UX design is product design. The sooner you treat it as such, the better. Your whole way of thinking about design opens up. Don’t think about the screen, don’t think about the surface, think about how a user uses your (website) product. For that reason, the design process starts at the beginning of the project and continues through launch.
The designation of UX as product design represents the next expansion in the scope of design away from only user experience, towards a broad mandate of design for an entire product. Using the term also conveys a commitment or aspiration to design-led product development.
Product design is a holistic undertaking that leads to innovation outside the realm of a specific product. Think of remote controls, they haven’t had any substantial changes in decades despite being awkward, slow, and not intuitive. People who design remotes approach their work with tunnel vision. They might add a couple features here and there and any new tech added is merely to keep up with the television industry, rather than innovate the product. A designer who designs all kinds of products however, will enter a remote design project with a fresh perspective which could lead to innovation and possibly disrupt the remote control market. Their thinking isn’t bound within the confines of radio frequency, of the long-accepted remote shape, but rather, they go back to the beginning to think about how humans would interact with such a device and they think about what humans might want from such a device. They are free to challenge the status quo of the remote because the are not remote designers, they are product designers and they design for people.
The Expanding Role of Design
The role of designer has expanded to include many components that make up an experience. This expansion heavily reflects my own professional growth as well, which is perhaps why I am so drawn to UX design and now, product design. When I first entered college, I started in computer science, learning programming, then shifting to web development. I rounded out my college experience with New Media and minoring in both Studio Art and Computer Science. The next 10 years was a continuing evolution of design work, from Production Artist and Illustrator, at one magazine and then Art Director at another, embracing the comfort of print design. I then got back into the world of web design, adding app design and finally UX onto my duties. Being one who prides herself on staying ahead, as designers tend to do, I would digest any new technologies, developments and innovations. To further my design addiction, many of my side projects are from completely different areas of design including industrial design, media installations, packaging design, menu design, signage, interior design, as well as fashion design. When someone asks me what I do, I jokingly say “I design things.”
My point is, the expanding role of design is a natural evolution. Those who do the work that I do, they tend take that big-picture approach to design and it infiltrates every aspect of their lives. It only makes sense for companies to nurture the talent and interest of those who are already on their team who know the brand and products.
Why the shift into product design?
Thinking about UX design as product design means going beyond just thinking about the problems that users face and designing to solve those problems. Product design includes thinking about the emotional experience surrounding its marketing, the medium, as well as ways to innovate.
Recently there has been a growing respect for design thinking (a solutions-based approach) as a paradigm for end-to-end product development, a strategy that has not always been encouraged nor trusted by those in senior management positions. Now, the more forward-thinking companies have let their designers loose on entire projects instead of relegated to the design-phase of a project, and have shown success. Companies that have kept a rigid hierarchical and departmentalized structure have languished, especially companies in the fast-evolving industries like tech and digital applications. Why is that?
Traditionally, companies looked to the hard sciences to solve problems: demographic research, quantitative data, analytics, and focus groups. In a predictable environment, that approach can work, and it has worked in the past.
Design offers an alternative path, that of understanding people in the context and culture they live in to develop authentic experiences and empathy-driven approaches, and testing and iterating solutions with customers to explore the validity of decisions. Often this means relying on intuition to guide decision making when the data isn’t clear, a skill that the principles and methods inherent in design have a uniquely positive impact on.
The examples of the incredible success of design-lead companies like Apple, Airbnb, Nike, Starbucks, and Nest, it is easy to see why smart execs and senior management would have a change of heart.
The most innovative companies in the world share one thing in common. They use design as an integrative resource to innovate more efficiently and successfully. Over the last 10 years design-led companies have outperformed the S&P by 228%. -DMI.org
Even the development process has evolved to increase the scope of responsibility by designers and cross-functionality with the team and collaboration. Those process frameworks such as Agile and Lean are increasingly popular.
Product Design Thinking
The core user experience is not a set of features. The product will work regardless of certain features but a feature won’t work without the product.
Thinking about the project as product design gives designers an advantage over others. It helps designers think of the product as a whole, not just the features or the interactive or visual elements but enables designers to think about the problems that users would run into, it is a solutions-based approach.
Taking the holistic approach of product design creates a better customer experience, builds loyalty, and opens the way for innovation.