What is product design?

Product design is about defining real people’s problems and thinking of possible solutions in order to create usable products and experiences.

But product design goes beyond just the basic definition. Product design combines skill sets like UX (or user experience design) and customer research to create the broader role of a product designer.

Product design itself is growing as an industry and discipline. Previously, it was common to only see specialty roles for UX designers or UI (user interface) designers. Nowadays, broader product design roles are common, but as companies start to grow in size, specialist roles are coming back.

Specialty roles include:

  • UX designers
  • UI designers
  • UX researchers
  • Copywriters
  • Interaction designers

What does the future of product design hold in 2020? Things to watch out for are:

  • How product design impacts your business
  • Product design trends to consider in 2020
  • Where to find the latest updates and news in product design

What does being a product designer mean?

“Good designers have always applied design thinking to product design (whether physical or digital) because it’s focused on end-to-end product development, and not just the “design phase” part.” –Smashing Magazine

Product design means thinking about the user experience as a whole and how the user’s goals relate to the goals of the business. When thinking about products or features, product designers need to answer the following questions:

  1. What problems are we trying to solve?
  2. Who experiences this problem?

These questions help product designers define and understand the complete user experience with a product, not purely the aesthetic design.

Once the problem is defined, it’s up to the entire product team (along with engineering) to come up with a solution that solves the problem. Part of the work here is validating the solution and making sure it delivers the best experience for the end-user.

The future of product design is designers becoming subject matter experts.

What does this mean?

Designers are becoming very familiar with business needs like:

  • Goals
  • Expansion
  • Revenue
  • Strategy

They have the experience of your end-users in mind but their work also has to tie back to business needs. Designers need to consider the impact design has on a business as well as on the end-user.

What’s “trending” for product design going into 2020?

Some product design trends have even gotten ahead of 2020 and started at the end of 2019. Nevertheless, everyone keeping an eye on product design happenings should be aware of these 3 trends in product design.

  1. UX Audits
  2. Ethical Design
  3. Product design tool updates

1. UX audit

An annual UX audit is the key to staying competitive and discovering user pain points in your product or website.

What is a UX audit?

A User Experience Audit is a process to pinpoint the problem areas of a digital product, revealing which parts of a site or app are causing frustration for users and halting conversions.

How is a UX audit typically done?

It’s a little different for every designer and depends on the state of the platform. A UX audit usually happens when a new designer starts at a company because they have fresh eyes and aren’t tied to anything that has been designed.

In a UX audit, designers look for areas that need improvement. To be thorough they’ll need to go through every page of the app to see what the experience is like for a typical user. This means looking for things like:

  • Unintuitive navigation – everything should be easily accessible and not buried in 10 different menus.
  • UI inconsistencies – like ensuring that we’re using the same buttons throughout the platform.
  • Misuse of design patterns – like the correct use of radio buttons versus dropdown menus

UX audits are happening more and more because businesses reach maturity beyond their initial MVP (or minimum viable product). Rather than continuing to build on top of the MVP, there’s an opportunity to look at past product decisions and improve the UX and UI.

2. Ethical design

Ethical product design is most impactful.

What does this mean?

  • Making a conscious choice to work for an ethical company with good values – like protecting privacy while maintaining a good user experience.
  • Introducing good habits to counter bad habits – like having a feature on your phone that can detect texting while driving.
  • Avoiding the use of dark patterns to trick customers into purchasing or other bad habits.

This Snapchat ad is an example of unethical tricks to get people to buy – or “dark patterns.” There’s a piece of hair designed into the ad to make it look like something a user needs to brush away. Instead, they unintentionally swipe to shop. (Source)

According to Humane by Design, created by Jon Yablonski, ethical design means:

  1. Prioritizing the user experience over desired revenue. A good user experience will result in positive revenue
  2. Being inclusive of multiple user needs
  3. Respecting and accounting for people’s time and attention
  4. Prioritizing meaningful and relevant content
  5. Being thoughtful about a user’s privacy and thinking ahead to prevent paint points
  6. Showing transparency about intentions through design and honest calls-to-action

3. Product design tool updates

Big updates to popular design tools impressed product designers in 2019.

In general, design software is evolving. For a long time, there was only Photoshop. Then Sketch came around, then Figma. Tools like Sketch and Figma are huge for product designers – especially for cross-team project collaboration. This has a bigger impact for larger teams, because you can get/give feedback, and work faster with everyone involved in a single tool

With Figma, it’s easy to share design libraries and systems. And that’s not all:

Recently, Figma updated their software to include 2 new features – Smart Animate and Auto Layout.

  • Smart Animate frees you from using a second or third tool to help with animation.
  • Auto Layout lets you create dynamic building blocks based on content. For example, you have one button that can auto-resize as you change the copy. The resizing saves a ton of time!

In the Smart Animate feature, an object appears, disappears, or changes while the user stays on the same screen and Several UI elements stay fixed while the majority of the content on the user’s screen changes. (Source)

Keep an eye on these trends in 2020, and expect to see even more updates!

Where to learn about product design updates

You can learn about the latest product design trends and upcoming product design updates with Google, but there are easier ways.

One is the Figma newsletter and blog. It includes anything and everything about the latest app updates (like Smart Animate and Auto Layout) to make product design work more efficient.

Another source of information is the design Twitter account from Sidebar.io. They tweet the top 5 product design posts of the day. The topics range from:

  • Updates with design software
  • An innovative way to build something with CSS
  • UI design tips and best practices
  • Web accessibility

There’s a high volume of product design news and updates to keep track of — it’s nice to know there’s a site that curates a range of quality content.

A third source of information is Growth Design. Growth Design provides in-depth case studies of well-recognized companies. The goal of the case studies is to talk about how design decisions impact business and, in some cases, how these apps could improve their experience.

Take Airbnb. They were the subject of a study about reducing customer churn with personalization. They walk through the process of booking an Airbnb (part of which includes using a customer’s name). When you’re booking a trip on the app and you’ve used the app before, it should remember your patterns.

The combination of remembering personalized user information (like patterns and previous searches) with other small touches can help reduce churn and increase conversion. Personalization helps people feel more connected to the experience.

Product design is more integrated in your business than you may realize. Keep an eye on product design updates in 2020!