A Beginner’s Guide to Product Design Ft. Matt Wilson
You use a lot of products on a daily basis. They can be either digital (software/apps, for example) or physical (phones and computers). These are works of product designers.
Product designers work on a wide range of projects, from physical products to apps. The list is endless. From the consumer’s point of view, what we see is the finished work and not necessarily what happens behind the scenes. Thinking about it is fascinating, no?
So what exactly is product design? You can describe product design as the multi-step process involved in creating a product that is intended to solve a problem.
Product design may be involved in one or more of these roles at different points in time, or these roles may overlap with theirs. The most common are as follows:
User Experience (UX) — This usually revolves around how design works/the ‘why’ of a particular design.
User Interface (UI) — This refers to the aesthetics, visuals, colours, and appearance of a design.
Others may include UX researchers, front end designers, motion designers, product strategists and the list can go on. These roles and other elements are combined in product design to create what the user requires as well as what makes the design’s concept work.
There is a process to product design from what I’ve seen and will broadly divide them into these bits:
- Understanding what a customer/client needs i.e identifying a problem.
- Research what ways to create what a user may need to address the problem. This should be backed by research and surveys.
- Brainstorm around the idea of what is set to be created.
- Create a plan; workflow etc.
- Create a prototype of the product.
- Bringing the prototype to life. This is where copy, images and general ‘storytelling’ happen.
- Perform quality assurance.
Then you’ve got a product! But it’s not quite that simple.
There is definitely a growing demand for product design, and while it is frequently confused with other designer roles, it is quickly becoming a role that exists wherever you have a product to sell to customers, whether virtual or physical.
So what skills, off the top of my head, would you need to get started learning about product design?
Creativity, of course, you should be able to ‘think up a storm in your head,’ you should be able to weave elements together to create something great, you should be able to think outside the box, you should be able to pay attention to details.
Your keen eye will come in handy, and of course, you should be able to use some design tools. But this is just me projecting!
Matt Wilson, Clooper’s co-founder, is also the product owner, and he does a swell job while appearing to be as effortless as ever. Somewhere deep down I want to be a product designer so bad because of Matt.
It’s refreshing to see how seemingly enjoyable and totally cool Matt’s team can come off when they bring all these abstract bits to life.
So I grabbed this ‘tech bro’ (I’m joking, Matt!) to ask him some questions that a lot of people have been wanting answers to…
Hi, Matt. Can you, as a product designer yourself, break down product design?
Always remember that a product or feature within a product is normally created to solve a problem, assist or transform an existing process. There will often be 100’s different ways to solve something, but it is always vital to understand what the entire team is trying to solve. From here, the design ideas, and flows can start to evolve into something a) workable and b) hopefully loveable by the end-user.
What process goes into building a product?
The process we employ at Clooper is an iterative approach.
1. Understand the process you are solving for (As-is) and complete an assessment of paint points & gaps.
2. Draw up an ideal process that will improve the lives of the customer (to-be)
3. Understand the requirements for this process and draw up a mock flow (wire-framing)
4. Assess wireframes and logic with process owners
5. Draw up improved visual designs and assess once more (prototype)
6. Complete designs and associated user stories (design & requirements)
8. Test/Iterate & Test again
9. Deploy to Live
What roles would you need to fill when assembling a product design team?
A Product Owner — Someone who is able to help understand the overall vision/strategy and priorities. This person is capable of managing the overall scope within the constraints of the project and the backlog of deliverables.
A Business Analyst — Someone who will own the detailed process and understanding of the detailed problem to be solved. They will also own the requirements and work very closely with the product owner to understand the scope and priorities.
A UX Designer — Someone who can work closely with the Business Analyst and take the vanilla process and translate that into a set of useable/loveable screens.
A UI Designer — Although normally UX/UI come together as a role, I would consider them separate skills. If there is a budget it could be worth investing in someone who owns the UI — i.e responsible for standardising colours, components, buttons etc.
How can I get into product design if I have no prior experience?
It is dependent on what you want to do. The roles described above all require very different skill sets. If you have a love of process and can make the complex seem simple, then a Business Analyst role is for you. There are many training options you can take without prior experience — BCS or IIBA Business Analysis or Six Sigma.
If you love design and bringing a process to life through visual screens and pictures then UX/UI Design is for you…Again BCS offer courses and certification to get you started on these.
What are the most important things for me to understand? What will set me apart if I decide to pursue a career in product design?
For me, product design requires a number of varying skills, both soft and hard skills. At the beginning of the process, the communication with your colleagues and understanding you must employ really touches on your soft skills. However, as you progress through the process, it is important to also employ some ‘harder’ engineering skills — because at the end of the day the design has to work in the real world, it is ultimately an engineered product. Learning how to use both and engage with both business and engineering teams is a huge plus.
What are the things to keep an eye out for as an experienced product designer and owner?
Scope — I haven’t worked on a project where there are no constraints, be it time or budget. Managing scope, and hitting the critical things in front of ‘the nice things’ is a difficult concept to grasp sometimes, especially for those who are not in the world of product engineering, but it is a must.
Engagement — Always stay engaged with your stakeholders. Do not have 1 meeting, assume you got everything and disappear for a week or two, thinking you are creating a great design. Always iterate.
Matt Wilson has over ten (10) years of experience in technology delivery (including FTSE 100) and consulting, leading and delivering customer-centric IT solutions and process improvements to companies like Control Risks, G4S, and Lloyds Register.
He is extremely passionate about analyzing people’s business processes and providing user-friendly IT solutions. He holds ISEB-BCS Diplomas in Business Analysis, Business Consulting, and System Testing.
Matt started his career in information technology as a business analyst, quickly rising through the ranks to mentor and manage teams of analysts on large-scale transformation projects. He has extensive experience working across the software development lifecycle and has worn many hats over the years, including quality assurance lead, project manager, and, most recently, program manager.
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