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Karol Oponowicz
Pope of Design
Product Design
15.09.2022 | 7 min

How important is Product Design in Custom Software Development?

What is Product Design, and why does it play such a pivotal role in custom software projects? No one's better to elaborate on this than Karol, our Head of Design. Imagine that you want to create an electric car. You delegate this task to 5 engineering teams, each dealing with a different element: the battery, the wheels, the engine, the self-driving system, and the onboard computer. After a year, you get brilliantly made working parts from each team, but the assembled vehicle looks like an electric version of Fiat Multipla…

How important is Product Design in Custom Software Development? - 2022 57
Table of Contents
  • The operation was successful, everything works - but would you buy it?
  • What is Product Design?
  • When does Product Design take place?
  • Who is responsible for Product Design?
  • Why is Product Design crucial in custom projects?
  • Who benefits from Product Design?
  • Make your user a superhero!
  • The importance of design
  • Product design worth 18 million euros

The operation was successful, everything works - but would you buy it?

This simplified example shows how important is the big picture in complex projects. The product team needs to be aware not only of multiple components and their very purpose, but also they need to know the design direction and what the future users are anticipating from a product that they are willing to use.

In Custom Software Development, there’s one tool that helps the team connect the dots, and its name is Product Design.

What is Product Design?

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Steve Jobs

Product Design is one of the earliest and most fundamental stages of creating a digital product. Using the available data, the product design team searches for the essence of the problem, then looks for the optimal technological solution and creates its basic, test version (prototype).

The prototype is then handed over to end-users to test the solution and evaluate what's helpful and what's not. After collecting feedback from testers, the product design team creates another version of the prototype, considering the instructions received.

Product Design Sprints continue until the optimal solution is created.

When does Product Design take place?

Product Design Sprints take place after Strategy Workshops; they create a roadmap for developers. The team estimates the best technological solution and the best possible design using all available information about the project (such as the business context or the users' needs and behavior).

"Estimates" is the keyword here because Product Design is mainly used in projects where you know what you want to solve, but you don't know exactly how. And because the solution is a result of trial and error, Product Design happens before programmers start coding. So it’s usually 2 steps ahead of programming sprints so that development teams can see the product and understand its essence and logic.

Otherwise, they would code solutions based on hypothesis and theoretical assumptions and not on actual products visible to the naked eye.

Who is responsible for Product Design?

Product Design allows you to answer the most critical questions about the final product: what challenges are we facing? What do we want to achieve? How will users benefit from our solution? What do they expect, and how to give it to them? In what form?

To answer these questions, you need to understand the problem on many different levels, so the Product Design team consists of specialists with many different competencies.

The key ones are:

Entrepreneurial mind. The team must understand the business context of the situation and translate it into a product. For example, how is it going to finance itself? How to establish its position among competitors?

Management and planning. The Product Design team has to coordinate the work of many different teams and extract various information from them. It has to anticipate all obstacles and find ways to resolve them.

Visual and aesthetic competencies. At the Product Design stage, it's necessary to examine the product-user relationship to determine the interface's colors, style, and complexity.

Analytics. To create a prototype, you need to extract and analyze all available data about users and their behavior, e.g., how they move around the application. You must also adapt the prototype to the recipient group: what data and how do we want to show it to be accessible to testers or final users?

Psychological skills. When analyzing data and estimating solutions, you must consider the user's feelings at a given moment. Which moments are the most frustrating for him, and which are the most rewarding? How do we adjust the interface and messages to these situations and emotions?

Why is Product Design crucial in custom projects?

Suppose you want to create a travel platform that will allow users to filter travel agencies' offers. In that case, you don't need to spend much time on R&D. The problem is repeatable and not very complicated, and the solutions have been known and improved for years. So instead, you simply choose from a pool of dozens of ready-made tools.

The situation is entirely different when you are looking for a solution to a complex, multi-level problem that has never been solved with technology before. Or it has been, but only by two other companies worldwide that use their own dedicated systems that nobody else has access to.

When you have a business challenge, but there is no ready-made solution on the market, and you need to make a dedicated system based on trial and error, Product Design comes to the rescue.

Based on the team's knowledge, collected data, and often on intuition (because it's impossible to predict all the variables), the PD team creates a test version and presents it to people who do the actual work on it and check whether it fulfills its role.

After that, the PD team iterates the tool until it becomes fully functional. The ultimate goal is to allow the user to do all the things he wants automatically.

Who benefits from Product Design?

Thanks to Product Design, you can tangibly see your digital product. Sure, it won't be perfect the first time, but that's exactly the point. You create prototypes to verify their very sense at a low cost.

You can show such an imperfect prototype that illustrates the essence of the product to many people involved in the project:

  • end-users to test the app in practice,
  • developers to assess technological possibilities,
  • industry specialists to collect additional expert opinions,
  • investors to raise funds to finance the project.

Make your user a superhero!

As we mentioned earlier, Product Design combines many aspects of a product into one coherent whole. However, it's not only about collecting data but, most of all, processing it so that the end-user can easily use it and benefit from it.

For example: if you want to create a bookstore management system, the compilation of mere numerical data, such as the inventory of books, a list of customers, or email addresses to suppliers won't revolutionize the way people work. Bookstore staff will still have to check inventory daily, manually order missing titles and call each publisher separately.

The role of Product Design is to combine many different data and display instructions to the user, automating his work. For example, bookstore employees will receive automatic notifications when some titles are running low, and the system will automatically send the order to the publisher.

Tasks that previously required an additional vacancy now require merely two clicks.

Another example: you're creating an application for ordering bicycles. You can provide your customers with a list of all available parts, complete with technical data and photos. Then, from the frames, wheels, saddles, and handlebars, the customer selects those whose specification best suits him and places the order.

Imagine the same data passing through a dedicated interface that visualizes your bike and its changes in real-time. The user uses the same data, but the ease of ordering and the pleasure of the process is on an entirely different level.

Thanks to Product Design, you can combine many data and visualize them. As a result, the end-user makes critical decisions easier and faster.

The importance of design

Let's not forget about one more fundamental role of Product Design: the design of the product.

Once you've created a tool that meets the user's basic needs, such as allowing them to publish photos to their friends or facilitate the building's sewage system management, you're only halfway through. Now you have to make the user at least like, and best love, the app's interface and stay with your tool, and not the competitors'.

From our experience, the visual style is exceptionally important for the Z generation, which emphasizes how things look. However, regardless of age, if a user gets two apps with similar capabilities, the second aspect determining the choice of one or the other solution will be the design.

During the Product Design session, we put great emphasis on the visual setting of the app and its adaptation to the recipient. The team is considering what colors and graphics to choose to stand out in the market of similar solutions. And in case we're working on an innovative product without real competition, our goal is to develop a design that will create a new standard in the industry.

Product design worth 18 million euros

A great example of the role of Product Design in dedicated projects is our client, Kyoto.

I encourage you to read the story of how creating a self-sufficient solar battery went from the idea phase, through several business iterations, to create a functional prototype that led to raising EUR 18 million in financing.

Check out the Kyoto case study.

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