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What is product design?

Last updated

2 April 2023

Reviewed by

Eliz Ayaydin

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Companies strive to build great products. However, while countless products are on the market, they don’t all address a market need.

Without a human-centered approach, new designs won’t necessarily solve real problems, make tasks easier, or add value for the end user.

The product design process provides a structure for creating new products. It helps product designers and developers identify key market opportunities, successfully ideate new solutions, and test those solutions with real people. The end goal is to develop usable and useful products.

Ultimately, product design helps designers create solutions for users’ needs.

The benefits of digital product design

In product design, products are created with user experience (UX) in mind. UX refers to a person’s overall experience while using a product, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.

The product design process as a whole ensures that products address a human need, solve real problems, and are easy to use.

There are numerous benefits to adopting product design principles, including the following:

Increased performance

Your product has a greater chance of performing well if you adopt digital product design principles. The chances of creating a truly useful product are much higher when you identify a core problem and solve it for your customers.

Higher revenue

Businesses that pay attention to human-centered design tend to attract and retain more customers.

Research shows that design-led companies (those that intentionally design with positive user experiences in mind) have a 41% higher market share and 50% more loyal customers than those who don’t. Therefore, paying attention to product design may give your company a competitive edge.

Reduced costs

Focusing on product design upfront can reduce costs further down the line related to reworks or failed projects.

Before you start designing your product and investing in it, research can help prove there’s actually a market for it and that the solution will solve an issue for users.

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The product design process

Understanding the core principles of the product design process is essential if you want to reap its benefits. These core principles can help businesses design products that truly solve user problems and stand out in the marketplace.

1. Product research

Deep research is the starting point of any product journey because all products should solve a real problem. Research helps product designers discover competitors, understand market needs, learn what customers think and how they’ll react to solutions, and deeply understand core problems.

As you conduct research, it’s important to challenge the team’s assumptions. Rather than relying on assumptions, it’s much more helpful to collect data from outside sources to validate or dispute ideas and theories.

To begin the research journey, it’s helpful to ask questions such as:

  • What issues does our target market have?

  • How do people currently solve this problem?

  • What are people’s thoughts and behaviors around this problem area?

  • What are our competitors doing to address this problem?

  • Are there better ways to solve this problem?

  • Do we have data to back up our research?

Research should ultimately help the team understand what problem needs to be solved and help guide the design solution’s direction.

Learn more about product feedback analysis software

2. Define the vision and strategy

No product design and development journey can begin without an overall vision and a core strategy. The vision is the north star for every decision made in the product design process. It should speak to the overall problem you’re solving for customers.

It should also be easy to understand and share across the organization so that all team members can work towards it.

Take the communication app Slack, for example. Their vision is to:

“Make work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive.”

This vision helps Slack designers stay on track when they create new product features. It also ensures that any new ideas are designed to actively improve a person’s work life and productivity (not just to look good or impress people).

When developing a strategy, it’s important to keep the nuances somewhat malleable. The strategy acts as an overall guide with a rough roadmap, but it also offers room for flexibility. This will help the team later on when going through the test and learning phases. Flexibility will keep the team nimble, ensure they can react to data and user feedback on products, and maintain a human-centered mindset.

3. User analysis

The user analysis process engages product developers and designers in discovering how users interact with and benefit from current products. This process uncovers areas for improvement and other key insights.

Discovering, for example, that your users are dropping off at a certain point in your sales funnel could indicate there are friction points at different moments of the journey. Meanwhile, finding out that your users are all from one demographic could indicate a need to consider more inclusive designs.

Generally speaking, user analysis can help to:

  • Learn more about your users to deeply understand their use of products and gain insights about areas of difficulty, friction, or sluggish processes.

  • Create user personas to understand the general goals and characteristics of the target user you are designing for.

  • Gain feedback to get insight from user reviews, user data, and customer feedback.

4. Ideation

The next important stage is ideating new ideas. Usually, this step is only effective when you have identified a clear problem and carried out sufficient research.

When coming up with solutions, try not to just expand on current market offerings. Instead, think broadly and brainstorm innovative ideas. Some companies use the concept of “blue-sky thinking,” where the focus is on creating completely new things.

First, consider a large range of ideas, then decide which are the most relevant, useful, and viable for your customers.

5. Prototyping

Once you have identified potential solutions, it’s helpful to create prototypes to test and learn.

Prototypes are low-cost versions of a potential product. They allow users to see and interact with a version of the final product offering without having to invest in creating a perfect final version up front.

A prototype’s complexity can range from a simple paper version of the product to a more advanced beta version.

By creating prototypes, you have the opportunity to gather data about your users, iterate the design, and, ultimately, create an even better product.

