Design Development

The ultimate guide to product design

Product design feature image

In the previous post you could learn about prototyping in HTML, why it is better than working in graphic editor and how to get started. Today you will have a chance to explore this, product design and development, topic further by understanding what product design is, what questions you should ask and how many features should you focus on. In other words, a bit of theory behind MVP. You will also find that product design goes beyond design and what is the most important metric to measure.

What is product design

Let’s start with the first question on your list of the stuff you wish to know. What is product design? In today’s world, you can imagine products like graphic, websites, apps, communities, physical products and so on. In the simplest terms, product is anything created with the goal of being sold by a business or individual to customers. It does not matter if it is B2B, B2C, B2G, B2M or whatever type of business you are interested in. As long as you, or other entity, sells it, it is a product.

Product design is the process of creating this product you want to sell. This process can include various stages and go from idea generation to product development. It can be systematic process or more chaotic based on accidental epiphanies (this is not so viable). In most cases, product design process contain three main stages. First stage is analysis. This stage includes two steps – accepting the current situation and then analyzing it.

Accepting situation means designer’s commitment to chosen project and finding a solution to the problem he found. In this stage of product design you will think focus thinking about the most efficient solution for the problem. In second step, analyzing, you will begin your research. This means gathering materials related to problem like articles, statistics, questionnaires from user research and so on.

Second stage, after analyzing, is concept stage. Here, your goal is to define the key issues the problem compose of. This part of product design process is about summarizing the results of your analysis and making the conditions of the problem your objectives. You will also use the limitation of environment where the problem exists as parameters and foundation for your new product. Limitations can vary depending on what the problem is and what kind of product you want to create. It can range from water shortage in some areas to low literacy or education to a short battery lifespan of your smartphone.

Third and last stage of product design process is called synthesis. Synthesis have four parts – ideation, selection, implementation and evaluation. I know it is a bit broader than lean startup theory. In the first step, ideation, you will use brainstorming and other idea generation methods to come up with different ideas capable of the problem in hand. Two simple rules you should remember. “The more ideas the better” and “Don’t judge the ideas during the idea generation session”. You should also leave your biases behind the door.

Next in the line is selection. As the name says, you will now go through all the ideas you came up with and select the few with higher probability of being built and successfully solving the problem … Or you can go for a moonshot. While filtering the ideas, you should question your decision whether to keep the idea or trash it. This can help you change your point of view and find another possibilities or flaws you might overlooked.

After you selected the fittest idea you are going to implement it. This is where you will get your hands really dirty and enjoy the most of fun and probably frustration. Product design meets the prototypes and thinker becomes tinkerer and maker. You will put together all the materials you’ve collected in previous phases and stages and built the first prototype. Remember, it is a prototype, not an object for museum, so keep it lean and simple.

The last phase of synthesis stage is evaluation. Some people consider this part of product design process scary because you and your product have to face the reality. Your product will be tested by real users and they will decide whether it will make it or break it. However, the process is over yet. According to the users feedback, you will now have to make improvements and fix issues found by users. You can also discover the problem is not solved as you wanted and you will need to return to drawing board and start again with different idea.

Minimum Viable Product

Now when you understand all stages of product design process you should also learn to distinguish between feature and distraction. In the lean startup methodology there is a term of MVP, or minimum viable product. MVP is about creating a product as lean and simple as possible. When developing an MVP, you need to focus on the smallest amount of features and remove everything else as distraction. This will require understanding and knowing the customer and target market segment for your product.

To discover these fundamentals and factors you can use various questions. Who is the end user? What environment does he live in? What is the one thing user want to get done? What can my product do the best? How will my product benefit the user? What pain will it solve? What need will it address? In other words, you will need to create a user persona. Even though a simple MVP has many benefits, one thing you should consider is creating something I call minimum loveable product instead.

The users of your product should not feel embarrassed due to its use or talking about it.

Minimum loveable product differs from minimum viable product in a way it is … Loveable. It is still lean and simple, focused on one feature, but it also has a visual appeal and better functionality. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider MVP being a piece of crap. However, in case of MVP, design and user experience is often overlooked as secondary. MLP sees functionality, UX and design as connected and equally important. You should still be, ass Reid Hoffman said, embarrassed by the first version of your product. However, the users of your product should not feel embarrassed due to its use or talking about it.

Product design beyond just design

As the heading says, product design should not end with design, it must go much further. The reason is that the product, no matter how good it is, will not sell itself. Marketing is an important part of the process as well. You can follow the same strategy as you did with defining your MVP. This means choosing a niche in target market segment and starting from there. In other words, divide et impera. You should not focus on global domination for now and instead aim for dominating a smaller pond.

Start small, think big and grow fast.

Couple examples to encourage you. Let’s start with Facebook. It started at Harvard University, dominate it and only then spread out to other colleges and the world. Next one is PayPal. When it began, the company focused on a community early of  eBay users, not everyone. Do you know Stack Overflow? They chose programmers as their niche and pond to start with. With time, they expanded to other areas such as graphic, science and culture. So, start small, think big and grow fast.

Metric for success

As promised in the beginning, you are about to learn the one magical metric you have to keep in mind and monitor relentlessly. This metric is … How many people are using your product? If you would measure only one metric, it should be the usage of your product. It will tell if your product is used or not. Decide on range you want to measure – day, week or month – collect the data and analyze them regularly. Doing this, you will be able to spot certain trends like what part of a day the product is used, by what gender, etc. which can help you in further development and enhancement.

Final words

Product design is a systematic process containing certain steps and methods. You should use and follow them to create viable products, no matter if the product is digital or physical. The main goal is to raise the chance to succeed and to be able to do it repeatedly. With this knowledge, you are ready to go build new exciting things. Below is a short list of books to learn more about product design and development and business.

Books worth reading:

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen

Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang

Design for Everyday Things Donald Norman

Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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