GuidesProduct developmentDesign process 101: How to get started

Design process 101: How to get started

Last updated

23 March 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

2023 could be your year to design something innovative. For many of us, designing something new is an exciting prospect. But knowing where to get started, which steps are best to follow, and how to increase your chances of success can be challenging.

Many innovative ideas fall by the wayside without a solid structure to bring them to life. 

It’s essential to have a cohesive process that breaks larger ideas into more manageable steps and keeps all parties working towards a common goal. Here’s our guide for designing with best practice processes in mind.

What is the design process?

The design process breaks down the larger design task into small actionable steps. 

It involves a range of key progressive points that help you identify a critical problem, develop possible solutions, and efficiently execute new ideas. 

The process can help you become more focused, productive, and creative. 

Why is the design process important?

The all-important process provides a structured way to bring new ideas into the world. And it boosts your chances of succeeding in the marketplace. 

While you may develop an innovative idea, your team may have a non-collaborative or chaotic way of working. This can mean there’s no fast or logical way of turning the idea into reality. 

The product design process changes all that. The logical steps ensure multiple people can work on innovative ideas cohesively and predictably. This is a great way to speed up the process and ensure all parties are on the same page. 

It also ensures that you don't skip key steps like in-depth research or user testing, increasing your chances of designing something that truly benefits society. 

What are the seven steps in the design process?

While design processes may differ between organizations, you’ll typically follow seven key steps for the greatest chance of design success:

1. Identify the core problem

Let’s imagine you get a spark of inspiration, requests from current customers, or results from deep market research. These may inspire you to create a new product. 

At the core of all design is solving a problem. Without deeply understanding that problem, it’s challenging to find the ideal solution and too easy to get off course. 

It’s important to identify the reason for your new product or to validate a new feature on an existing product. This should be clear, simple, and easy to communicate to all team members. 

2. Research

Once you’ve identified the core problem, designers must deeply understand that issue from all perspectives. This involves in-depth research. 

Research is a vital part of any design process as it helps you: 

  • Discover competitors

  • Assess market needs and readiness

  • Learn what customers think and how they interact with products

  • Deeply recognize the core problem

Challenging your assumptions is an integral part of this––the design team should never assume anything. Instead, you should collect data and information from outside sources to check any ideas or theories. 

Helpful questions to ask at this stage include: 

  • Is this a real-life problem? 

  • Who has this problem?

  • How do people currently solve this problem? 

  • Are there better ways to solve this problem? 

  • Do we have data to back up our research? 

  • Are there already existing sources that can solve this problem? 

With these questions all relating to the problem at hand, it’s best to validate that the problem exists in the first place. Research should prevent the team from solving the wrong or entirely nonexistent problem. 

3. Ideate solutions

Design teams should only start looking at solutions once they’ve clearly defined the problem and untaken sufficient research.

It’s helpful at this stage to think broadly, brainstorm, and create an extensive list of ideas that could potentially solve the core issue. 

Teams tend to fall into two main categories when brainstorming; they focus on practical solutions without daring to create something entirely new, or they dream too big, generating ideas that simply aren’t actionable. 

To come up with better solutions, it’s helpful to break ideas into a few categories: Huge, big, and rational ideas. That way, you’ll stay innovative while considering practicalities.

For example, a food delivery company that wants to improve its service by becoming more efficient and innovative may come up with the following as a starter: 

A huge idea 

  • Delivering all food via drones

Big ideas 

  • A complete app revamp improving navigation and communication for faster deliveries

  • Switching the entire delivery fleet to EVs

Smaller ideas 

  • Onboarding more delivery drivers 

  • Asking drivers to collect multiple orders at once 

  • Improving communication with restaurants so they prioritize app orders

4. Evaluate solutions

Once you’ve identified a broad range of solutions, work out which are useable. 

Your team may have 100 ideas on paper, but only ten are worth further analyzing. And even then, only a few really solve the core problem. To progress, create a shortlist of ideas through consensus with the team. 

Then, rigorously evaluate those ideas by asking a range of critical questions like:

  1. Is this the best way to solve the core problem? 

  2. What are the potential issues we could face in designing this solution? 

  3. What do our developers think of this solution’s practicality?

  4. Do our developers have better and easier options that we should consider?

  5. Could we complete this within our allotted budget? 

  6. Will we have the time to put this solution together? 

  7. Is this better than the other solutions we’ve come up with? 

  8. Does this align with our business goals? 

  9. Is this likely to delight our end customers? 

  10. Is this idea better released at a later date? 

As you gather more information and finish brainstorming, you’ll usually produce a minimum viable product (MVP). Designing an MVP means identifying the minimum you can develop that’s still a viable product for the market. 

This process helps you gain more feedback so developers can produce an initial product that’s more likely to please users.  

