Creating purposeful digital products is more important than ever – and design is the key

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Our lives are surrounded by digital products. With 50% to 98% (depending on the country) of households now being able to access the web (1), and 5.1 billion mobile phone owners worldwide (2), digital has become one of the most important ways in which we interact with the world.

As COVID-19 turned the world upside down, people and organisations discovered the wealth of possibilities waiting for them in the digital world. By now, most businesses have shifted at least partially in order to provide their services to customers and support their employees. Restaurants and grocery stores have shifted to online delivery services, schools have quickly pivoted to 100% remote learning and virtual classrooms, banks have moved into remote sales and support and doctors transitioned into telemedicine. Many of us find ourselves discovering what it means to work from home.

While perhaps now more relevant than ever before, digital products have long played an important role in our personal lives, and provide a world of opportunities for organisations to grow - to connect with their customers, create better employee experiences, optimise their processes.

At Potato, we are driven by the desire to create purposefully designed products that bring real value to users. Through lean and agile practices, and driven by an innovation and product mindset, our teams of designers, developers and product leads create outstanding digital experiences.

Neon sign

This is the (de)sign you’ve been looking for. Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Designers are key to making meaningful user experiences, bringing their unique voice to the table

Design has the potential to add significant value to businesses. Businesses where design is integral to operations are twice as likely to have developed new products and services (3), and shares in design-led businesses have outperformed key stock market indices by 228% over the past 10 years (4).

Designers bring a unique voice in digital product development, helping teams move swiftly and rapidly through complex problems, translating the needs of users, business and technology into tangible and actionable ideas. They are ambassadors of outstanding user experiences, build iteratively, and leverage user research and rapid validation to inform product design decisions.

It is arguably today more important than ever that teams ensure designers are part of product development teams, helping them make informed decisions and build meaningful user experiences as they develop digital solutions.

At Potato, our designers help us move faster and smarter - their unique views critical in informing the way forwards, de-risking solutions and ensuring we build for our users first. Here, they share their best practice tips for how to create leading digital products

Printed wireframes linked together by threads

Building experiences, prototyping, testing and iterating - designers bring a unique voice. Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

1. Avoid personal biases and design through a diverse lens

At the centre of the product design process is empathy - that ability to look beyond ourselves, to step out of our own biases and points of view, and embrace the diverse world we live in. Designers know that in order to build purposeful and useful products they need to be made with the users at the centre, driven by research insights.

As designers, we build with our blinders off, and create products that reflect not only ourselves but a diverse group of people. We look beyond the mainstream, and learn from those unusual cases - the extreme fans, the haters, the non-digital. It means we consider demographic diversity as a key factor for ensuring different needs and dreams are driving the decisions we make for our designs.

Responsible designers create for others and not for themselves, and know that the world is a diverse place that requires smart and empathetic design.

User navigating airbnb on phone

Seeing how people use products in context helps us understand their views. Photo by ready made from Pexels

2. Consider how you are designing for non-digital users

With technology permeating more and more of our everyday lives, it has become increasingly important to ensure the usability of products is designed not only for digital natives, but also for older generations and non-digital users - those who have historically not been in contact (ever or consistently) with digital technologies. This is probably particularly relevant today as more non-digital users start exploring and space this space in the face of the physical limitations posed by COVID-19.

Digital product teams must work together to build experiences that respond to a variety of expectations, knowledge, and capabilities. As teams discover that non-digital users view technology through a different lens, it is perhaps obvious that many of the insights we use to build current interfaces might not be valid when looking at them through the eyes of non-digital users.

Designing for non-digital users means that we must design for learning, creating a clear and safe space for users to access and learn, and providing critical information and feedback at the right points in time.

As digital products entered our lives, we slowly built shared mental models that drive our understanding of how digital experiences work. Given that non-digital users did not participate in the collective learning of these, their approach to digital experiences will differ.

Consider for example how users interpret symbols and visual cues: this is the case for the “hamburger” button, without text to accompany it the expectation of functionality is clear to digital users (yes, it will open up a menu), but it will not be so for those who have not been in contact with digital platforms for some time.

3. Test assumptions early and often using design artifacts

Through diverse design artifacts (such as user journeys, wireframes, or prototypes), designers bring digital products to life, allowing teams to test ideas early on, and iterate quickly. At Potato, designers stay close to users, work collaboratively with development teams, and constantly test assumptions and validate hypotheses, providing critical direction throughout the development process.

This allows teams to move through product development confidently, pivoting when required and transforming design into code at the right time. In practical terms this means that we are able to de-risk and build products confidently, moving nimbly at the right time, before digital products are heavily built and harder to change.

Paper drawn prototypes

Prototyping allows us to develop and test ideas early on (Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash)

4. Create a strong team, bringing designers and developers together

When designers and developers are in sync, decisions are made at the right time and designs turn to code smoothly. At Potato, we have vast experience in building teams that bring designers and developers together to bring ideas to life - and the increased value it brings in the product you build.

Work closely with your developers, keeping open communication channels and building trust continuously. Our designs must be informed by what is technically feasible, and so it is critical to ensure this relationship is built from the start.

5. The voice of designers will be key for building the products of the future

The role of designers will continue to grow and expand, while staying true to what it stands for - working through complex problems, with users at its heart, to create purposeful and effective solutions.

Designers will play a pivotal role in building the experiences of the future, and in creating products that are meaningful, inclusive, ethical. Products that understand the complex environment they live in, and the impact they have in the lives of the people that use them (or don’t use them).

We will create products that are truly inclusive, and create positive experiences for the world we all live in.

References

  1. Kinsella, B. (2019). U.S. Smart Speaker Ownership Rises 40% in 2018 to 66.4 Million and Amazon Echo Maintains Market Share Lead Says New Report from Voicebot. Retrieved from: https://voicebot.ai/2019/03/07/u-s-smart-speaker-ownership-rises-40-in-2018-to-66-4-million-and-amazon-echo-maintains-market-share-lead-says-new-report-from-voicebot/
  2. Perez, S. (2019). Report: voice assistants in use to triple to 8 billion by 2023. Techcrunch. Retrieved April 6th 2020 from: https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/12/report-voice-assistants-in-use-to-triple-to-8-billion-by-2023/
  3. Design Council (2007). The value of design factfinder. Retrieved 14th May from: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/TheValueOfDesignFactfinder_Design_Council.pdf
  4. DMI (2014). Design driven companies outperform S&P by 228% over ten years. Retrieved April 6th 2020 https://www.dmi.org/blogpost/1093220/182956/Design-Driven-Companies-Outperform-S-P-by-228-Over-Ten-Years--The-DMI-Design-Value-Index

Who are we?

Potato is an award-winning digital product development studio based in London and San Francisco, which develops purposeful and effective digital products and services. If we can help you, get in touch.