Product design is not only about mockups and prototypes

Product design is not only about mockups and prototypes

Some modest advice to product designers

Design principles, design tools, sketches, mockups, prototypes. I am not going to talk about any of the above in this particular piece. My goal is to give you a brief idea of what I’m thinking as the “extra mile” when talking for product designers.

The design process my team is currently following

Let’s set the context. I’m primarily speaking for product design in software products, as this is my area of expertise and primary experience in working with designers. The process that my teams are currently following when it comes to product design is pretty typical. A brief description:

  1. Content: It follows the market and user research and it’s the stage where the product team is putting down every little detail related with the product requirements.
  2. Wireframes: Once the content is there, the designers start creating the first sketches and wireframes of the product.
  3. Mockups: After a few iterations of the wireframes, we’re creating pixel perfect prototypes (that are going under a new set of iterations) and the final mockups are provided to the developers, so that they can build the product.
  4. Iterations: Once the product is shipped, based on user feedback and analytics, the product is iterated so that we can hit our goals, improve user experience and drive further adoption.
Walking the extra mile

I guess that a design process like the one described above is not much of a surprise. So, let’s jump to the essence of this article. Obviously, the following, are not core skills that a designer should possess, but in my perspective, those are the skills that could give a designer a slight advantage, so that he or she could take their product designs to the next level.

1. Understand the market

Some basic knowledge regarding the industry where the product operates is beneficial. Obviously, this knowledge can be acquired after some time working in a company from the team itself. But a few readings regarding the market, its main long-lasting problems, how the top competitors are dealing with them can give you a huge advantage and save you a lot of time from going back and opening Sketch once again.

2. Have some F2F experience with the user

Yes, the PM is the one responsible for bringing in the insights from the market and the clients, alongside the requirements for the product. However, spending some time, even as a silent listeners in a few calls with clients can give you a much better understanding and perspective about their needs and pains. The data are the driver, but the direct feedback from the users and especially observing their emotions when talking about their pains are the noise in the back seat. If you can listen to that noise carefully, you’ll see that there’s a lot to learn there. Try joining a colleague of yours in a call with a client related with their needs once in a while. You may be surprised.

3. Seek to learn more about the product

I am not talking about the high level stuff. Some quality time with engineers and the challenges they are facing every now and then could be quite lucrative. You may find out that many of those challenges are directly related with your own designs. Maybe this is an opportunity to make their life easier the next time, or maybe avoid making your life more complex.

4. Be consistent but dare to do ground braking changes

Obviously, when working on a specific product your designs have to be consistent. It’s a matter of keeping a smooth user experience, a small learning curve when introducing new features and a matter of branding as well. Not to mention, that in many industries is very hard to avoid designing according to a certain norm. This obstacle will always be there, but the users always need something fresh. Most of the times, they are what I like to call “change averse”, meaning that when you ask them to do something in a completely different manner than the one they are used to, they are reluctant from the very first moment. To my experience though, if what you’re suggesting is reasonable, soon enough they will see for themselves and jump into your cool new way of doing things. I acknowledge that it’s hard to make it work in most of the cases, however if you don’t try things and most importantly fail, you will never be in position to suggest something innovative to your users.

The above advices could not only stand for product designers, but also for anyone working on a product. One of the methods that I’ve introduced to encourage the approach described above is that there’s an “open door” policy for all the meetings or discussions, even if they are not related with the product or design. Every single member of the team is strongly encouraged to participate even as silent listeners. What I am trying to say here, is that it’s not necessary for a designer to make a deep dive in business related stuff or things our of their responsibilities. In spite of this, even just scratching the surface of those small details, can give a breath of fresh air to you next design.

This article originally appeared on Muzli

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