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What is iterative design: Definition and benefits

Last updated

22 May 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Eliz Ayaydin

Iterative design is a development approach that repeatedly improves a product or service based on user and stakeholder feedback. This design method is extremely valuable, ensuring an organization’s product or service meets its customers' needs.

What does iterative mean?

Iterative comes from the word iterate, which means to repeat a process over and over. It involves refining and tweaking until you have a product that meets the desired goal.

What is an iterative process?

The iterative process usually begins by identifying a desired outcome. For example, with software development, a team typically creates a prototype, tests it, and then adjusts based on the test findings. This process of trial and error is repeated cyclically until the product meets established criteria. 

Let's say you're working on a new mobile app for an e-commerce store. First, you create the initial design and build a model. Then you test it out with potential users to get feedback. Next, you use that data to refine the app and make improvements. Each iteration can involve changes to the original plan, such as modifying the design, adding features, or fixing bugs. 

What is iterative design?

Iterative design is the process of polishing and refining something. For example, when a website is designed with user experience (UX) in mind, it is designed in cycles. The goal is to make the subsequent version better than the last. 

The iterative design model has three steps:

  1. Formulating the product Creating a concept, design, and roadmap.

  2. Testing Determining how well the product meets the goals and objectives set out in the original concept.

  3. Collecting UX feedback and refining Gathering end-user feedback and making necessary adjustments.

Following this process allows designers and developers to quickly and efficiently create products better tailored to the customer's needs. The short turnaround times associated with this approach allow for rapid prototyping, ensuring problems can be identified early on.As a result, teams can quickly pivot, iterate, and optimize the product before it goes to market. Agile software development uses an iterative design approach.

Benefits of iterative design

  • Rapid issue resolution The iterative design process is great for visibility in identifying and resolving issues quickly.

  • Adaptability Iterative design allows for greater flexibility when changes are required. In addition, due to the development process being broken down into smaller chunks, changes can be made at any stage. Consequently, teams may be more willing and able to take risks with new ideas.

  • Progress visibility With iterative design, tracking which tasks are complete and what needs to be done next is easy.

  • Less time documenting Since each step in the design process is broken down, it becomes easier to document any changes, ensuring everyone involved is on the same page.

  • Better product-market fit The iterative design process allows teams to learn what users do rather than what they say they would do through repeated prototype testing.

Iterative design disadvantages

Despite its many advantages, iterative design has a drawback: it’s an open-ended process that may never have a clear end. Iterative design isn’t ideal when building a new website for a client launching a new business. Usually, the client requests a specific design and layout, and they want it done quickly. The iterative design process wouldn't work because it requires several rounds of feedback and testing, which the client doesn't have time for.

In product development, teams can get stuck in a loop of iteration, constantly refining and tweaking the product without reaching a final version. This can be especially true when user feedback is continually changing. In addition, each iteration generates new ideas, feedback, and changes.

So, there is a risk of over-iterating, aka, spending too much time perfecting and refining a product, which can lead to unnecessary spending and launch delays. To prevent a never-ending iterative process, setting a timeline at the start and working towards a specific end date is useful. This helps contain the number of iterations at each stage of the project.

Iterative process in product development: 

The iterative process focuses on leveraging customer feedback and validating product market fit, not just relying on assumptions or market research. Each iteration makes the product more polished, usable, and valuable. Feedback is usually collected through customer interviews, surveys, focus groups, and usability testing

Implementing an iterative process

Once you have identified your project goal and plan for achieving it, the next step is creating the deliverable's first iteration. This could be a product prototype, a design mockup, or a tangible deliverable that can be tested, evaluated, and refined. Of course, the prototype can be less precise than the final product. It just needs to work for testing purposes. Overall, the goal of each iteration is to get as close as possible to creating the ideal solution or product for your target market. 

When going through the iterative process, it’s best not to get too invested in any ideas or prototypes you’ve created. Stay open to the design changing quickly and focus on minor improvements that move you closer to your overall project objectives. Avoid making too many significant changes at once, as this can make it difficult to analyze their impact.

The iterative process can be used at any phase of the design process. While the most cost-effective approach is to use it in the earlier stages of the product’s lifecycle (when prototyping), it’s also beneficial to use it once developers get involved.

Testing, evaluation, and review

When it comes to testing, finding a strategy that makes the most sense for your project and objectives is essential. For example, A/B testing can be used for web page improvements, while usability testing is best for introducing a new product or feature.

Checking in with project stakeholders for feedback is also crucial to the testing process. Asking stakeholders for feedback ensures the team meets its objectives and creates a product that meets user needs.

Once testing is complete, it's time to evaluate the iteration's success and determine what, if anything, needs to change. 

Remember that the iterative process can take weeks or months, so setting realistic expectations and having patience are key. 

Also, it's important to remember to keep the project objectives in mind when moving through the iterative process. This will help ensure that any changes made align with the original goals.


What is a real-life example of an iterative model?

Designing a website is a real-world example of iterative design—it involves creating a prototype, gathering feedback from users and customers, making changes and improvements, testing it again, and then repeating the process until the desired outcome is achieved.

What is the difference between linear and iterative models?

Linear models are more structured and involve completing each step sequentially before moving on to the next step. Iterative models involve constantly refining and updating the product over time.

What is the difference between an agile and an iterative model?

Agile models are based on continuous improvement, while iterative models are focused on developing a product through cycles of experimentation and iteration. Both approaches involve working in smaller increments with quick feedback loops to ensure the product meets customer needs.

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