The benefits of prototyping include the ability to:

  • Gather more in-depth and relevant research based on an actual product idea

  • Highlight issues or roadblocks with the idea you have

  • Discover better ways to bring the product to life

  • Consider new ideas based on research

6. Releasing a final product

Testing and learning is a continuous process that continues through prototyping, developing a beta version of the product, and creating a final offering.

Designers continue to iterate the product through all of these phases, ensuring that user feedback is continually factored into the design. This increases the likelihood of creating a truly human-centered product that solves real problems and delights the end user.

Product design best practices to follow in 2023

When designing human-centered products, there are some core best practices to keep in mind, including the following:

  • Always put the user first: in product design, everything links back to the end user. Conducting research, continually gaining feedback, and empathizing with the end user throughout are core ways to ensure user-centricity is baked into your products.

  • Add real value: it can be enticing to add cool new features when designing a product. The problem is that those features might not add value for the end user. The key is to ensure that everything you release solves a problem for people and isn’t a feature just for the sake of having it.

  • Lean into data: when it comes to releasing products into the marketplace, it’s essential not to rely on assumptions. Instead, validate all ideas with data to prove there’s a market for your product.

  • Focus on simplicity: users love simplicity when completing tasks. Adding too many steps or too much friction can lead users to drop off. Focus on simplicity and seamless transactions to make tasks as straightforward as possible.

What is a product designer’s role?

Product designers have many responsibilities. They are usually known for creating digital and print sketches as well as full-scale products through design.

A product designer’s main tasks include the following:

  • Making aesthetic decisions for products, including color, font, layout, and style 

  • Making prototypes—they might make a prototype out of paper or other simple materials, or they might create one digitally on design software

  • Creating and sketching design concepts

  • Analyzing user and market needs

  • Conducting research and (user) testing products

  • Coming up with new and innovative ideas

  • Communicating implementation plans for engineers and other team members to execute

What skills do product designers need?

Product designers typically need strong visual communication skills. They need to be creative with colors, layouts, and design styles.

They must also have software skills with digital platforms to allow them to create designs, 3D images, and computer-aided design (CAD) drawings.

Given that product design is a challenging process involving many different teams, it’s helpful for product designers to work well with people, be adaptive to change, and have good time-management skills.

What types of product design jobs are available?

In addition to product designer roles, there are other jobs within the product design space.

UX designer

UX designers aim to produce meaningful, user-friendly products and services that perform important tasks efficiently.

There are some similarities between the UX designer and product designer roles. While product designers are involved in the entire design process, UX designers focus more on the hands-on design part of the process. UX designers typically focus on tasks such as developing information architecture, designing wireframes and user flows, and optimizing the final offering.

Graphic designer

Graphic designers produce digital or physical visual concepts, often to communicate ideas. This role is best known for designing things like brochures, logos, advertisements, product packaging, product elements, and more.

User researcher

User research is often done by UX teams or product designers themselves, but it is sometimes appropriate to outsource this task.

A user researcher plans and conducts research activities, such as focus groups, qualitative user interviews, and surveys. They then collate the data findings for the design team to learn from.

Data analyst

Once key data is collated, a data analyst interprets it to draw conclusions about user behavior and market readiness.

Product design is human-centered

Adopting digital product design principles is essential for creating products that truly benefit the end user. The process ensures that products are fit for purpose, benefit the end user, and solve core problems.

Ultimately, products designed with this approach have a better chance of succeeding in the marketplace and pleasing the end user.

Learn more about product feedback analysis software


Is a product designer the same as a UX designer?

The terms product designer and UX designer are often used interchangeably. This is because there can be a fair amount of crossover between the roles.

However, a product designer typically engages with the entire process of bringing a product to life, including the impact on the business and brand. Meanwhile, a UX designer is more closely focused on usability and ensuring that users can easily move through a digital product and complete tasks.

As an example, a UX designer might ask, “Is this product easy to use?” whereas a product designer would ask, “Does this product make sense in the current economy?”

Does product design require coding skills?

While an understanding of coding can generally be useful for product designers, they don’t typically do any coding.

Product designers create the product concept, complete research, and ensure there’s a market need for the product. Once those elements are satisfied, a development team will create the product for consumers using coding languages.

What’s the difference between product design and package design?

Product design and package design are two different disciplines. Product design focuses on new product development, which includes the product’s function, appearance, and usability. It also considers the end user, their needs, and the technical requirements that make up a product. Product design applies to both physical and digital products.

Packaging design, on the other hand, focuses on packaging for physical products. This means the presentation, appearance, and form of the product packaging. Marketing and branding play a crucial role in packaging and graphic design.

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