UX Product Design: The Key to Winning in a User-Centered World
What is UX Product Design?
UX product design (or user experience product design) is the process of creating digital products that bridge the gap between aesthetics and functionality for the end users. For professionals focused in UX product design, there are myriad ways to approach this process.
In this article we will define the process of UX product design and highlight some key principles that lead to successful MVPs that will delight end users.
In today’s competitive digital landscape, people increasingly highlight the importance of user experience. Products lacking intuitive navigation and interaction quickly fall by the wayside. This is why professional designers must have a deep understanding of the needs and behaviors of its users in order to strike a balance between aesthetics and function.
Designers must consider not only how easy a product is to use, but also the emotional and psychological implications of their design. Does the finished product elicit an emotional response? Is it visually engaging? Are the gamification elements that keep users coming back for more? All of these questions live within the practice of user-centered design, a guiding set of principles that help to create products that are both loved by users and satisfy their needs.
Why is user-centered design important?
User-centered design is an approach that prioritizes the needs and wants of a user base in order to craft an experience tailored to them. User-centered design is not an end of process element but rather exists throughout the entire UX product design process.
User-centered design is not an approach that exclusively benefits the users, but rather the positive response to a carefully designed product has implications for the business as well. Increased usability is likely to improve user satisfaction and engagement, and when users are satisfied with a product they are likely to become repeat users and even recommend the product within their network. Both repeat and organic user increase in product awareness help maintain a competitive advantage within a product’s market.
User-centered design can also contribute to reduced development costs, as UX product design adjustments at the end of a process can be extremely costly. By considering the user experience throughout the entire process, adjustments can be made at a much higher efficiency level before development has built the product around a design choice.
How to improve design processes to meet market demands
Market demands are always fluctuating, and design teams are required to stay up to date on what current demands are and where they land in their product. Luckily, a user-centered design approach bridges the gap between user needs and changes in the market.
Design teams should keep their ear to the ground in regards to current trends, which can serve as guideposts to determining the best approach to create a modern product that successfully balances aesthetics and functionality. Every trend may not align with your end users however, which is why market research is a critical element for a design team applying a user-centered approach. Tools such as surveys, focus groups, and user testing provide feedback that helps to differentiate trends that you users find beneficial from trends that muddle the functionality of a product.
Feedback gained in a market research period should be shared across all teams involved in product development, regardless of if they are involved in the design process or not. Why? Because different team members with different perspectives can provide feedback and guidance on design trends that may actually hurt the MVP.
For example, autoplay videos for websites has become a larger trend in the design world, but developers may feel obligated to push back when it comes to large-scale video due to the impact it can have on site performance. This would be an example of when design aesthetics get in the way of functionality, as it doesn’t particularly matter how impactful a video element is if it prevents the web page from loading properly.
Remember, feedback implementation is not the end of the road. UX product design and development teams should be striving to constantly improve and refine their product to make it the best it can be for the user. From this perspective, the design process is never truly complete.
Why is UX product design important?
UX product design is important for several reasons, the biggest of which being market competitiveness. In the current digital landscape, a constant oversaturation of digital products has flooded the market. Many of these products are functional, and perhaps provide a solution to the prerequisite problem, but with so many solutions on the market, if a product is not appealing or intuitive to a user, then it is dead on arrival.
The digital space simply has too much product for users to tolerate one that provides a poor user experience. Successful UX product design professionals understand the differences between product design and UX design and where they overlap.
Understanding User Needs
Understanding user needs is the guiding principle for powerful UX product design, and is the catalyst for increasing user satisfaction and adoption. Many companies unfortunately fail to invest in the proper research to assist with their understanding of user needs. This oversight is more common in digital products than physical ones, but the implications are just as great.
Consider this comparison: a construction company has been commissioned to build a bridge without any understanding of the needs of users for that bridge. Are they building a suspension bridge for pedestrians? What about a bridge meant for vehicles to cross over? Or maybe it’s mixed use and needs to be constructed for both user groups? Without understanding their user’s needs, they could construct the entirely wrong product, and even worse, someone could get hurt if they build it with the wrong users in mind.
Luckily, in the digital space physical harm from bad UX product design is far less likely, but when comparing user research requirements for projects that must meet physical needs, we understand the implications of uninformed user design.
Key components of User Research
There are several tools used within user research to help designers grasp the full range of needs for a product. These tools include but are not limited to:
1. Persona creation
Personas are fictional archetypes of expected users of a product that help designers better understand their target audience. Personas are created based on prior user research and generally include pieces of information like age range, gender identity, behavior patterns, socioeconomic status, and general pain points.
Surveys are used to collect quantitative UX data about users’ needs, wants, and behaviors. Surveys can be conducted virtually or in-person.
3. User testing
User testing involves observing users as they interact with a product. The data collected provides feedback on both functionality and the overall user experience. Tools such as heatmaps may be utilized within user testing to further enrich the data.
4. Card sorting
Card sorting is used to understand how information is being categorized for a specific group of users, providing feedback on the informational architecture of the product.
User research in the real world
There are few better examples of successful UX product design than Amazon Prime, the world leader in digital ecommerce. Amazon used a combination of surveys and focus groups to inform its user experience design, utilizing surveys in larger sample sizes than focus groups which were kept to a much smaller scale. Through constant iterating of the online platform, some elements that were developed through its user research include both video and music offerings and free two-day shipping, the latter being an absolute game changer for Amazon’s business model.
Without this extensive user research, Amazon may not have ever realized how great the need for free two-day shipping was in their consumer base. Without the implementation of that element, the ecommerce space may have had many more successful competitors to the retail giant.
