The Design Process: Everything You Need To Know
How much effort does it take to solve a problem? Are there specific stages that product development teams must undertake to introduce a new product or solution to the market? The design process enables engineers, UX designers, architects and other product developers to break down complex problems into small, manageable processes. Product development can be confusing, especially when the objectives are not well-defined. It gets complicated if the designers deal with multiple problems in one go.
The design process happens in a series of stages, leverages innovation and involves iterations. Applying the design process in product development ensures that developers meet the needs of the consumers while balancing the business needs of their organizations.
This article details the steps of the design process, the benefits of using the methodology, practical examples of the design process in software and hardware development and tips for optimizing the whole process. At the end of it all, individual designers and development teams gain sufficient insights to expedite the product development cycle and minimize pitfalls and errors that may impede the penetration of new products to target markets.
What Exactly Is The Design Process?
In the real world, product developers approach problems differently. Different innovators and development teams will interpret a common problem uniquely. Their understanding of the customer’s needs defines how they solve the problem, present the solution and commercialize their ideas. That makes it difficult to give a specific definition for the design process.
In simple terms, the design process represents a set of problem-solving stages that designers follow to meet the goals of their projects. The methodology acts as a guide for breaking down complex and tedious project activities into manageable steps with realistic milestones and specific evaluation metrics. The design process revolves around the design thinking framework. Innovators identify an opportunity, evaluate consumer needs, develop solutions and validate their applicability in collaboration with real users. All decisions relating to the design of new products are human-centered to enhance user experiences.
Designing Products That Matter
Stages of Engineering Design Process
Whether you are working on a UI design, architectural project or even a logo, there are steps that designers and teams follow. This strategic methodology spurs creativity and productivity among participants. Each step provides innovators with tools to improve the accuracy of processes. Given the scope of projects, some of the steps overlap, while some teams alter the order of some activities. When developing products, innovators iterate some stages to refine solutions or address arising product development challenges. These steps are guidelines to help engineers and designers achieve their goals faster. Remember, designs vary across projects and teams.
- Problem Definition
For any innovator, a challenge affecting target customers presents an opportunity. They observe the target markets, empathize with them and conduct user research. After identifying the design challenge, teams begin refining the issues focusing on the following questions:
- Who does the problem affect?
- What is the scope of the problem?
- How will solving the problem affect user experiences?
Answering these questions enables them to narrow down the pain points of the design project, establish the design project objectives, plan resources and define the value proposition of the desired product. Planning caters to:
- Major project milestones
- Ways for measuring the success of the different stages of the design process
- Roadmap for research (for new products and competing market alternatives)
- Comprehensive objectives (how the team conducts itself throughout the project)
- The main issues to address during the product development process.
A good problem definition should comprehensively answer:
- Who needs the new product?
- Why do they need the product?
- What problems will the product solve?
- How unique is the anticipated solution?
Getting the problem definition right is vital for subsequent planning. Teams get a clear picture of the expected outcomes of the new product, stages or steps to follow and the type of tools to use during the design process.
- Conduct Background Research
Conducting a background search is a vital stage of the design process. It enables the development teams to identify the challenges from previous or similar projects. Innovators use background research to identify and evaluate existing solutions to the problem at hand. The research process also looks into the current market trends and highlights predominant customer behaviors. It provides the team with a better understanding of the target markets.
Comprehensive background research accounts for the user or consumer preferences and evaluates the effectiveness of competing products. The development team engages users from different backgrounds to understand their desires and challenges in using similar products.
Background research enables the team to identify the probable market share before commercialization. Innovators analyze how the competitors market their products, their customer support initiatives, and their problem-solving approach. A single problem can have multiple solutions befitting a specific target market.
- When conducting background research, the innovator needs to ask the following questions:
- Will the end-user frequently use this product?
- Which competitors offer similar products?
- How can our new product attract more customers?
- What opportunities can we derive from the challenges faced by our competitors?
After conducting the background research, the innovator lists all the viable solutions. They identify any constraints that may impede the progress of the design process. They equally identify the criteria for prioritizing design tasks.
