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A complete guide to product design: definition, process, and challenges
Designing a product that solves real customer and market needs would be a lot easier if you could see into the future. You need to know how potential customers will react to a product or if there’s market demand—all before you even start designing.
But without a crystal ball, it can be hard to keep sight of shifting customer and stakeholder needs—while creating a market-viable product that helps users accomplish their tasks and goals.
This is your 101 to product design: learn what good product design looks like, the benefits of a strong design process, and some common product design challenges (with solutions). We also show you how overcoming these challenges helps you better predict customer needs to create a stellar product.
What is product design?
Product design is the process of ideating, developing, and refining products that meet specific market needs and solve user problems. A product designer helps create products that delight customers by defining product and business goals, and anticipating market opportunities and user needs.
User interface (UI) and UX design fit into product design, but center around the product’s usability, look, and user experience (UX). Product design also involves improving usability and the user experience, but in context—by focusing on big-picture implications like process, cost, and the brand’s overall position in the market.
What does a strong product design process involve?
A strong product design process is based on the idea of design thinking. Coined by Tim Brown and David Kelley of IDEO, this is a technique to pragmatically resolve problems through human-centered design.
To break it down further, strong product design is made up of:
Empathy and user-centric design: you need to build empathy to create a user-centered product—by deeply understanding your customers’ needs, drivers, and pain points. Taking an empathetic approach to product design ensures you really listen to your users rather than only focusing on your bottom line.
Iterative design: it’s crucial for product designers to constantly test and tweak their products to keep up with shifting market demand and customer needs
How does product design benefit your users and business?
Done right, product design helps attract more customers to your website or service—and increases brand awareness—giving your organization an advantage over its competitors. Product design also helps you:
Build better products: constantly improving your product design based on user feedback helps you build more successful products that align better with user needs
Improve the user experience: smart product design lets your customers get the most out of your product, both in functionality and enjoyment—and achieve their jobs to be done (JTBD), or goals
Track progress and measure success: product design lends itself to tracking product success and performance over time, so you can understand if your product is meeting user needs and learn what improvements to make
How to run successful product design: a 5-step framework
Follow our five-step roadmap to learn how to conduct a successful product design process.
Use these tips to inspire your own design process and ensure product-market fit:
1. Do product research
Conducting thorough product research—which includes market and user research—is an essential part of product design. Not only do you need to know who will be using your product, but you also need to know enough to predict why and how they’ll be using it to ensure product adoption and success.
First, create user personas and outline their jobs to be done to understand who you're designing a product for and the tasks each persona will complete with your solution.
Next, behold market research: to be competitive, you need to know which products already exist out there and how well they address customer needs and problems.
2. Define the problem
Once you know the desires and pain points of your target audience, you can better align your product around the user problem(s) you're trying to solve. Use your product research (from the step above) to find any gaps in the market and use them to your advantage. Ask yourself: “What does this product need to address?” and “How are my competitors addressing it?”
Hotjar’s tools help you find out more about how users navigate your site or digital product—by letting you create Heatmaps of user activity on key pages and issuing timed Surveys throughout their experience—so you know exactly what the problem is and what to optimize.
3. Develop potential solutions
Brainstorm a variety of ways to solve your users' problems. Be creative and give your team total freedom to come up with as many solutions as possible.
4. Create prototypes
Build a minimum viable product (MVP), or rough version, of your potential solutions. Creating a prototype gives you the ability to test your design with users and see if you’re on the right track—and sparks additional product ideas or versions you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
For example, after creating a prototype, your team might encounter a design flaw that negatively impacts the user experience, even though it was built with the user in mind. This stage in the design process gives you the chance to fix problems before launch.
5. Test and iterate
Try your prototypes out with potential users and see how they react. Then, make changes based on user feedback.
🔥Pro tip: use Hotjar's Observe and Ask tools to get crucial feedback and user insights on your product design. Use Surveys to directly ask users what they think and feel when using your product, or watch Recordings of user sessions as they explore your prototype—to help you build customer-centered products that spark user delight.
Hotjar Recordings let you test and observe the user experience within your product.
