs but also negative issues and problems. The second element of the VPC focuses on the product and validates if it corresponding with information defined in Customer Profile by providing the value (Gain creators) and/or overcome the difficulties (Pain relievers).
- Customer Journey Map - it's a detailed list of the interactions between a customer and company. The map visualizes the path of user experiences and shows the steps he/she needs to take to buy a product with the emphasis of the touchpoints we need to pay attention within the design process.
- User stories - these are scenarios written from a user perspective and describing the features of the product. User stories contain 3 elements: persona, action, and value proposition expressed in a different kind of sentences with gaps to complete like: “As a ..., I want to ..., so I can ...”. Commonly applied in the Agile approach to software development.
When the designs are created?
Well, just right now. We know what we want to create, we are aware of the market circumstances and we got to know users inside out. So now is the time to translate this great knowledge into an aesthetic and user-friendly design. The amount of UI Designer work differs according to the stage of development which product is at the moment. Wherever it’s a mature project with defined visual identity or a startup which doesn’t even have a logo, the key to success in building a delightful user interface is the constant and close collaboration between UX and UI Designers and the client.
Product profile and business goals are one more again crucial as this part of the process is not only about the eye-catching look of an app. UI Designer has to consider if the interface will be based mostly on images like in e-commerce or maybe dashboards presenting data in an easy way for the users of some Fintech system? Or maybe a client perform in the digital signage industry so adapting to DOOH requirements will be vital? All these have to be taken into account right at the beginning.
In creating UI the first issue which needs designing is the basic structure of a digital product. One of the most commonly used methods of building it is wireframing which shows a layout, vital elements, and main pages of the website or app. Even if wireframes are just sketches this is a way better form to present ideas and user flow than discussing them without any particular image.
How to prepare a prototype for tests?
The prototype delivered to tests doesn’t have to be highly advanced but it needs to include some important aspects of the work that has been already done and require validation. It can be prepared with paper or using e.g. Adobe XD or Axure. Both methods have their pros and cons and should be used in terms of the stage of the product's design. Evaluating the project part by part will gain you time to correct errors before the development phase will start and help to keep the effective workflow.
The prototypes will become more and more advanced with the progress of the project so it’s crucial not to wait to build them when we will have an almost fully-fledged product. Introducing modifications at that moment will cost more time, work and of course money.
Testing in the Product Design Process
After a discussion (or rather few of them) with a client about prepared design projects and prototypes there comes a moment of gathering the first feedback. In software houses, the development team usually includes QA specialists who are responsible for detecting bugs and technical problems. The range of their duties is growing and the good practice is to entrust them e.g. usability test.
Whichever scope of services you will choose to develop your project, sooner or later the product will face the moment of users testing. That’s always a great challenge so be prepared for rather plenty remarks and that a great part of them will be unexpected. Tests can change not only a particular feature or element of the app but sometimes the whole strategy we’ve established within other stages of Product Design Process. Users will provide you with bugs reports, some fresh observations, opinions about the interface, information about a particular context in which they used the app and did it help or fail. To fully exploit this valuable feedback Product Designer should select the accurate form of testing fitting the project specification and the stage of its development.
Testing techniques and tools
- Usability testing - verification of functionality and intuitiveness of the product. It provides a broad evaluation containing data on how potential clients experience it, is it understandable and easy to use for them, do they find it attractive, are they able to reach clue information, what’s their opinion of particular features and much more. The testing session can be conducted in a formal environment or more casual circumstances. There’s no need to engage numerous users but Product Designer should clearly define the information he wants to obtain.
- Heatmaps - used in design surveys to check which part of e.g. website users pay attention too, for how long and in what order. It’s based on tracking the movements of eyes, mouse or /and clicks.
- A/B testing - helpful when Product Designer wants to check which of solutions will be more effective. It assumes introducing two versions of elements to the users and analyzing their reactions for each of them.
Deployment - the end of the Product Design Process?
Of course not. Realizing the product shouldn’t be considered as a final step of the Product Design and Development Process and the end of the collaboration with software supplier wherever it’s an outsourcing company or in-house team. The digital products perform in the competitive and dynamic conditions so there’s always something you can improve or completely change.
Observing customers’ behavior when they use your solution and analyzing gathered data should be a permanent part of running the business as well as planning refreshments and reaching for post-implementation expert support.
Wonder how does the whole design process work in real projects? Here's the case study of InGame app which shows all stages implemented by our design team.
What would you do if you hear several times a week that someone begs to go out with him and play basketball, and you are really not a big fan of this sport? Our Product Design team have decided to face this problem and satisfy our colleagues by creating a tailored solution - a mobile app connecting people who want to do some activities together.
Not to be so focused on one man’s quirk, we needed to check whether there are more people who have the same problem as our friend. There is no better way to do it than just ask.
STEP ONE: in-depth interviews
As we are aware that in order to create a successful project we need to either create a demand for something or solve an existing problem, thus research of users’ needs should be a crucial element of developing any solution.
We decided to go with in-depth interviews which are considered as a perfect tool at this stage. We had an opportunity not only to get answers to our questions but to dig a little bit deeper by letting interviewers express their hopes and fears, describe issues they have to deal with currently in regard to possibilities to organize or take part in any activity.
We have questioned 9 people, aged 25-45, who are active, play sports that require the involvement of more than one person. The questions were divided into 3 blocks:
- About interviewers - What sports do they play? How often? What motivates them? Which sports apps do they use and why? What are their problems with gathering companions to play?
- About the current situation - When do they decide about time and place to play? How do they choose their companion? Do they have a steady team to play?