5. Create prototypes

A prototype is a low-fidelity version of your product. It could be something as simple as a paper drawing or digital prototype made by special software. 

Prototyping brings an idea to life and helps the team and potential customers give feedback. 

Prototypes allow users to interact with what will become your final offering. This means you can gain behavioral data about your users and ‘see them in action.’ You’ll quickly identify issues and roadblocks during this stage. 

By prototyping, you can: 

  • Decide whether your solution may solve the problem you created it for

  • See whether customers find the product helpful 

  • Discover challenges or potential issues that may arise 

  • Learn more about your customers and feed that information back into your designs

  • Avoid paying exorbitant amounts of money to develop the product and discover issues 

6. Make improvements and iteration

As you gain information from prototypes, you’ll want to make improvements. The testing and iterating process tends to be less of a logical sequence and more of a back-and-forth between steps. New feedback will lead to iterations and improvements, which you’ll need to test. 

These stages are flexible in an agile approach: Develop solutions, test, gain feedback, and design again. 

You should always pay attention to user testing, whether creating an app, a software product, or a service. Insights you discover through the testing process can dramatically shift your designs or solutions. 

The best designs often run through this feedback loop to iron out issues, streamline the offering, and design better, more user-friendly products.

7. Releasing a final product

Releasing a final product typically takes a phased approach. In technology, we can release to part of our existing user base.

With a phased approach, we can release to an “alpha” audience of a controlled user group. Here, we can gain insights into our new feature’s performance. Once we make corresponding tweaks and adjustments, we can release to a larger “beta” audience and repeat the process until the whole audience has access. 

Phased product releases ensure the product solves the core problem and succeeds in the marketplace. 

How to use the design process

While it’s clear that a standardized design process is highly beneficial, not all companies are effective in adopting the core steps. 

To truly benefit from the design process, some things are worth considering: 

Use standardized tools for synchronicity

It can be very problematic to receive feedback or ideas from multiple sources without collating them effectively. Use collaborative tools as a single live source of truth so everyone’s always on the same page. 

Collect data effectively

For the same reason, it’s essential to have a tool to manage all customer insights and data. Dovetail keeps all your data in one place, so you can quickly draw critical insights. 

Continually collaborate

The design process is collaborative. When a team works in silos, problems can arise. Working cohesively as a team can produce better, more effective designs. 

How does the design process differ across industries?

The design process will change depending on the industry you are designing in. Effective pivoting may make all the difference, depending on your product. 

Some industries with variations include: 

Med tech

Product teams building medical platforms may need to work around specific laws and regulations like HIPAA compliance. This may impact medical record handling, data, and who has clearance.

B2B

Product teams building B2B platforms might have slightly different processes to ensure: 

  • Proper processing of complex and extensive data 

  • Support of more complex internal processes

  • The company stays productive rather than delighting customers

User testing may have more of a focus on quantitative effectiveness.

Social media

By definition, social media platforms come with more expectations closer to human interactions than other platforms. 

Accordingly, teams sustaining and building the best social media apps may have concerns over how users interact with each other rather than just the app’s metrics. 

Although apps like Uber and Airbnb aren’t social networks, they may have similar concerns about the relationship between drivers and passengers or hosts and guests.

Why user-centricity is critical

Throughout the design process, you must consider one person: The final user. 

Design should always consider user-centricity. Keeping people in mind is fundamental to creating products they want to buy and use. 

User-centricity means creating products that are pleasing to use, solve real problems, and make people’s lives easier. 

It’s also good for business, helping companies keep their competitive edge. Studies have shown that design-led companies who design with positive user experiences in mind have a 41% higher market share and 50% higher customer loyalty than those who don’t.

Getting the leading edge in design

While design can be a fun, flexible, and creative process, some proven structure is beneficial for products that will solve problems and delight customers.

Following the design process can bring an innovative idea into the marketplace successfully. It’s a reliable way of ensuring new ideas come to life and solve people’s problems.

FAQs

What are personas in the design process?

User personas help designers create products with a specific person in mind rather than designing too generally.

You can use information gathered through qualitative sessions, surveys, user testing, and third-party demographic sources to create data-driven user personas.

User personas help designers clarify who they’re creating for. They can also highlight gaps in knowledge about the intended audience.

What are the advantages of involving users in the design process?

Gaining continuous feedback is a critical aspect of the design process. You may rely on your team’s assumptions without real-life user feedback.

Completing research and user testing ensures you understand your customer’s challenges and helps your products become truly user-centric.

Why is a design brief used in a design process?

A design brief is a critical component of the design process. It clarifies the scope of the project and the essential details. Ultimately, the design brief describes what you will create. A design brief should include research results and final reports.

The brief tells team members how to bring the concept to life. The right brief can be the difference between getting the right designs or not.

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