UX Design Principles
UX design has a few distinctly important principles that should be considered when designing a user-centered product. These principles help develop products that are intuitive and appealing for the end user:
Design elements and interactions should be consistent throughout a product. This can be managed through the implementation of a design system, which you can read more about here.
Just because a product isn’t physical doesnt mean accessibility can go unconsidered. There are many elements in digital products that can and could be reviewed for accessibility including considerations for color, font size, and alternative text for images.
3. Clarity and simplicity
Not every idea needs to make it into the design of your MVP. Keep things clear and simple, and focus on reducing unnecessary complications in the user experience.
4. Feedback and communication
UX Design should assume all users are novices, and provide clear and helpful feedback for users. This ensures that users understand what actions they need to take to achieve the desired results.
5. Flexibility and scalability
If your plan is to expand the product and its user base, the design should be flexible enough to scale up as more people engage with the product.
6. Usability and usefulness
UX Design must always prioritize usability and usefulness, as products that cannot be used efficiently by their user base will not compete with those that can, regardless of visual appeal.
UX product designers who honor these principles during the design process help to contribute to an exceptional user experience, and there are plenty of real-world examples that could be considered for products that rely on these principles for their success. Products like Apple’s IOS software.
Apple’s dedication to user-centered design helped it surpass its competitor Blackberry during the release of the original Iphone. IOS was a far more visually consistent experience for the user, and each update to the product incorporated user feedback within an easily scalable product. Not to mention that IOS was intuitive and simple to use. You can read more about Apple’s carefully considered user experience here.
The UX Product Design Process
The UX product design process is typically made up of seven stages (though this may vary per designer) with a high level of investment in the research process. Each of these stages is best served when combined with agile methodology, which has become the go to methodology for designers looking to replace the waterfall method’s downsides.
This initial stage involves the gathering of all necessary information to begin the UX product design process. Research goals must be established beforehand between all vested parties including product owners, designers, and developers. Selecting research goals will influence which methods will be most effective for your research, as well as help with the selection process for initial users. All data should be analyzed for patterns and trends using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Once this data has been communicated to all stakeholders, planning can begin.
With research-guided decisions, a UX product designer can now define the scope of work, break work up into sprints, and establish goals based on the decided timeline. Analysis should have revealed a product’s target audience as well, allowing for the scope to be influenced by user research.
Now the creation process can begin in earnest. Early design stages involve creating wireframes, prototypes, and user flows based on the user-centered data previously gathered. Designers may also create mockups to test visual elements as well to see if color, typography, and branding are in alignment and meet accessibility requirements.
UX product designers and developers roll up their sleeves together in the development phase to execute all of the user design elements. This is also where agile methodology shines, as each section of development is broken down into small pieces that can be iterated and tested as they are developed. This allows more room for adjustments at a lower price point, and saves the team from having to do costly fixes at the end of the process.
User testing is a majorly important part of the process, as users can confirm that conducted research aligns with the element or finished product. Getting users to frequently engage in a hands-on experience is advisable, as early access ensures that any usability issues are addressed promptly. Make sure to test in realistic environments, as hyper controlled testing is less likely to produce an accurate result.
The product’s market release may come in the form of a soft launch involving beta testing or restricted access to account for any additional bugs resulting from user audience testing. Soft launching also creates time to collect real user feedback before the general public has full access, giving the opportunity for designers and developers to work together to remedy any last-minute issues.
This phase is also where user support plays a key role and gives an idea of the investment a company must make to support their product.
7. Post-launch evaluation
The product has been successfully released, and the next steps involve an evaluation period to measure success. This may include metrics like user adoption, engagement, and satisfaction.
Even if goal metrics have been reached, analysis of product performance and monitoring user feedback are still important. Continual iteration helps future-proof products, as well as ensures a longer life expectancy than products who decrease support and user consideration early into a product’s life cycle.
Designing Different Products
While the principles of UX product design stay consistent across mediums, different product types have nuances in their design processes.
Here are some examples of how designing different products may change the approach to user-centered design:
1. Mobile products
Mobile devices have smaller screens and are typically used outside of traditional workplace environments. Mobile product design should prioritize simplicity & performance, as space on mobile devices becomes cluttered and quickly overwhelmed. Consider the Retrievr mobile application. The interface is extremely simple and intuitive. This doesn’t mean that functionality is limited, but it reflects designers and developers recognizing the most important needs of its users and makes it as easy as possible to achieve those needs.
2. Web applications
Web applications are typically used to showcase more on larger screens, and therefore can afford more complex interactions with users. While websites should still be intuitive, web application design can make more concessions to focus on scalability, flexibility, and customizability to really show off an end product.
3. Social media products
Social media products have to maintain high levels of engagement of their user base, otherwise they could quickly lose a competitive edge. User-generated content is a must, and should therefore be easy to learn while providing customizability so users can express their unique perspectives. Not only should social media products be built for high engagement, but they should also encourage high community engagement.
If users aren’t engaging with each other on the product, then it’s not much of a social media product is it?
4. Enterprise products
Enterprise products are designed exclusively for business use and take a step away from intuitive design in exchange for more technical capability. It’s critical that enterprise products provide employees with the opportunity to execute technical tasks while still optimizing their workflows. Designers must consider how to create a product that streamlines business processes and integrates with Legacy software. You can learn more about enterprise products here.
DOOR3 for your Product Design Needs
DOOR3 is a UX design agency that offers a range of services to help businesses create digital products that deliver an exceptional user experience. For decades, we have approached UX product design holistically. With over 500 projects successfully completed, we are confident in our capability to design, develop and deliver your next big project on time and on budget. Interested in speaking with us? Reach out here to speak to one of our primary consultants.
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