Product Design

    What is a digital product design consultant?

    Find out what a product design consultant is – and how they help organisations make digital products that create value and solve problems for users and customers.

    Product design consultants play an increasingly central role in our digital age – helping to create value and solve problems for businesses, customers and employees.

    But what actually is a digital product design consultant?

    Defining a digital product

    To answer this, we must first define what we mean by ‘product’ in this context. We are not considering physical products like can-openers and cars, or even digitally-enabled devices like smartphones and tablets. 

    In digital business terms, a product is an application, online service, software tool or digitised process. More specifically, a digital product creates value and/or solves a problem for the business that creates it, for its employees or for its customers.

    What qualifies as a product can range widely – from a digital platform like Google Search, Netflix or Spotify – to an online mortgage calculator or customer support tool.

    Rise of the product design consultant 

    All these digital products require the work of skilled software engineers to develop and maintain them. But equally important to the success of a digital product is its design – and its designers.

    A digital product designer is analogous to an industrial designer of physical products – in that they determine the form and functionality of a product, working together with engineers. But as we will discover, the skillset of a digital product designer is incredibly wide-ranging.

     This makes good digital product designers very hard to come by. Many organisations do not have this capability in-house – and call upon external product design consultants or agencies to help them.

    So what are the skills and capabilities that a product design consultant provides?

    Designing the UI and UX in harmony

    A product design consultant is a senior designer who combines skills of designing both the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

    UX defines the overall experience that a digital product provides for the user. Based on the desired objectives and functionalities of the product, the UX designer will research the market and target users. They can then create representative user personas, identify current needs and pain points, and find opportunities to address these. Next they will map out user journeys and information architecture, determining how users will engage with the product. UX also encompasses a wide range of other factors, such as usability and accessibility.

    Working within the UX ‘big picture’, UI design then develops the specific detailed ‘look and feel’ of the product. 

    The UI design determines how a user interacts with the product’s interface. This covers the visual layout and styling of elements such as text, images and icons, as well as interface controls – buttons, sliders, forms, menus and so on. Digital products are not static, so the UI designer will also think in terms of motion, interaction, sound and video. 

    They will design all the screens that a user will move through to achieve their objectives – and ensure that this user journey is as intuitive and frictionless as possible.

    An expert consultant who is proficient in both UI and UX design is therefore able to move seamlessly between the broad overview and fine detail of a product.

    Applying the right product design tools

    A product design consultant uses a wide range of modern digital design and prototyping tools – such as.

    • Figma – an asynchronous design collaboration platform with powerful plug-ins, and an integrated online whiteboard, FigJam.

    • Miro – another online whiteboard for visual collaboration.

    • Notion – an online workspace that provides a great way to build a store of knowledge around a problem area or design challenge to solve.

    • Dovetail – a customer research knowledge platform, ideal for capturing user insights, and spotting themes and patterns in user research.

    • Maze – a collaborative product research platform, useful in gathering user feedback quickly to help guide concept creation.

    New powerful tools are emerging all the time, so a product design consultant will stay abreast of the latest potential additions to their tool set.

    Building brand into products

    A product design consultant understands the vital role of brand in a successful digital product. For leading digital businesses like Google, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix, brand and product are indivisible – a lesson that good designers should apply to any product – whether for a disruptive startup or blue-chip corporation.

    A great product will embody the brand image and values – or even actually take the core brand DNA to the next level – whilst keeping the brand promise to the user.

    The brand personality will be applied consistently using a design system – which guides the usage of everything from logo and font to colours and interface styling.

    Working collaboratively with engineers

    A product design consultant may not be a software engineer – but understands the basic principles and requirements of engineering, and how this applies to design. This helps them to avoid designing features that may be impractical to build. 

    In an agency like Elsewhen, designers work closely with engineering colleagues in integrated teams to enable end-to-end product delivery capabilities. 

    At the same time, an experienced product designer’s technical understanding makes the relationship more efficient, so decisions and actions can be made quickly.

    Skilled in diverse design capabilities

    A product design consultant has a broad range of skills – including user research, product validation and service design.

    They will research the users, customers and other stakeholders for a product using a combination of interviews (in person or remotely), surveys and workshops. They may also research the market landscape and competing solutions.

    Armed with research data and insights, they will then devise tests to validate or revise the initial key product and user assumptions. This helps determine what users really want from a product – or whether they want it at all. It’s vital to validate these basics before spending time and money on building a minimum viable product (MVP).

