Ask the Experts: Best Practices in Product Design

Four user experience and product design experts share best practices for designing products customers will love.

product design

In conjunction with a workshop OpenView hosted on user experience process and product design, we’ve gathered a panel of four industry experts who each know a thing or two about designing successful products.

In this three-part series (see part II and part III), they’ll share their insights and expertise by answering a variety of questions. First up:

What best practices do you recommend for designing products that customers will love?

Chris Kaufman, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of UpTo

There’s a quote often attributed to Henry Ford (though there’s really no evidence he actually said it) that goes, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he said it or not, it’s certainly a philosophy he lived by, and one that product designers can learn from.

The key to giving consumers really great products is to give them something they didn’t realize they needed. At a minimum, products need to make an experience significantly better. The digital space is too saturated to create mediocre experiences. If a product doesn’t significantly improve a user’s life, it’s going to fail.

Kyrie Robinson, Partner – User Experience, Silicon Valley Product Group

There are many principles and best practices that UX designers follow, two of which come up frequently and are my personal favorites. The first is simply to show a prototype to users. It’s seductive to want to skip this step. You think to yourself, “Maybe the prototype isn’t good enough — I won’t learn anything,” or, “I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything covered.” And yet every single time you sit down with even one user and a prototype — even a really lame paper prototype that is four days old and has tons of known problems — you always learn something. It’s like magic.

The second best practice that seems to come up all the time is this: Don’t rely on instructions. It’s funny how often, after talking to users and observing the problems they encounter, we all are tempted to try to explain to them how to use the product correctly. It’s a quick fix to just put some words on a screen or in documentation. I’m not the first to say this, but it bears repeating: Users don’t read, they scan. They look for big buttons to push or fields to fill in. If you are ever tempted to solve a problem by adding words to the screen, it is almost surely a mistake. Solve the problem the right way by making it more obvious what to do.

Andrew Maier, Founder of UX Booth

Almost every practice that contributes to a product someone loves can be associated with the field of user-centered design. Customers generally love products that fill a need for them, whether conscious or unconscious. Designers can better understand those needs by conducting a thorough discovery process, including stakeholder interviews, ethnographic research, card-sorting exercises, design-studio exercises and/or rapid prototyping. Utilizing any subset of these collaborative techniques allows designers to adequately assess the problem(s) they face and the solution(s) they produce.

Once a (hypothetical) solution is ready for development, it’s important to test that solution with the largest audience possible — without releasing it publicly. To do this, designers should employ an onboarding (or tutorial) process as part of their first user experience and then release their product to a small test group. In theory, this practice will allow users to do things in a new way.

Once a product has adequate adoption it can be put through its paces more rigorously. Designers can then conduct accessibility testing, Web analytics and measurement, and/or user testing to ensure their design actually meets their users’ collective needs.

Susan Weinschenk, Behavioral Psychologist and Author of 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People and Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

If I had to name the one thing that is the most important, I would say it is to purposely design a conceptual model for your product that fits the mental model of your target audience. That’s easier said than done!

To do so, you have to take a lot of steps such as deciding who your target audience really is, conducting user research ahead of time to make sure you understand their mental model, taking the time to design the interface of the product (not just the product) so that it fits the mental model, and then testing it with actual users to make sure you have it right.

Be sure to check parts two and three, where our panel provides their solutions to some of the biggest user experience challenges that both startup and expansion-stage companies face and their answers to the question, what makes great design?


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