Have you ever wondered what makes some products successful while others are not? What is the silver bullet for having a popular app? I bet you did. Obviously, there are many factors that determine your success. I will try to shed some light on them from the product design perspective.
Design is a mindset. It’s the way we, as designers, perceive the world and our daily surroundings. Innovation comes from this mindset, and can be described as a fresh idea combined with implementation.
Regardless of the design discipline, there is one factor that is common across all of them. It’s us. Humans. No matter if it’s industrial, graphic or digital design, it is all driven by the same mission - to make life easier. Only in this way can you deliver value to your customers in the long run. Our Product Design team identifies with this approach wholeheartedly.
Design thinking = business thinking
We can have great technologies and business goals, but it always starts with humans. Designers need the ability to carefully observe and listen to people. This is when my personal observation comes into a play. I believe that one of the most (if actually not the most) important traits of a good designer is empathy.
Our role, as designers, is to solve problems. That distinguishes us from artists - we always work within some boundaries and constraints. Artists usually don’t. We don’t do our work in a vacuum, but always in response to a real issue.
We have digital marketplaces where there are plenty of products, regardless of the platform. Some of them are more successful and get more popularity than others. It can be explained by the fact that the majority of the successful ones have been tailored to the users’ needs.
The observation and preparation in product design are called research. Putting extra effort into the research phase minimises the risk of ending up with a useless product. If you skip this stage and narrow the scope of design work to UI design only then, in most cases, the product will have a nice appearance but offer a mediocre experience. It can’t be innovative only because it looks good.
Our insights show that a lot of users won’t give a product another try if it fails to impress them at the beginning. The visual layer can be appealing at the first glance, but it won’t increase the users’ loyalty. Returning visitors or customers are more valuable than than brand new users. On top of that, it’s way more expensive to attract new users than retain existing ones.
Design thinking is business thinking. In the end, both are about making products which provide high return on investment. The investment you need to make is time and money that are put into the design and development of the product. Before we get down to pixels, we always do research, which is why we encourage our clients to follow our design process.
The importance of design
I’ve met a lot of designers, and those who, in the past, have focused on digital disciplines, like web design or app design, are the precursors of today’s product design. Prior to that, we weren’t treated as seriously as we are now. The role of digital design was highly underestimated. UX wasn’t a buzzword back then. Visual design was in the foreground.
The perception of the importance of design has changed dramatically. More and more companies have started investing in design, because they have seen the profits. Designers are invited to the table now. The competitors are’t sleeping, they also wanted significant income boosts, so they have also started hiring designers.
A product designer is a person responsible for both user experience and user interface. This is a huge responsibility, but the only way to make a product successful is to look at it holistically. It often means being present at the early stages of a project, when it’s time to gather business requirements, then through the design process, and eventually supervising the development and making sure that everything is in its right place.
Personally, I identify with similar beliefs and thinking as Tom Kelley, a highly experienced designer. There’s one valuable takeaway I’ve taken from one of his podcasts. While doing research, I ask three important questions, from three standpoints.
From the human side: is it desirable?
From the business side: is it profitable?
And from the tech side: is it feasible?
These three anchors are a solid foundation for further work. It reflects what I’ve mentioned earlier - a holistic approach to design.
How the innovation shapes business
“Innovation is doing the things that you are afraid of.” I don’t know where I came across this quote, but it covers it well. How often have you found yourself in a situation when you were afraid of a change? Companies are managed by people. People are managed by emotions. If a company has a stable financial condition, the willingness to change the status quo is lower. Doubts prevent expansion.
When the mobile era started with the first iPhone, some companies didn’t see the potential in it. Despite the exponential growth of mobile devices, these companies weren’t interested in making their products mobile-ready. Now, these companies don’t exist.
This is a fast-paced industry where we need to keep our eyes open. Otherwise, we may end up like the companies which didn’t keep up. You may get left out of the game. Having a designer or a design team on board ensures you that your company will go with the spirit of modernity. The next big thing, like the premiere of the first iPhone in 2007 which initiated “the mobile era”, won’t pass you by.
Our role as designers is to anticipate, educate and implement. We do our work based on data. We don’t offer solutions simply because it’s cool and trendy to have some purple accents in 2018. Colors, font sizes, and other details are tailored to the target group. Not the other way round. Utility over beauty. Period.
It’s easy to fall into a trap while browsing Dribbble . There’s a lot of eye-candy projects there, but they have no context or data behind them. They will attract attention, but won’t tell you much about the results of implementing a particular solution or about the designer’s skills. This is why Dribbble is not a good platform to verify potential team members. It will give you an idea about the style and the graphic skills of a designer, but it should not determine your decision.
Experimenting - doing small things rapidly to do something big - is a healthy approach that fits the MVP philosophy well. Following design trends blindly is reckless and has no business value, but aligning your company or product vision with the current standards is a different kettle of fish.
Being the first to the market with an innovative product is risky. There is no data based on existing products to digest. Blazing the trail is difficult, but offers great rewards if it’s done with a human-centered approach. There is no barrier to entry.
Being the 10th company on the market with a similar product is much more demanding and competitive. However, it’s easier to fill the functionality gaps of other products with desirable features. Again, this is when research and implementation come into play. Without designers, who know how to delight customers with the best possible experience, there is no innovation. Creativity is directly linked with innovation.
My definition of being creative is being knowledgeable and curious. A designer who lives a sedentary lifestyle won’t be as creative as one who travels and admires architecture, art and nature. This is simply because the second one will have more reference points and more empathy. More reference points means being more creative. Creativity breeds innovation. And innovation shapes business.