The Product Design Process

What is Product Design

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

The Product Design Process

Check out a free preview of the full The Product Design Process course

The "What is Product Design" Lesson is part of the full, The Product Design Process course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul discusses the fundamentals of product design and how it differs from traditional web design. He explains that product design involves conceptualizing, creating, and refining digital products such as SaaS apps and software interfaces. He also highlights the unique challenges of working on web apps, including repeated use, complexity, and the importance of procedural knowledge.


Transcript from the "What is Product Design" Lesson

>> We'll start off by looking at product design fundamentals. What exactly is product design or digital product design? And let's be clear, I'm not gonna start teaching you how to make a chair, for example. But when it comes to digital product design, what exactly is it? How is it different from our traditional web design?

So we're gonna explore those kind of fundamental principles of the discipline and how it's different. So let's begin with, well, what is product design? Now, of course there is no universal agreement about this, cuz Perish the thought we have standards in our industry. And it could be very confusing cuz you might think, well, I've done a little bit of designing apps, therefore am I a product designer, or am I a UX designer, or am I an experience designer, or am I a UI designer, and so it goes on?

Truth is, it doesn't really matter what you call yourself, right? [LAUGH] Whatever wins you the job is my attitude. But for our sake as we talk about product design as a discipline, really it's about the process of conceptualizing, creating, and refining digital products basically like SaaS apps or software interfaces.

So it's a kind of blend of user experience design, user interface design, and interaction design. All right, that probably doesn't overly help you to understand what product design is. So let's try a little illustration instead, a Info Graphic. So if you imagine kind of the work that we do as digital designers, he uses the broadest term that you can possibly come up with, right?

At one end of the spectrum of kind of web-based technologies is the informational end of the spectrum. So we're talking about document-based websites such as news sites, marketing sites, that kind of thing, right? Government websites, all of those type of sites. And then at the other end of the spectrum, we've got task-orientated web apps such as design tools, accounting apps, online software, that kind of thing.

So actually, Figma itself is a SaaS app, it's a web app that runs through web technology. Now in the middle, you've got a whole range of different things that are both interactive and informational. So an e-commerce site has got interactive elements to it, but it's also got informational product information on there.

And then social sites, you could argue or somewhere in between, right? So it's very much a spectrum, and we kind of work all along that spectrum. So that end of the spectrum the informational end of the spectrum, I'm gonna call that web design, right? I noticed I'm saying, I'm gonna call it that because other people I'm sure would have other names for it.

And then at the other end of the spectrum, we're talking about product design, okay? So that is the end of the spectrum we're gonna be looking at today, right? And so, I wanted to clarify that up front because obviously that makes a big difference. Many of the things I talk about today will apply across the whole spectrum, right?

And you don't need to necessarily specialize in one part of that spectrum, right? Don't feel that if you call yourself a UX designer, you only get to work on the informational end. Or if you call yourself even a web designer, you only get to work on the informational end, you don't think that if you call yourself a product designer, you only ever get to work on web apps.

The reality is that over your career, you will probably work in a lot of different areas, okay? So I, for example, call myself a UX designer, but I spend as much time working on web apps as I do working on informational websites, right? So a lot of the skills are transferable, but there is more to product design than you might think.

It's very easy to make an assumption that you understand a discipline simply because you work in an adjacent discipline, if that makes sense. This is this is an example of how old I am, right? That when I trained, when I started my career, the web didn't exist, okay?

And I remember a time when print designers went, yeah, we can do the web too, right? Which was absurd, they had no understanding of the web, right? And equally, I remember a time a little bit later, when those very same web designers who moaned at the print designers, right, started turning around and saying, yeah, we can do mobile too, right?

So there are specialisms, there are differences, but there are also transferable skills, right? So, we need to be aware of the unique challenges that are associated with working on web apps, right? I'm doing the more product design end of things. And to me, I mean, I'm sure there are lots of others as well, but the three that really stand out to me is first, that when it comes to web apps, there is repeated use, right?