- Ideation and Conceptualization
After defining the path for your design project, it is time to bring ideas to life. It is the stage where the development teams meet to brainstorm, compare product ideas and select the best solutions for new products. At the brainstorming stage, all product ideas are candidates for implementation. Teams tend to put several alternatives on the table to address user-specific challenges. That way, innovation teams gain a broader look at the expected hardware or software products.
When explaining concepts for new products, design teams use storyboards, paper sketches, personas and real-life scenarios to describe how the products work. They highlight how users interact with your products or communicate the problem-solving process.
Ideate and Conceptualize Ideas
After a brainstorming session, the innovators select the best solutions. It is often the solution that meets most design requirements and is more practical to implement. The stage is critical since it allows the product development team to sieve through alternatives. An idea can promise to solve a particular problem in totality. However, upon brainstorming and conceptualization, innovators realize that it is impractical to deliver that alternative.
The solution that goes past the stage becomes a candidate for physical development. It is the solution that will undergo prototype design, testing and evaluation.
- Build Prototypes
Now that everyone in the development team knows that a particular product will address both the customer and business needs, it is time to build a model or a scale version of the actual product. At this stage of the product design, the innovator leverages prototype design to develop physical models, digital product designs and paper models that mimic the functionalities and appearance of the end product.
The prototype captures all or partial features of the final product. The goal of prototyping is to test the workability of the solution at hand. The development team enlists the services of end-users who will validate the product and provide feedback regarding product flaws.
Some companies rely on rapid prototyping to fabricate and test new consumer products. It is a strategy that reduces product design and development time and uses advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing or additive manufacturing. An industrial design company utilizes rapid prototypes to test the functionality of consumer components.
The product development team can test the build prototypes within their facilities, engage users from different backgrounds or engage a consultant to test the reliability and safety of software products. Members involved in the design process observe how the users interact with their products, analyze how fast they accomplish their tasks using the new products and identify any challenges to help them refine and improve the final products.
- Refine Designs
After the prototype and user testing of the model products, the product development team evaluates all the feedback. They combine information from their observations and conduct targeted user interviews. They then compare the feedback against the design project objectives and user flows. Feedback is two ways. Consumers may approve the design, which informs the full-scale implementation of the solution. Contrarily, the users can request a complete overhaul of the concept. It means that the development team iterates all the previous stages. Under such circumstances, the new product development team needs to scale up their invention design to incorporate all the feedback from the target users.
At this stage of the engineering design process, innovators make changes to their products and subject them to rigorous tests. It is a repetitive stage where the innovator designs, builds, and continuously tests the product until they are satisfied that it meets all the design requirements. The final solution is what the company or inventor well introduced to the market.
Refining solutions enable you as the developer to exhaustively address any technical issues or infuse new technological advancements to your product to remain competitive and relevant in the consumer market. It is a perfect stage to create better consumer products. No innovator should skip the step. You will introduce a fancy product or solution that no one likes.
- Analyze Product
What next after full-scale implementation of a solution? Did you launch the product and distribute it across the target markets. Perhaps the solution works within a specific locality, regional location or globally. The company assigns marketers and customer service representatives to ensure that the final products reach the target markets and work perfectly.
The product development team moves to analyze the gains that consumers get when using the products. They evaluate whether the solution addresses the original problems. They also address the technical concerns that consumers raise over the reliability of these products.
Product analysis takes into account the financial returns to the company. Is the company spending too much on production, marketing and distribution? What are the revenue streams to the company from the new products? How is the company competing against established market giants?
The product analysis stage is where the company receives feedback from practical user experiences. Unlike the prototyping stage, user feedback at this stage of the design process covers a large demographic region. The data that the developers gather from user interactions enables the innovators to update their products and services to meet the dynamic demands of their customers.
Instead of waiting for a public outcry over new products, companies can gather analytics and begin mini design projects to address recurrent technical concerns from the dispersed user markets.
- Improve Product and Communicate Results
The design process is infinite as long as the company invests in invention design. The company should not treat the success of new products as an endgame. Successful businesses do not stop in the quest to explore possibilities and deliver delightful products to their customers. To remain afloat, innovators should continuously review the features and tools of their products against the evolving business and consumer needs.
