Product Design Process Simplified
Is there a perfect product design process? Can you achieve it?
Well, the truth is, there isn’t any flawless, linear formula designers could apply for every project. But you can follow guidelines to create a structured process that will direct you and help you focus on the goal.
In this article, we’ll talk about the stages of the design process that will lead you to create a successful product and help you become a more skillful product designer.
Why is it essential to have a product design process?
A product design process is a vital framework product designer will utilize to solve problems. As a product designer, you’ll need to make the most of your different skills and concepts throughout the various stages of the process, and you’ll have to wear different hats. You’ll need to be a researcher, analyst, designer, tester, and product manager.
Moving from an ambiguous problem statement to a final design concept can be challenging. But, a product design process will serve you as an advantageous approach. It will make it easier and more precise for you to know where to start, how to move forward, and what to do next.
But remember: your established product design process won’t fit every one of your projects! This process should be flexible and adaptable to the current project and situation.
5 Key Stages of A Product Design Process
1. Research and understand
In this stage, your task is to learn who your customers are, their challenges, and what they need so that you can build a product that will fulfill their needs and solve the initial problem.
Unfortunately, many businesses miss this critical step – sometimes, it might seem like a waste of time and resources; other times, stakeholders (falsely) believe they already know everything about their customers. Some businesses think their product will be for everyone to use, and there is no need to dive into details.
By missing the research stage, these companies will lose lots of money and time by building a product their customers never wanted.
That’s why this stage is crucial. Companies who understand the importance of this early stage of a product design process pay special attention to the following:
- learning who their customers are
- interviewing their customers or users
- creating special surveys to get valuable feedback
- putting a particular highlight on learning about possible challenges and ways to improve
- reaching out to their customers directly
- thoroughly analyzing the existing data and feedback
You can do various research methods, such as user interviews, online surveys, contextual inquiries, or market research.
Uber is an excellent example of a company that put a lot of effort into this step of the product design process. They conducted a long understanding phase to gather data to help them distinguish their users’ two most significant pain points: ordering a car that will undoubtedly arrive and paying for the ride without trouble. Because of their deep research, they determined these crucial pain points, which further allowed them to make changes and create a seamless flow of their product.
The goal of this stage is to minimize false assumptions, which often result in wasted resources and useless features or products.
2. Analyze and align
The second stage of the product design process is analyzing the information you got from the first stage, research, and understanding. It will help you learn what direction to go next, what to do with all data, and what you should focus on immediately to create a significant impact for your users. Analyzing the data will help you and your stakeholders recognize where to invest precious resources, which will impact your users.
You can conduct the analysis stage in different ways. You can break down lots of data you gathered via a high-quality UX survey. Or, you can organize a workshop where you and your peers will collaboratively, as a team, examine the gathered insights and derive them into clear action steps. Each method is an excellent way to analyze the data, and other projects might require a different approach. This stage of the product design process is highly beneficial because it clarifies some cloudy information and provides the right direction for the whole product design team.
The main goal of this stage is to align on the right problem(s) to solve, guided by gathered insights, and on the approach of how to do it. It ensures focus, minimizing the number of revisions needed and changes to priorities.
To ideate means to develop ideas. The product design process’ ideation stage comes after researching, understanding, and analyzing the data about your users. Ideation is all about taking what you’ve learned and using it to come up with multiple ways to resolve the main pain points and bring your users to reach their objectives. It’s important to know that this stage is about brainstorming ideas rather than determining the one that will work.
All work and no play can make a product designer a dull boy/girl, so this stage is fantastic because it allows you to have fun. The ideation phase is when you, your product design team members, or even stakeholders can go on a creative rampage to generate new ideas and solutions to address the pain points. And not only is this stage of the product design process fun – it’s also precious because it will help you to build trust among your team members and stakeholders.
The ideation stage is also when you can conduct additional competitor research, which will help you gather inspiration or search for successful design patterns.
Once you’ve amassed great potential ideas, you’ll step into the new product design process phase: validation. Once you have these fantastic ideas, you need to figure out which will work and help your users overcome the determined obstacles.
This stage is the time for creating sketches, mock-ups, or even more tangible and concrete prototypes that will look and feel real. The point is to create a concept you’ll test with real people and check if this concept solves the challenge and brings users closer to their goal before building the actual product.
To test your concepts, you’ll share your prototypes, sketches, and mock-ups with your pre-defined potential users to watch their reactions and receive precious feedback. The validation stage of the product design process is one of the most fruitful because it is a reality check which allows you to see if your proposed solutions are in-tune with users’ challenges and needs.
The methods for the validation stage can be both quantitative and qualitative. The most used method in this stage is usability testing, but other methods can be used depending on the product and stage of development you’re at.
Iteration is the unofficial “fifth” stage of the product design process, but it doesn’t mean it’s the last stage. Iteration can happen throughout the process because you and your product design team constantly need to be on the same page as your users.
When creating ideas or testing them, it’s necessary to see if there are additional changes you need to consider before taking the next step. Or, once you finalized the design, built the product, and launched it to the market, it’s necessary to do a regular check-up if there are some iterations to the design that you need to make to keep your product continuously valuable to your users.
The iteration stage circles back to the other stages of the product design process. For example, you can conduct new research, which will help you determine whether your users’ goals and needs have changed. Sometimes, you’ll need to take another look and additionally analyze existing data to see if there’s something that you’ve missed.
The cycle of iteration is something you should always include in your process if you wish to create and sustain a high-quality digital product your users will love to use.
Congratulations, you’ve now learned the basics of the product design process! But before you go, let’s highlight the key takeaways.
As we mentioned in the beginning, the product design process is in no way linear. In reality, you might circle back to previous stages to uncover your users’ main problems or desires.
Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the process. The product design process should adapt to fit the project, not the other way around!
If you want to furtherly explore the design process and look at it from another angle, read more about 5 elements of User Experience and the Double Diamond Model, which are crucial for establishing a structured and efficient design process.
Finally, the product design process is an ongoing project.
If you want to create a highly successful product that will help your customers reach their goals all the time, you must continuously refine and update it. Always strive to get new feedback and adjust the process to the current needs.
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Happy designing! 🥳