So you think about it. Think about the web apps that you use, right? The chances are, you use them fairly regularly, okay? You open Figma every day, probably multiple times a day, you live in that thing maybe, right? Even with certain e-commerce sites which are somewhere in the middle like Amazon.

I'm on Amazon way more than I probably should be, okay? Or Netflix, right? I'm in and out of that app all the time. Now, compare that to more informational based websites, all right? You may be visit them once in a blue moon. Okay, I don't get up in the morning go, right, I'm gonna go visit the UK government website today because that's what I do on a Monday, you know?

You go when you have to. So that element of repeated use means that a minor point of friction can become irritating when you encounter it regularly. You can put up, if the UK government website is a bit difficult to use, it's not the end of the world, I maybe visit it once a year, right?

If Figma has a little thing where I have to go through two drop downs rather than one, I freak the hell out because it's so annoying when you have to do it for the 50,000th time. So being aware of that creates a unique challenge that product designers face more than informational designers, I'll throw out another random name for these things, you can see how little I care about the names of things.

So that's one thing to bear in mind, the second challenge is the complexity. So when it comes to document-based websites, the biggest challenge you really have is navigation, right? You've got to navigate around that app and maybe filling in a form, okay? That's about as bad as it gets from a user interaction point of view.

But when you move into any kind of web app, then suddenly that complexity of the tasks that people are trying to complete skyrockets. And so, there is very complicated range of functionality that somebody might be doing when working with a web app that they wouldn't necessarily be facing if they were working just on an information website.

So that's the second problem. And the third problem is something that we touched on in one of the questions in the user research and testing, is this concept of procedural knowledge. Now, for those of you who don't know what procedural knowledge is, is that, we learned to do things by habit, right?

So if we do something and it works for us, we do it again, and again, and again. And we learn that, and even if that's not the best way of doing it, it gets us to the results, so we're kind of happy with it. So the classic example, have you ever seen somebody type in a whole website address into the Google search box, right?

They do that because they did it once and it worked. And so, they do it again, and again, and again. And then they just select the first thing from the dropdown list and they get on the website, that's a whole extra step than if you just typed in the address bar.

But people do that because they've learned that it works, that's procedural knowledge. So, I could say to you, let's think of a website that most of you go to at some point. Well, let's pick Amazon. Everybody been to Amazon relatively recently or fairly often, right? So if I said to you, where's the search box on Amazon, right?

You'll probably picture in your head that site and that the search box is kind of in the middle at the top, right? Or if I said to you, where's the shopping cart on Amazon, right? Or indeed on any e-commerce site, you're almost certainly going to say.
>> Upper right.

>> Upper right, okay? So there are procedural knowledges that are specific to a site, right, and then there are also procedural knowledge of our expectations of how websites on a whole work, right? Like shopping basket, top right, or navigation, cross top, down the left-hand side, right? So we've learned these behaviors.

Now, why does this matter in terms of a challenge for web apps in particular? Well, if we're using something continually, if we're using Figma day in, day out, if we're using our banking app day in and day out, right? If you move any of those elements, you break people's procedural knowledge, suddenly they don't understand, where's that thing gone, right?

If Amazon moved their shopping basket from the top right to the top left, all hell would break loose. And you see this every time something like Facebook redesign, right, everybody flips out. It sometimes makes the news that people are up in arms about the fact that this app has changed.

So we've got this added component because people are using the app on a regular basis that if you break their procedural knowledge, even to make it better, right, it causes problems. So those are the three big challenges that you need to bear in mind when you're talking about building and working on web apps.

Product design has a lot of similarities and a lot of crossovers with any other form of UX design or web design, but it also has some unique challenges that we need to be aware of.

Learn Straight from the Experts Who Shape the Modern Web

  • In-depth Courses
  • Industry Leading Experts
  • Learning Paths
  • Live Interactive Workshops
Get Unlimited Access Now