There is a perception that every product that exists today was born out of sheer inspiration and the design gods favoured them over everyone else. As humans, our brain is what makes us different from everything else on the planet, but it comes with its quirks. We are very biased when it comes to recalling things, not only we appropriate other people’s memories and pass them as our own, not on purpose, but we tend to forget how things were in the past, or how things evolved into what we have today.
So what does this have to do with design and product? A lot!
The digital industry does a good job at promoting the new ways of working and the new tools, but it does not promote enough the journey, what are the events or initiatives that led to their success. We as humans know that what we do, have and know today is because of history.
Let’s look at some of the most successful products we have today, I think most of you reading this will agree that some of these are design references today.
(Facebook before and after)
(Spotify before and after)
(Twitter before and after)
Probably most of us don’t remember these products like that at all, because we tend to focus too much on the end result. Our mindset of what good product design is needs to mature and we need to focus on how we get there and not so much on how it looks.
So on what you should focus on? Try to answer these 3 questions and you’ll always be on the right path.
1. What problems are you trying to solve?
This is the most fundamental and complex question you need to be able to answer. Getting this right will probably define everything you’re going to work on, your ability to pivot, to adjust and make sharp turns when needed. Understanding everything about the industry, about its users, their habits, needs and wants, anxieties and expectations. Get this one wrong and you’ll be on the path of failure, but get it right, you’ll have a tool to always know you’re going in the right direction.
2. Is there a market fit?
This is probably why most of the ideas fail in the first place. You might have something that solves a big problem but is the market ready? And is it your strategy and execution the right one? One of the most important things that a lot of start-ups don’t do enough is just put something out there and check the viability, and put as little effort in that as possible (Work smart, not hard). The Design Sprint method from Google Ventures promotes this very well, this is how they help their incubator start-ups to validate their ideas in the quickest way possible. The measure here is not how it looks, it’s how it performs and is accepted.
3. Build, measure and what have you learnt?
This is, to me, the holy grail of product development. If you don’t have this mentality, you’re wasting time and energy. This is pure logic, almost like a scientific method to understand if you’re going in the right direction. Build your idea based on insights, measure it by establishing key signals and metrics to measure success/failure and with all that information captured, analyse and learn from it, come up with new ideas and build them, measure them and again and again and again.
So if you’re just starting your career or you are well into it, please adopt this mindset, the tools, ways of working and trends will come and go but this will always stay. Instead of trying to follow the next big thing in iconography, UI design or the new product feature, ask yourself first, What am I accomplishing with this? Why is this important? What problem am I trying to solve here? How will people react to this? How can I know this will have the impact I want it to have and how can I measure it?
And remember, perfection doesn’t exist, it keeps changing.
Over the last 2 years or so I’ve had the privilege and huge responsibility to manage a team of 5 designers. This is the story of my journey.
Over the years the word design has morphed into many things but its underlying meaning is still the same, function over form.