Wondering what product designers work on, and how good product design can help you create an amazing final product that gets great user feedback? Keep reading to learn all about the design part of product development.
To start by explaining it plain and clear, product design is the method by which designers combine customer needs with commercial objectives. The idea is that this process will help them define the problems in the design and production phases, and assist brands in creating consistently successful physical or digital products.
Product designers strive to improve the user experience in the solutions they create for their customers, as well as support their brands by ensuring that their products are long-lasting and meet long-term business goals.
What does a product designer do?
Product designers assist in the development of products that are not only simple and enjoyable to use but also fine-tuned to perform consistently well in the marketplace.
They assist brands in defining product goals, developing product roadmaps, and releasing successful products.
Because UX designers are concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, technically speaking, they also might work on projects within the UX design section (including aspects of branding).
Similar to the way industrial designers use in-depth expertise to predict the effects of design in physical objects, product designers create information architecture and journey maps to predict the way final users will interact with a final product. Even though design is the process of visualizing and prototyping a product, in their product design process they will also be involved in testing and reiterating the objects for good and intuitive use.
At its essence, a product designer is a problem solver. They are a designer who employs the various aspects and tools of design to create and implement a solution that addresses a user’s experience issues.
But what do they actually design, specifically speaking in products they create day-to-day? Here are some usual tasks on which a product designer will work.
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Journey maps depict a user’s story as they proceed through a task or process. Great journey maps capture the stimuli and motivation factors, as well as the impression after their experience of using a product, to tell the whole path of a user’s journey.
It deconstructs a user’s complicated emotions in order to find pain points and opportunities. They are developed through a series of moderated questions and exercises conducted in workshops with various stakeholders and users.
Wireframes are low-fidelity mock-ups that act as blueprints for higher-fidelity concepts and are used to quickly generate solutions for assessment. Low-fidelity mock-ups, which are frequently created with pen on paper, are ideal for brainstorming because they are inexpensive.
Bad ideas can be easily abandoned since they are low-risk and low-cost, allowing for quick revision. It’s an appropriate method for the fail-fast model, which immediately reports at its interface any condition that is likely to indicate a failure.
Prototypes are mock-ups made with the intention of making the testing process easier.
They can vary in type and complexity, as you can simply draw a prototype on a piece of paper, 3D print it, or use more sophisticated prototyping tools and make a model of a final, usable product. Whether it is a cardboard plane or a clickable website, they both have the same purpose: to get user input by testing the solution in a series of controlled sessions.
To collect unbiased data, it’s critical to recruit the right user demographic and employ the right methodology. Detecting data and vulnerabilities in the information architecture, interaction design usability and discoverability in the prototype early on will aid in the development of a more user-friendly solution later on.
Prototype of a car. Credit: Pinterest
Final mock-ups (high-fidelity designs)
This is the design’s finalized mock-up. This design should mirror the final product when it is developed and implemented after the solution has been approved by test users.
The development team will use these drawings as a template and guide. If we use a website as a final product example, the layout, color, font, padding, and all the small details should be communicated down to the last pixel in its final mock-up.
Website mock-up created for a ManyPixels client.
Of course, these are only a handful of products and design systems that a product design will create in their day-to-day job. There are plenty of other projects and iterations that they might be engaged in, although these are the most common ones.
Types of product design
The three main types of product design are system, process and interface design. They each have the goal of tackling different problems in the user experience, but are equally important when it comes to the final design.
Here are the three types of product design, explained.
A very simple and common example of a system design is the layout of a supermarket. In a real-life marketplace where there are hundreds of items, the product designer of shelves is essentially an information architect.
They will group the items in categories that are logical together (e.g. confectionery, snacks, cooking supplies, dairy, etc.), then they will assemble the different categories in a logical direction (i.e. multiple types of food on one side, cleaning products on the other side of the store), and make sure they put into focus things that the customers should notice (sale, new product on promotion, etc.).
The designer keeps in mind both the intuitiveness and ease of use for the customer, but also the business goals of the market itself. For example, around Valentine’s day, the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and flowers will be on the right side of the entrance, because customers will move counter-clockwise and see that first.
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Process design is very important in websites, let’s say in e-commerce, where it eases the browsing, selecting, saving, putting in cart and then paying for items. But let’s use a more tangible example once again: an airport.
Airports include a lot of waiting, zig-zag lines, rooms that can be entered and exited only from one door, etc. The reason for that is that there are multiple processes that are very important for safety and efficiency: checking in, security checks, passport control, customs and others.
The zig-zag lines and doors that don’t open from the inside once you’ve checked in your baggage aren’t a stylistic choice. They are there to help fit more people in a line, and to prevent passengers from adding or purchasing unsafe items once the security has checked all their belongings. The complex and unintuitive layout of airports serves a purpose, and that purpose is safety above all.
Interface design is focused on the aesthetic experience of the product. It has a human-first approach: before looks and innovation, the interface is a touchpoint between the user and the product and its usability and it serves to solve their real problems. The idea is to guide the user through the product and make them feel like they can use it instinctively.
Let’s say that we are talking about an ATM. Its interface must be clear and guide the person withdrawing money from the machine to do that effortlessly.
Through implementing colors, fonts, icons, shapes and different sizes on all elements, they can guide the person into easily understanding how to use the ATM.
Why is product design important?
From a development, business and marketing perspective, product design can make an incredible impact on a product.
First and foremost, a crucial characteristic of any product defined by its design is the ease of use. You can create an amazing product, but if people are struggling to make the best out of its basic properties and use, it might eventually fail.
Let’s take Heinz ketchup for example. It is a great recipe, some people would argue. But why is it one of the best-selling products in an industry that has many, many competitors? Because they were among the few people that thought of putting the hole at the bottom, not the top. That is the ease of use as a top product design priority.
Heinz vs other brands. Credit: Serious Eats
Another reason why product design is so important is marketability. Can you design a well-known product in a way that you can market its slightly different design? Let’s take Airpods for example. Why did they become extremely popular? Because people hate untangling their earphones all the time. It’s not a new product, it is just a refined idea that simplifies the experience, and Apple capitalized on that feature that makes their product very marketable.
Design and branding are also essential in product design, as in anything else. The product can be intuitive, efficient and useful, but without implementing the brand’s design elements and symbols, it won’t do well from a marketing perspective. If the brand awareness suffers, so does the success of the product, and product designers need to consider this too.
Production costs have a massive impact on the final profits of a product. There are many materials that withhold the test of time and elements, for example, but they are not feasible because they are too expensive. When designers are developing a product, they need to weigh in the costs of every material, as well as its transportation and ability to be manipulated.
Finally, product design is important because it can find out how efficient a product is. If you are to market something for a particular use, but it doesn’t do its job well, it might need to be iterated or fully scraped from the market. Production design is the phase where big flaws are usually uncovered, making it very important for the final product’s success.