What Is Product Design?

Product Design
What Is Product Design?
Article by Jelena Relić
Last Updated: April 17, 2023

Not long ago, the term “product” was used to describe material goods. However, today it also includes digital products — for example, websites, web and mobile applications and e-books.

The one thing physical and digital products have in common is design.

Product design determines whether your product will stand out from the competition and how well your target audience will receive it.

Whether you’re a business owner or any member of management, you must understand what product design is and why it is important to create an appealing product that will engage customers, provide a satisfying customer experience and drive revenue.

This article will be your guide through product design.

Let's dive in.

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What Is Product Design?

Product design is a process of imagining, developing and constantly improving a product idea through sketches and prototypes until you have a final version that solves users' problems or answers the market's specific needs.

Product design involves functionality rather than just the appearance — it ensures satisfying performance and a positive customer experience.

Your product design will be successful if you can understand your customer's problems, which your product aims to solve.

To fully understand the definition of product design, you must first understand the design thinking concept, which is essential for the entire design process.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an approach that prioritizes solving user issues in product design. By following this concept, product design agencies consider users’ needs and market requirements and combine them with advanced technology to develop a comprehensive and successful solution.

Design thinking focuses on the complete product design process, not just one of its phases. Designers must fully understand the product rather than just some of its characteristics — looks, for example.

Before they start designing, designers must answer the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What problems does the product aim to solve for the target audience?
  • How does the product solve the problem?
  • What goals will the company achieve through the particular product?

Once they have answers to these questions, they can develop a solution that will be valuable to customers and, therefore, beneficial for the company.

Although simple, design thinking increases the chances of creating a successful design by identifying user needs and issues and serving the right solutions to resolve them.

Now that you understand product design's meaning, let’s go through its brief history, its importance for your business and the phases it includes.

History of Product Designing

Every product, regardless of its size, purpose and price, was designed by someone. Although product design got the attention it deserves reasonably recently, we can track its development to four historically significant periods:

  • The Industrial Revolution (1750-1850) was a period of mass production and automation, playing a significant role in the development of the modern industrial design.
  • The Great Reformation (1850-1900) brought an artistic revival to mass production while combining modern design with elements of contemporary technology.
  • Modernism (1940-1980) brought a renaissance to the design world, and objects began to take shapes that are recognizable today.
  • The digital age (1990-today) brought endless possibilities in product design. As a result, we have countless digital products and experimental designs in all sectors.

Types of Product Design

There are three essential product design types and each of them resolves different problems in user experience:

  • System Design is a process that aims to give precise knowledge of the system's elements — architecture, modules, components, interface and data.
  • Process Design is a development process that automates the design procedures that lead to an actual, finished product.
  • Interface Design focuses on the user interface (UI) aesthetics and functionality. It defines how consumers receive information and interact with a product to complete a task or resolve a problem.

What Makes a Good Product Design?

The following characteristics create effective product design:

  • Functionality: The product must fulfill its intended function.
  • Reliability: It must function well for a predetermined time.
  • Quality: The design must satisfy consumers' needs.
  • Safety: It must be risk-free to use, handle and store.
  • Maintainability: The product must last for a predetermined time without frequent maintenance requirements.
  • Standardization: The components must be standardized and easily available on the market.
  • Cost-effectiveness: The product must be as economical as possible.

Why Is Product Design Important?

Let’s look at some stats that reasonably represent product design's importance:

  • Attractive packaging influences purchase decisions in 72% of customers.
  • Product design made 73% of companies stand out from the competition.
  • 50% of companies reported more loyal customers after continuous dedication to advanced product design.
  • Consistent product design across all platforms increases businesses' revenue and recognition by up to 33%.
  • Companies with effective product design have 228% stronger performance on the market than their weaker competitors.

Product design based on thorough research of your target audiences’ needs is important, and here's exactly how it contributes to your success in the marketplace:

  • A methodical approach to product design gives you an advantage over the competition with basic, less thought-through design.
  • Innovative and unique product design will differentiate you from the crowd and position you as a leader in your industry.
  • Prioritizing your customer's needs will build a satisfied and loyal audience that will be your brand's best advocates.
  • An excellently designed product will increase your brand’s awareness and your entire assortment's recognizability.
  • Appealing packaging within product design will attract customers and increase your sales. A functional product that resolves users’ pain points will provide you with word-of-mouth marketing and contribute to sales.