- About the proposed solution - What would be the most important features of such an application?, How would they use it? What would be the criteria to create or choose an event? Which information about players they would like to know?
Our focus became clear - we have to follow what people spotted and try to figure out functionalities, create use cases, build personas, discover motivations, which all led us to...
STEP TWO: Product Design Workshops
Firstly we sat down and exchanged our findings after the interviews. We spoke about people’s feelings towards the current situation and all the insights we could draw from them.
As a result of our interviews, we could build up profiles of our personas which are extremely helpful when you need to differentiate your users. When we analyzed interviews our discoveries showed that there are at least 3 main personas we should take care of.
- Marta - she is the one who enjoys sports activity in a way it corresponds to her social needs, so both aspects - friends and staying fit - are treated equally. Marta doesn't want to limit herself and dedicate to only one sport. She is eager to get familiar with new things - recently she has joined a group of people playing ultimate frisbee, which is a totally new activity for her. Whenever she goes jogging she enjoys the company of other people - she likes chatting, and on the other hand, she enjoys motivating others.
- Marcin - his motivation to organize events is slightly different. He enjoys the competition. He spends time with another group of colleagues playing basketball once or twice a week. As sometimes it is difficult to find a sufficient number of players he is really eager to join another team and having the option he would definitely choose those with heavy skills.
- Karol - the father of two, quite busy managing his department in a big factory. To find some time to play volleyball he needs to be very well-organized, and he is really unhappy when there are not enough people gathered for a game. He prefers team sports but sometimes he is forced to jog alone. As his job requires lots of computer work he feels he needs to be active in sports not to lose his shape and health.
Considering the problems that our respondents face, we have discovered the following issues:
- It is not an easy thing to organize an event through Facebook groups; there is a lack of filtering and sorting and a search function does not work properly. Above this both: a calendar and location do not exist, so it seems impossible to find an interesting event and easily match it with your plans.
- It is almost impossible to verify people unless you play in a closed group. Adding new members without knowing either their level of skill in a sport or their behavior (showing up on time) is quite risky and leads to misunderstandings.
- Finding a new discipline to try is very difficult within FB groups; it is impossible to get any inspiration.
- Barely ever people can find more information about pitch conditions.
- Those who organize sports events underlined that they would love to join activities created by others, but none of the solutions they use enhances people to arrange them.
During the workshop session, we took into consideration all the above problems and we tried to brainstorm all the ideas on improving the existing situation. But beforehand there was research done on products existing on the market. Out of several available solutions (none of us or our respondents has ever heard of any of them), we could not find any that could directly correspond to the findings of our interviews. We played a bit with Rovo, Sprt, Playo, Places4play, Celebreak and we really couldn’t find a compromise between a nice design, important functionalities, and needs of our potential users.
Our suggested features that reply on current problems would include the following:
- search engine with sorting and filtering options and new categories or disciplines recommendations,
- finding places and people nearby with a map and distance option,
- verification of people by giving them rank, badges, showing a history of their activities and attendance,
- easiness in creating an event to enhance users to do it more often with gamification elements,
- motivating features together with a weather forecast and an accurate description of a pitch.
After defining what we could do better than our competitors to help users achieve their goals we formulated a unique value proposition which we all agreed on. So:
For amateur sportspeople who want to organize or join an event, the InGame is an application to manage sports events that helps to find people interested in playing sports. Unlike Facebook groups and events, our product will enable users to see the history and profiles of players and will be notably easier to use.
We decided to focus on “competing” with Facebook groups and create a very local version of the application, basing in Poznan. Limiting the area to one city as an MVP version of an app will allow us to test it around and on the other hand, the product will be easily scalable for later development.
During the workshop session, we managed to figure out all the functionalities and while using a story mapping technique we decomposed scenarios into single tasks and settled priorities.
Additionally, we have prepared a Business Model Canvas structuring the product in regard to key activities that must be done before entering the market, together with revenues and costs flows and other very useful things to be considered. This gave us an opportunity to look at InGame as one of our external projects and treat it as a commercial product with all the pros and cons of the solution.
STEP THREE: First sketches
Having all the insights worked out previously we started to create the very first sketches of our solution. We focused on main activities like how to create and join an event, how to show a list of events, which details will be the most important, as well as on the user’s profile.
STEP FOUR: Branding with look & feel of the application
Creating a new brand is always a big challenge for our UI designers; they feel passionate about doing a totally new style and being limited only by their imagination.
InGame application needed vibrant colors and modern typography. We experimented with several solutions to finally decide on a mixture of two kinds of blue, violet and pink with clean white and black backgrounds and letters. The font we used is Addressed Sans Pro in two versions, original and condensed. We created icons to represent each sport and match the style of application. So to put it right - now everything looks neat and playful encouraging users to verify the seamless experience with InGame.
STEP FIVE - Prototype testing
Design of the application had been prepared in Sketch, then moved to Invision to create a prototype. Equipped with our smartphones we wanted to check on real people the following:
- How do they perceive InGame in regards to its look and feel?
- Is it easy for them to navigate through the application and if they find specific sport activities without any problems
- Are they able to perform tasks connected with the usage of the app given by us?
The results came quickly. We spotted there was a bit of misunderstanding of the map - users wanted to see all the events nearby, not only those connected with chosen sport, so we adjusted a flow a bit to this scenario. Creating a new event was not problematic but we heard some comments there are too many fields to fill in, and so we shortened the form. No other major problems appeared.
Overall reviews were extremely positive, our colours appealed to 90% of testers
A pleasant look together with the easiness of use made a really good impression on potential users. We felt we had won at least a few hearts and a bunch of supporters ready to whisper a good word about InGame to their friends on social media.