Why product thinking is the next big thing in UX design

4 min read
Nikkel Blaase
  •  Mar 31, 2016
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When you think about good user experience, what often comes to mind is a simple, beautiful, and easy-to-use feature set of a product that makes the user’s life easier.

But features are merely a small, fragile part of the product.Twitter Logo They are only a few of many thinkable solutions for a user’s problem. Product thinking considers specific problems experienced by users, along with jobs to be done, goals, and revenues.

The core user experience is not a set of features—it’s why people use the product.Twitter Logo Uber’s core user experience is to get a taxi easily at any time. The countdown, displaying when exactly the taxi will arrive, is a suitable feature that expands this experience.

But Uber’s product works regardless of this feature. The countdown, on the other hand, cannot live without the product (the certainty to get a taxi easily at any time). There’s a one-way interrelationship between feature and product: features don’t work without the product.Twitter Logo This is why designers should design with the product in mind, not its features.

“Design with the product in mind, not its features.”

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Uncover why people use the product

A product has a core user experience, which is basically the reason the product exists. It fulfills a need or solves a problem people have. By that, it becomes meaningful and provides a certain value. If the problem is non-existent, or the solution doesn’t fit to the problem, the product becomes meaningless and people won’t use the product. And that leads to the downfall of the product. Wrong solutions can be fixed, but non-existent problems aren’t adjustable.Twitter Logo

So, how can we be sure to tackle a real problem? Well, we can’t be 100% sure, but we can minimize the risk by observing and talking to people so that we’re able to uncover the problem and build solutions customers really want.

“Wrong solutions can be fixed, but non-existent problems aren’t adjustable.”

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Clayton Christensen, for instance, tried to improve the sales of milkshakes by making them sweeter, offering them in different tastes, and increasing the size of the cups. Nothing worked—and then he started observing the customers who bought milkshakes.

He found out that customers got milkshakes to make their morning drive to work less boring. The big benefits of a milkshake: it’s a thick drink that lasts longer than any other drink and stuffs your stomach.

So Christensen came up with the solution to make the milkshake even thicker, which led to an increase in sales.

Build the right features for the right people

Product thinking leads to better features.Twitter Logo By defining the problems the product tackles, you can answer the question “Why are we building this product?” Defining the target audience (“Who has these problems?”) and defining the solution (“How are we doing this?”) will give you enough guidance to create a new feature. Setting up a goal will help measure the success of this feature.

The problem-solution-fit

Products become meaningful when the provided solution fits the uncovered problem.Twitter Logo This solution describes the way a problem will be solved. Thus, the problem-solution-fit defines the core user experience of a product. The concrete features are extending this experience and support the core experience, but they cannot replace it. Interaction design and visual design can make a product beautiful, easy-to-use, and delightful, but it can’t make the product meaningful. This is why a proper problem-solution-fit is so critical for the success of a product.

“Products become meaningful when the provided solution fits the uncovered problem.”

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The product definition

Through product thinking, UX designers should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What problem do we solve? (user problem)
  • For whom are we doing this? (target audience)
  • Why are we doing this? (vision)
  • How are we doing this? (strategy)
  • What do we want to achieve? (goals)

Only then does it make sense to think about what exactly we’re doing (features).

The power of product thinking

Product thinking gives designers the advantage of building the right features for the right people. It helps with understanding the user experience of a product as a whole, not just interaction and visual design of features. It ensures designers tackle real user problems and reduce the risk of building something nobody wants. It gives designers the power to make the right decisions whenever it comes to building features.

“Product thinking enables UX designers to ask the right questions.”

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Product thinking enables UX designers to ask the right questions, build the right features and communicate with stakeholders more efficiently. It enables designers to say no and to be hesitant before adding new features. Whenever a new feature is requested or someone has an idea for a new product, designers can ask the right questions before drawing wireframes or crafting fancy layouts. “Does it fit into the product?” “Does it serve a real user problem?” “Do people want or need it? Let’s find out first!” Ask these questions to keep the product slim and effective.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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