Stages of the Product Design Process

  1. Set Your Goals
  2. Get to Know Your Target Audience
  3. Analyze Gained Insights
  4. Define Users' Problems
  5. Develop Ideas
  6. Research Your Competition
  7. Create a User Journey Map
  8. Sketch the Solution
  9. Make a Prototype
  10. Test Your Prototype
  11. Measure Results

The product design process involves creating a product roadmap — a vision and plan you’ll follow until you get the final version. Here are all the steps you’ll have to take on your road to effective product design:

1. Set Your Goals

The first step of any strategy is identifying the objectives you’re aiming for.

Precisely defined goals will help you build a product that resolves customers’ pain points and drives revenue. Without a clear goal, you’ll wander through the design process guided by pure guessing and your product will hardly meet customers' needs — in the best case, you’ll end up with an effect similar to your competitors.

2. Get to Know Your Target Audience

Once you've set your goals, the next step is to research your users' needs.

You need to make sure that there is a need for the product you plan to produce. Even if something similar is already on the market, you need to find the competitors' product flaws and create a unique and improved solution.

To identify users' expectations of your product, use direct research methods, such as interviews or surveys. Using marketing research tools like Google Analytics, you can also analyze customer purchase behavior

3. Analyze Gained Insights

After gathering user data, summarize insights and group them based on their similarities. This process is called affinity mapping and will give you many ideas you'll use during the product design stages. Affinity mapping will also help you define product requirements, plan upcoming product features and gain a deeper understanding of users and their needs.

Data analysis will also help you create a user persona, which is crucial since it helps identify existing customers for your products. A typical user persona includes a name, occupation, demographics, pain points and problems. Persona mapping should develop accurate and realistic representations of the significant target segments.

4. Define Users' Problems

After affinity and persona mapping, you’ll know your customers and define their pain points.

Understanding customers' problem gives you a clear goal — an opportunity to work on. Ask yourself (and your designer team) how you could help the user with the issue they’re dealing with and work to meet your goal.

5. Develop Ideas

Identifying the problem leads to the next step — the ideation or idea-developing phase. During ideation, teammates discuss various ideas and solutions to solve the problem. This step establishes trust between team members because they gather and brainstorm the long-term product design strategy.

6. Research Your Competition

Competitors' presence on the market is priceless because they provide you with a chance to inspire and learn from their mistakes. Look for repeating product design patterns in their assortment, customer experience and visual design (packaging or user interface).

7. Create a User Journey Map

A user journey map includes all the actions users take to reach their goals. For example, in a mobile app, a user has to sign up, create an account, log in, set goals, get their tasks, fulfill them, repeat the action and track progress until they meet the goal.

To create a satisfying customer experience, create a user journey map that'll help you understand the user's perspective and determine if there are any redundant steps.

8. Sketch the Solution

Sketching is the step that precedes prototyping. Team members gather, bring out their ideas, draft them on paper and get a clear picture of the work scope.

9. Make a Prototype

Create a prototype using a design system in design tools (for example, Figma or InVision). Prototyping will allow you to see your idea from all angles and determine which elements are challenging or impossible to implement. You’ll also identify areas for improvement and get an idea of how long it will last and how much production costs.

10. Test Your Prototype

Prototype testing provides user feedback and a chance for further improvement of usability issues before you publish the final product. You can conduct prototype usability testing via one of the following methods:

Moderated usability testing includes someone who personally or remotely guides the participant through the test.

Unmoderated usability testing happens when a participant is not guided or monitored but left to manage a way through independently.

Guerilla testing implies finding participants without a previous connection with the product in public places and asking them to take a quick product usability test.

In-house testing or “dogfooding” happens when team members and in-house employees test their product.

You should test 5 participants to get relevant results on usability testing.

11. Measure Results

Once your product is published and users start engaging with it, monitor essential metrics to get insights into its performance. Metrics you should track include customer satisfaction score (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), net promoter score, single ease question (SEQ) and retention rate.

Google Analytics can provide you with a lot of valuable insights into your product performance. However, don't rely just on metrics and analysis — get customer reviews through questionnaires and surveys to find out about their satisfaction with your product design.

What Is Product Design: Final Thoughts

Product design requires a lot of time and research to introduce and understand the audience whose problem you’re aiming to resolve.

In theory, product design might sound simple. In practice, it requires a lot of repeating and adjustments — it is a long-lasting process that seeks continuous improvements to ideally meet customers' and market needs.

However, the benefits it brings — increased market exposure, improved brand awareness and recognizability, customer loyalty and a lot of word-of-mouth marketing — are worth all the effort it requires.

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