Companies also have to scan the market to understand how their competitors or upcoming innovators respond to everyday consumer problems. Improvement does not have to affect the product quality and features alone. Instead, the company can gather insights from the entire design process to refine procedures, modify market penetration strategies and streamline the flow of communication across departments and teams involved in complex projects.
At the end of every design process, engineers and designers must communicate the results of the activities to the shareholders or senior management. Documentation may involve professional reports detailing how the team solves the problem, charts displaying progress and achievement of main milestones, and a revenue report from the sale of consumer products.
Benefits of Design Process
Handling complex projects or working on new solutions is a challenging endeavor that can derail the activities of the most seasoned innovators or product development teams. Creativity may hit dead-ends causing innovators to shed off their productivity.
Developing a new product involves repetitive tasks leading to a common obstacle or challenge. These technicalities that arise as individuals and companies solve problems explain why the design process is significant. It has the following benefits:
- Enables designers and engineers to be creative at every stage of product development.
- It provides integrity checks to ensure ideation concepts are practical and implementable.
- Improves collaboration amongst team members, something that enhances the delivery of products.
- It allows innovators and end-users to collaborate and develop life-changing solutions.
Practical Application of Design Process
It is now clear that the design process is an influential methodology that designers and engineers from all walks of life can rely upon to execute projects of any scale. It is a simple-to-follow procedure that individuals and companies can modify to fit their product development agendas. Remember, it is a nonlinear design process, and there is no particular approach to solve problems.
The versatile nature of this methodology means that it applies to diverse fields. Let’s see how it works.
UX design has come a long way with companies utilizing data to enhance the quality of products instead of assumptions and shoddy planning. In UX design, innovators focus on improving user experiences. When using this methodology, developers spend much time planning for the project. They have to interview as many people as possible and develop and test several concepts before settling on specific solutions.
UX designs predominantly use mockups to communicate the problem-solution process. Advanced UX agencies employ visual designers who create mockups for these projects.
UX design borrows significantly from the design thinking approach. The design of information architecture and interaction designs are human-centric. The philosophy follows five stages which include:
- Empathize with the user
- Defining the problem
Web design, software development, interactive design and mobile app development are complex design projects, requiring the designers to be part and parcel of the build process.
The initial stages involve creating an outlook for the entire project. The designer proposes a layout of the crucial features and how they interact. To ensure the perfect fit, web developers and other digital designers build the product by providing the codes and testing them they meet design and user specifications.
Building Websites: Where Coding and Layouts Meet
Engineering Design, Architecture and Manufacturing Design
The design process for these activities varies depending on the size and complexity of the project. The design process follows the same stages of engineering design, only that the end products differ from one discipline to the other.
The length of each stage also varies since the validation metrics are specific for each project. Development teams can expand or break down these stages to suit the project deliverables and timelines.
The graphic design process involves creating printed products such as magazines, business cards, print ads and other similar works. The process follows the phases of engineering design. Typical activities include planning, the building of mockups and production.
Developers spend a lot of time creating mockups since they have to deal with complex layouts, visual styles and the organization of multiple graphics.
The product development team spends little time creating the final product, and it purely involves printing work. The chances for the final product to change after printing are minimal. Most graphic design activities are straightforward and do not require a lot of iteration.
Optimize Your Design Process
The design process may sound restrictive or complex. Some individuals may disregard this methodology because they feel it may not enable them to accomplish the goals of smaller projects. The design process is a flexible methodology that helps innovators complete product development projects quickly and accurately.
This methodology can improve your chances of success if you adapt the specific goals of your project to the diverse stages of design. Use this technique to adequately plan for your success and evade frustrations that may derail the development process.
Look at the stages of development as an opportunity for you to improve your creativity and eliminate time-wasting activities. Remember that there is no wrong way when it comes to solving problems. Modify the stages that will not work for your project. Do not skip them.
As a designer, focus on delivering solutions that consumers appreciate. Do not rush to implement solutions that do not resonate well with the end-users. The design process is a flexible strategy for designers to navigate the complex steps for converting ideas into tangible products. Keep innovating!