Problem-solving sits at the core of product design. When it comes to understanding where to start—and finish—in the product lifecycle, focus on these 7 key principles.
7 principles of product design to propel your team to success
- Stop wasting time
Customer research fits into every workflow, every role, and every company size. Whether you’re a designer, project manager, or director, the goal is to guess less and work from a position of being informed.
To do this, prioritize research using proven qualitative and quantitative methods. Look internally too, since relevant data often already lives in your organization—just maybe on a different team.
- Find your North Star
Product roadmaps guide team milestones, but they only show what to build and when. They don’t show why we’re building a product. Stories, however, are great at explaining why. That’s why taking the time to set a clear story up front will be a source of truth throughout your whole design process.
A product story answers one simple question: How will this product fit into the lives of others? To get the answer, use job stories, user personas, product story offshoots, journey maps, and storyboarding to understand your customers before building something they’ll use.
- Think divergently
Precision has its place, but not in the early stages of the creative process. Precise outputs are precious and hard to abandon, but they narrow creative exploration.
To find the best design solutions, render many ideas to find one worthy of investigation. To do this, put pencils before pixels; that is, sketch ideas together so your ideas come before execution.
- Create a culture of feedback
Feedback is the lifeblood of a healthy design team. It informs design processes, leads to better products, and helps designers grow.
Feedback should be one of your own priorities because it saves you from wasting time on designs that aren’t feasible. It also allows for multiple perspectives and keeps everyone involved. However, the language you use is almost as important as the message itself. Reference the work—not the person who made it—in every design review, standup meeting, and postmortem.
- Accelerate your product prototyping
According to Walter, design teams that produce great products have something in common: they habitually test their designs. Before writing even a single line of code, they build high-fidelity prototypes and put them in the hands of colleagues and customers, collecting fast feedback and correcting course before development.
If you haven’t started building rapid prototypes before launching the full shebang, it’s past time to start. This practice enables you to collect invaluable customer feedback. Plus, you can test design internally or amongst remote researchers.
- Bridge internal gaps
Engineers, product managers, and researchers all have an important part to play in product design. Yet, despite shared interests, teams are often siloed by discipline—which makes collaboration and communication hard.
Organizational design greatly influences product design. As Walter says, “If the relationship between the people who make a product is broken, the product will be broken too.” Because of this, you should strive to make every project cross functional, also referred to as lateral design. Working groups and using sprints are a great way to nix the hierarchy and up your collaboration. To start, set up a 1-week design sprint and tailor it to your needs from there.
- Scale design processes
As your company grows, everyone has to work harder—and smarter—at communicating. Designers who succeed in large organizations develop a good rapport with colleagues across the organization.
When you start, don’t just network laterally. Spend time with stakeholders and executives too. Ask questions about the broader strategy. You’ll need to understand the big picture to design products that fit in with business goals. Start by sharing early and often, soliciting feedback at every turn, and making design open and accessible within your organization. “Digital tools and devices are helpful,” says Todd Dominey of MailChimp, “But nothing beats personal interaction.”
“Digital tools and devices are helpful, but nothing beats personal interaction.”
These 7 principles are major undertakings, but they’re worth the effort. Working them into your product design process—using the specific examples and advice outlined in DesignBetter.Co—will prepare you and your team to keep design at the core of business, no matter how big the company gets.
Just as the company changes with scale, so too does the thinking around the product. For a product to mature you’ll need to continuously change the way you think about its evolution. –Aarron Walter