3 core product design challenges and solutions
While product design is an ever-evolving process, there are still several challenges that could prevent product designers from reaching their product goals.
Let’s take a look at what these challenges involve and how you can overcome them—so you can validate your product design and meet user needs, fast.
1. Research challenges
Given all the user data, channels, and tools out there, conducting thorough research about your users and translating that research into actionable insights can be daunting for product designers and teams.
Before you start, you need to have a research process in place to help you achieve product-market fit and user success.
4 steps to overcome research challenges and improve your research process
Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP) based on their pain points, characteristics, purchasing behaviors, and demographics. Use it to determine their most-used channels and product preferences.
Use social listening tools like Hootsuite or Brandwatch to observe mentions of your brand or product on channels relevant to your target audience, so you know what they’re talking about and what they need. For example, if you see people on social media responding positively to a competitor’s product feature, you can think about incorporating a similar feature.
Predict market demand with tools like Think With Google and see popular trends in product searches and their likelihood of success. Then, look at competitor reviews on websites like G2, Capterra, Trustradius, and Google.
Ask for feedback: poll your target audience about potential product ideas or features using polls on Instagram Stories or LinkedIn. Or, use unobtrusive feedback widgets and place them throughout critical touchpoints in the customer journey for key insights into product ideations and improvements.
For example, after placing a feedback widget on your homepage, you might discover that new visitors don’t understand what your product does or the problems it solves. This way, you can take steps to showcase your product’s features directly on your homepage to get users to understand your product's value, quicker.
2. Design process challenges
Crafting a solid design process involves cross-functional collaboration, prioritizing your product roadmap, and leaving enough room for testing and tweaking. But, it can be hard to find (and stick to) a process that isn’t too complicated or costly. And you don’t want to risk a delay in rollout because your process was too lengthy.
4 ways to overcome design challenges
Encourage cross-functional collaboration and stakeholder alignment by uniting teams on your main platforms. Make sure you’re using the same CRM, reporting tools, and dashboard, for easy access to customer insights. Integrating your tools with Slack can also help keep customer insights readily accessible to your teams and keep everyone up to speed on where your product’s headed.
Survey your team and users to better understand what you could streamline in your design and development process. Administer anonymous surveys to your product team for fresh ideas on how to improve your process, or survey your target market for early-stage product screening insights.
A/B test your prototype and see what your audience responds to or likes better. Then, use your findings to improve and streamline your product design process.
Pro tip: use Hotjar’s integration with Google Optimize or Optimizely to observe how different users interact with each variant in your A/B tests. Use your most successful variant to inform your product roadmap.
After watching recordings of users interacting with your prototype, you can filter Hotjar's Recordings to see how the product experience (PX) varies for different user personas, so you know which features to prioritize.
3. Post-launch iteration challenges
Once you’ve launched your product, you’ll need to keep a close eye on customer insights that will help you refine your product down the line. Sometimes, product designers forget that post-launch product iteration is as important as early development and design.
4 ways to make sure you’re continuously refining and improving your product
Administer customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys to gauge your customers' short-term satisfaction with your product. For example, after receiving a low CSAT score during a new product rollout, ask customers to provide a reason for their score to get direct insights into their experience.
Watch user sessions within your product for a firsthand view of the user experience to see exactly what blocks your customers in their journey or what keeps them exploring.
Ask for feedback throughout the customer journey, including during user onboarding, to get insights into what customers like or dislike about your product, and optimize accordingly.
Conduct product-market fit surveys and ask your customers if they’ve adopted your product into their everyday lives, or if they’d miss using it. Use your findings to better tailor your product to market and user needs. For example, after administering a product-market fit survey about your product, you might get a clearer understanding of the product roadmap and better prioritize high-value initiatives.
Take product design to the next level with customer insights
Strong product design significantly improves your user's experience by closely aligning your product with their needs and goals.
Use our guide to build your design process, predict challenges and prevent pitfalls, and better spot and meet customer preferences and desires. Then, get an even deeper understanding of customer needs with product experience tools that tell you exactly what’s working in your product’s design.