Design Process Steps: The 5 Key Elements of Product Design
There are several essential design process steps you need to follow to develop a digital product end-users will love.
But remember that the stages of the creative process aren’t always linear. It’s an iterative process. You design something, test it, find design problems, and go back to an earlier step to improve your product.
In the engineering design process, for example, you test and improve your product right from the ideation stage, which is something we also encourage at Teston. This concept is ideal when designing a product that solves a problem, e.g., software or a machine.
By testing users throughout the design process, you discover new ideas, new ways to look at a product and its uses, and a deeper understanding of users. This in turn leads to a superior product and user experience.
So, let’s take a look at the five key stages of the design process.
The Design Process in 5 Steps
Though these five design process steps are all necessary, the way in which you apply them should be flexible. You may have multiple stages running parallel to one another and you certainly will jump back and forth between the stages based on your continuous user research. But this order is a good place to start.
Design Process Step 1: Perform User Research
The goal of user research is to empathize with users and their problems. You might have an idea for a digital product that you think would serve the needs of users. But you don’t truly know if this is the case until you ask real potential users.
According to CareerFoundry, “Ultimately, user research means the difference between designing based on guesswork and assumptions, and actually creating something that solves a real user problem.”
It’s a bad idea for stakeholders and UX designers to simply predict user qualities, values, and pain points. Only through research can you gain a real, concrete understanding of what users need.
How do you perform user research? You carry out surveys, focus groups, or interviews with people who represent your target audience.
Ask users about their frustrations and find out if there are existing solutions designed to solve their problems. Furthermore, ask questions that reveal how well these existing solutions meet their needs and whether the current solutions have any pitfalls.
The purpose of these questions is to avoid the mistakes of others who have gone before you. You can also use the insights you gain to create better design solutions than your predecessors.
As you perform user research, you will need to establish exactly who your target audience is and create a proper definition of the problem you will solve for them.
Design Process Step 2: Define the Problem
This process is two-fold. You must establish what the problem is and who has the problem.
We put a lot of emphasis on defining your target audience at Teston. It’s a part of the design process you can’t overlook. This is because 79% of users say that brands must understand and care about them as users before they would consider making a purchase.
To create a profile of your target audience, you should consider their demographics and psychographics. Who are they? What are their values? And what are their pain points? This will help you tailor your final product to your target users.
Use the information you gather from user research to establish the core problem of your audience in a problem statement. This statement should take a human-centred approach rather than be focused on your company and what you want to achieve. A human-centred problem statement will in turn help you create a user-centred design.
This stage will start to spark ideas among designers on your team, and you will find yourself crossing over into the ideation process.
Design Process Step 3: Generate Ideas
Now that you have a strong understanding of your target users and their needs, you should start generating as many ideas or design solutions as possible. It’s not only an essential part of the creative process, it's also an exciting one.
There are a number of ideation techniques you can use to generate ideas. Here are the main ones:
- Mind Mapping: Put the qualities of a problem at the centre of different mind maps and connect ideas to them. For instance, the problem might be, “the user has no motivation to eat healthily”.
Connected to this statement would be a bunch of ideas to solve this problem, e.g. “a meal tracking app”, which would then be connected to ideas for features, e.g. “food swap recommendations”.
- SCAMPER: Use action verbs to come up with solutions. SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse.
An example here would be producing statements, such as “Adapt our rental service into a subscription model”.
- Worst Possible Idea: Give designers the freedom to name all possible ideas, even if they’re rubbish. Write up a list of worst possible ideas. This allows groups of researchers to relax and open up about their thoughts.
- Challenging Assumptions: Try to find new perspectives on widely-held views on a problem. When creating a new product, consider your existing beliefs about this type of product or industry.
Are you building it a certain way because this is the best way? Or because this is what has always been done? To give you a quick example, UX designers might ask, “Are online hamburger menus available in the most mobile-friendly navigation?”
- Storyboarding: Work through the problem as if it were a real story with images. Map out the user journey using insights you gained in user research. Scenes might show the way users interact with existing products and exactly how problems occur.
Once you’ve generated a bunch of ideas, the next natural step is to choose the best solution. Do this by considering how your ideas align with universal design criteria, such as aesthetics, robustness, time required, skills required, and so on.
After deciding on the best solution, you’re ready to start prototyping your product.
Design Process Step 4: Create Prototypes
You can use low and high-fidelity prototypes in user testing. The benefit of this process is that you get to experiment with the design of your product. You’ll create a prototype, test it on users, find problems and improve upon it for the next iteration.
Your first prototype will likely be a paper prototype. On paper you can sketch wireframes for a mobile app or website, for example.
Then test your interfaces to see if your user flows work. User flows are the paths users take on their respective journeys. These paths can include clicking on a category page, then a product page, then adding an item to their cart, and so on.
The insights you gain from testing a low-fi prototype will help you create a high-fidelity prototype, which is among the things you can test using Teston.
Click-through prototypes are a form of digital prototype that provide an even clearer picture of user flows and usability. And your final prototype will be an interactive prototype that’s as close to the finished product as possible.
By testing throughout your prototyping stage, you gain insights on both the aesthetics and usability of your designs. User testing interactive prototypes ensures a positive user experience in your final design.
Now, let’s talk about exactly how user testing works.
Design Process Step 5: Conduct User Testing
User testing allows you to see how your product will function in the real-world. You can gather valuable feedback from your target audience to refine your final design.
At Teston, we found the following user testing case study particularly interesting. Diwala, a company that creates digital identities for refugees, travelled from Norway to Uganda to carry out user testing on their target audience.
The trip proved worthwhile as their tests revealed bugs and issues with their platform’s functionalities. The most revealing insight, however, was that users found their onboarding process confusing and time-consuming.
The company had tested a prototype on a group in Norway, but the insights were not nearly as helpful as those from real potential users of their product. This just goes to show how beneficial user testing in real-world scenarios can be.
When you don’t have the resources to travel across the globe, you can recreate real-world scenarios for user testing via unmoderated video recordings.
The Teston platform allows you to set realistic tasks for members of your target audience and watch back as users carry them out in real-time.
Use These Design Process Steps to Create an Epic Product
Testing is integral to the design process. This means that designing a product isn’t a linear process — it’s an iterative one. You have to test throughout the development stages to optimise your design for user experience.
Early on, you need to define your target audience and carry out initial user research. You’ll discover the desires and pain points of potential users, which will help you come up with ideas for a design solution.
When you have your chosen solution you can start prototyping. And at this stage, you should implement user testing to make your prototypes increasingly better until you have an epic product that seamlessly serves the needs of users.