Simplify Your Product & Software Design Efforts

There’s lots of ideas out there, but turning an idea into a real product is challenging. The best product designers are able to work virtually with their team members, and they develop a robust outline for  turning their ideas into marketable products. There are several effective product design methods.  For our purposes here, let’s look at this from the perspective of designing a software application.  Keep in mind these same steps and principles apply to efforts to designing physical products. The four key steps to effective product or application design include: 

  1. Defining the purpose of the product 
  2. Defining who your user is
  3. Writing user stories or use cases
  4. Creating a prototype 

Defining the purpose of the product 

Before building anything at all, you first need to understand what it is you will build. Although this sounds easy and obvious, it is easier said than done. Once I was sitting in a product development meeting with a team of designers, engineers, and managers all discussing a new feature to add to a product. Some thought it was unnecessary while others believed the new feature was critical. During the discussion, one fairly experienced product leader asked the question, “What is the purpose of our product? And does this feature inhibit its purpose or does it enable its purpose? The answer to the question clarified everyone’s thinking — the team decided to not build the feature.

Sometimes defining what the product is not, creates clarity around what it is. So try asking yourself what the product is not. If we set out to build a new solar powered water heater, are we wanting to go down the path of developing a heat conductive pipe for the plumbing? Though it may be related, it may not serve the product’s purpose. Some will also reference a product purpose with what problem the product is solving. The product’s purpose and the problem the product/application is solving should be synonymous. Start with this simple framework: 

The purpose of the product is to ______<insert product>__________ for ___________<insert user>____________.

Defining who your user is

Once you have a better understanding of the product purpose, now you are ready to refine who your user is. What does she need? What does she experience while trying to solve her problem? How often does she experience this problem? What are her defining characteristics and what is her buying behavior? The more clearly you can identify your target user, the easier it will be to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to certain product designs, features and investments.

Scope creep is a real thing and it impacts every product development process. Scope creep is when the scope of product grows well beyond its initial intended purpose and leads to complexity, confusion and loss of focus. Scope creep happens when building new products that have not been defined with a clear product purpose or clarity on the end user/customer. Try this: 

  • Our user has what characteristics? 
  • How does our user feel about the problem our product solves? 
  • What does our user currently use to solve this problem? 

Writing user stories or use cases

Now that you understand both the purpose of the product and the user for whom the product is being built, now we can start developing the user stories. User stories are a set of statements that create clarity around what the user will be able to see, do, and experience while using the product or application. It is actually pretty simple. Using digital collaboration platform like SOZO just write the user type and describe what the user can ideally do with your product or application. Use the following format to : 

As a _________ user, I can ___________, so that_____________. 

Here is an example: As an admin user, I can create a new user and invite them to the app, so that they can access the app also

Here’s another example: As a regular user, I can select “add all” from a drop down menu, so that all options are selected when editing the template

At some point in your product design and development journey, you will have many ideas and projects changing hands between multiple stakeholders. So if you are not clear about how the product or application should be built and the needs it is fulfilling for customers, you run the risk of being misaligned. User stories create clarity for the Product Manager, the Designer, and the Product Engineer(s). Be sure stick to what is essential to the purpose of the product when writing your user stories. 

Creating a prototype 

With your user stories in hand, create a prototype. A prototypes usually starts with a sketch, a wireframe or a model. With these early renderings, designers can assess how well the product or application’s design is meeting the user’s needs, the product’s purpose and the user stories.

Using the user stories as a guide, go through each story and create each page so it becomes something visual. Perfection at this stage of the product design process is not the point, rather get a prototype and start getting feedback. The prototype example below can easily be developed using the freestyle design studio in SOZO. Once it has been developed, it will be easy for team members, to comment, edit, and iterate on the prototype before working or functional product/application designs are built.  

There are many ways to design and prototype a new product. But following the steps outlined here should make things much easier to get started. In SOZO, you can use the Product Development template to make it easier. Just start putting your ideas down on sticky notes and begin designing.

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