Product Design 101 for Developers, Startups & Designers
In the past years, the field of design has gone digital, and specifically to product. Designers have become an integral part of product development, as more and more people are demanding easy to use and visually brilliant products. Even developers who love coding are no longer satisfied with black screens and white writing.
But it’s even more than that. Designing defines how the product works, what the user experience is and how users navigate through the product. Designing is an inseparable part of the development process because it determines user funnels through screens, buttons and components are determined by designers. In short, no design, no product.
But designing isn’t a secluded and independent job, performed only by designers. Rather, it’s teamwork. It takes the UI/UX designer, the frontend developer and the product manager to create a product complete with the best and most accessible features and abilities. This blog post will give advice on how to design an amazing and useful product, from the designers’ side. If you’re a developer or startup entrepreneur - read this to gain valuable design insights for better product performance. If you’re a designer - read this to get best practices and tips for designing.
Here we go.
How to design products
I’m a UI/UX designer. As you designers know, our job is to work with frontend developers and product managers to provide users with a beautiful, useful and better product. So we spend hours and days creating a new and clean concept. We make sure it’s agile. We use the newest tools. The branding is stunning. The color schemes, shapes and elements are right. The new look is finally launched…
But alas, nothing happens. No conversions, no downloads, no larger funnel. This is the point we ask ourselves - what did I do wrong?
Sure, it seems everything was done correctly and by the book. But in product design, that’s not enough. When designing, you need to dive into the deep end and submerge into user psychology. Because remember, you’re creating a product for people, that’s meant to make their lives easier. To do that, you need to understand what they want and need.
So hop on the psychologist’s sofa. You’re in for some couple treatment.
1. Think like a user
To design a product for users, you need to know who they are, what they’re thinking and who they want to be. So first, you need to characterize your target audience. Start out with these questions:
- What do they do? Are they developers, programmers, gamers, business people, sales people, athletes, etc.?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- Who do they want to be, and how do they want to feel - cool, successful, serious, smart, special, etc.?
The answers to these questions will give you a good start in understanding what your target audience wants, and therefore what is the best way to design for them. If your target audience is developers, the frontend developers you are working with can provide answers to many of these questions.
Apple, for example, identified a music lover target audience and took a personal approach:
2. Behave like a user
Now that you know who the users are, it’s time to figure out how they act when they use the system. First, find out what their surroundings are - do they work in the morning or in the evening? By themselves or in teams? From home or in the office? From a laptop, tablet, smartphone or all devices?
Second, get the product data from the product logs. How did users use the system until now - which buttons clicked most? What did they look for? Which screens attracted them?
Again, if your product is for developers, the developers you work with can help you figure out the answers. For all products, developers can help you analyze the data.
The answers to these questions will help you determine which design is best for your target audience, what has worked so far and what hasn’t. It’s possible that a screen you really liked isn’t working for users or an important button was missed by them. It’s important to base your decisions on user experience - this will ensure you create the best and most useful design for them.
Waze knew their users’ behaviour was driving, so they designed their app as a driving game where each driver was a user and part of the larger drivers community.
I would also recommend you use the product yourself so you get a good feel of it. Sometimes this is the best way to understand what works best.
3. Take your product into account
You learned what the other side wants and needs, now it’s time to talk about yourself, i.e the product. While taking into account everything we went over, the product also has its own goals: putting valuable data and abilities forward, engaging users and promoting the product brand.
To do this, you must determine user funnels - figure out what you want your users to do from the moment they lay their eyes on your product, until they get to the point you want them to get at, at the pace you want them to go. Don’t rely solely on product managers - designers should know how to operate the product, so they know which benefits to emphasize. This part also includes spreading the word about your product, so you might need to involve marketing in this phase as well.
Duolingo, for example, have a very clear and user-friendly funnel:
You made it! After gathering all this information, you are ready to design. This is the part that requires the most teamwork with developers and product managers, as you need to constantly analyze the data you gathered. You can sit together, have daily meetings, pop into each other’s office rooms when you have questions or any other way you see fit, as long as you work together. There is no exact formula, so this is where you as people come in.
Here are a few more quick tips:
Determine the user navigation path - Drill down the funnel to create a path between screens, buttons and components, which the design guides them through. Make sure the path fits your audience and their behaviour, and that data is prioritized. If you put everything upfront, users will get confused by the overload of information, so choose which data to present and which to pull back - always choose value over quantity. Remember, the product is successful if users can navigate through the funnel without needing explanations, tool tips or guidance.
For example, at CA BlazeMeter, we guide new users to a landing page that lets them start running tests. Through this design they can start using the product easily and immediately, without them needing to dig in the application.
Make users feel connected - I’m not exaggerating, your job as a designer is to create an emotional connection to the product, especially for products that are generally unexciting. So if you need icons, characters, colors, funny quotes, personal texts, shifting images, eye catchers or anything else, don’t hesitate to use them. This is the part where you take into consideration who your target audience is, what they want and what additional value they would get from using the product. Slack is a great story about a product that got its users to emotionally connect to it, through its design.
Be creative - The corniest tip ever, but nevertheless the most important one. Don’t be afraid to step outside the boundaries and even dare to do things that are against designer rules (except for pop-ups, please don’t use pop-ups). True, you might fail, but you might also be innovative and successful, and revolutionize the product’s branding and reach. Just take a look at the OverOps monsters - no one thought they would transform the product the way they did. Also, you don’t want your product to look exactly like all the other products.
Zendesk use an image of an egg that turns into a hen to guide their users through sign-up pages and along the funnel.
Implement A/B testing - The best way to determine what users want is to let users choose themselves. At CA BlazeMeter, for example, we increased our click-through rate by 300% by testing different designs on our homepage. So create and develop a few different designs and see what users choose. Sometimes it could be the option no one thought would catch. For that reason, you should also -
Put your ego aside - You know best, but sometimes even the best design doesn’t attract users. Be open to criticism, it’s the best way to become even better at what you do.
Work with developers - I know this might seem like a funny tip, as I’ve repeatedly emphasized that designing is team work. But sometimes developers might prefer functionalism over design. Work together to make sure they develop the product as designed, since design is as important as functionality. Designers should also have knowledge in development tools and abilities, so they know which functions can be incorporated in the product.
Remember, the designing process requires taking into consideration the other side (in this case the user) and their experience. Just like in couple’s therapy, sometimes you need to try different approaches until you succeed, sometimes you need to indulge the other side and sometimes you need to insist on what you see fit. In the end, powerful products are a mix between beauty and usability.
If you’re a designer, I hope these tips help you develop better products. If you’re a frontend developer, I hope they gave you a glance into our field. Anyhow, after designing and developing the product you will need to test it, so request a CA BlazeMeter demo to see how our product and its design can help you with that.