    Service design involves the planning and arrangement of the structure, components and flow of activity for a digital service. Good design improves the quality of a service – and how the service provider and users interact.

    Business-aware product thinking

    Product design consultants are trained to understand what drives a business. They know how teams, workflows and systems are set up within the organisation. Most importantly, they know how to uncover the real goals of the customer or business user.

    Experienced product design consultants see the potential connections between currently disparate products and services across an organisation. They act as advocates and evangelists in a business for the user-focused and customer-centric product viewpoint.

    They are experts at communicating product vision and value propositions to business leadership and teams – using clear visual language, collaborative workshops and compelling business storytelling to build engagement and win product buy-in.

    Finding digital product consultants

    To summarise, by bringing together all the above skills and capabilities in one expert practitioner, product design consultants are now among the most sought-after talent for businesses building digital products. Fortunately, Elsewhen’s product design consultants are ready to help organisations deliver better digital products, fast.

    What does a digital product design agency do?

    Find out how a specialist external agency can bring substantial quality, efficiency and perspective to digital product design in your organisation.

    By creating your own digital products, services and tools, your organisation can better meet the needs of customers – and help employees be more productive.

    The design of these digital products is just as important as the software engineering in providing a great user experience. However, product design is also an area where many organisations struggle to recruit and apply the right talent and resources. This is why many choose to work with a product design agency. Here we explore what such an agency can do for your business.

    Helping you access the best product design talent

    Good digital product designers are like gold dust. Design professionals with the right combination of skills and experience are in huge demand and are very hard to hire. 

    To create great products, a designer must have not only the creative and visual skills to provide a high-quality user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). They also need skills of interactive design, research, user journey mapping, prototyping, testing and validation. They need a good understanding of the product’s technology requirements, so they can avoid designing features that will be impractical to build.

    A specialist product design agency will have whole teams of such expert designers. By working with an agency, your organisation gains access to the right design talent exactly when needed – without the challenges of finding, managing and retaining this rare resource in-house.

    Providing senior-level input on product design

    Even when an organisation has some in-house product design capability, it will usually lack the experienced senior-level designers that can make all the difference to a project. A product design agency will have these senior-level professionals who can bring their valuable input to improve project delivery.

    A senior-level designer provides a range of advantages over a junior designer. Seniority is not simply about years in the industry – it requires a constant dedication to update skills, evolve methods, and build knowledge.

    A senior designer will take ownership of tasks and projects, and can see the wider perspective on your product in context of your business and market. They have a more realistic understanding of practical delivery timelines and how to achieve them for you.

    They will have developed extensive knowledge in areas of product design specialism that junior designers lack. Senior designers can communicate their thinking and explain their work clearly – so all stakeholders understand the rationale for design choices, avoiding any confusion or misinterpretation that might hinder a project.

    Having the experience to look beyond the brief and “think outside the box”, a senior designer can conceive and create better solutions that provide an enhanced user experience or accelerate the user journey. When faced with complex problems, senior designers combine a methodical approach with inspired thinking to evolve effective solutions for your product.

    Elevating design in your organisation

    The value of good design in achieving product success can often be under-rated or overlooked by your wider organisation or senior leadership. A product design agency can help you elevate design thinking in your organisation – and gain the associated business benefits.

    By elevating design principles, your organisation will be joining many of the world’s leading companies who already see design thinking as a tool to meet their challenges and serve customers better.

    Your design agency can help you communicate the advantages of good design for business processes, tools, products and services. 

    An agency helps you gain buy-in from executives, by showing how a design mindset is relevant to their specific business challenges. You can engage leaders and teams across your business in collaborative redesign of your ways of working and how you serve customers.

    Elevating a design mindset will help your company promote creative thinking and evolve with market developments. Most importantly, it encourages innovation, helping your business stay relevant and competitive.

    Creating product design systems

    Your agency will help your organisation create and grow a design system.

    A design system is a comprehensive tool set of design standards, assets and resources. It can help your organisation to manage design efficiently and consistently, with reusable components and clear guidelines.

    The design system provides a way for designers and developers to maintain brand consistency across current and future digital product experiences, and to speed up design and development processes.

    Implementing a clear system positions good design practices at the heart of your business, rather than being siloed or externalised. It acts as a resilient framework to empower product teams, enabling time-saving features for faster simpler product development. It helps unify all of your products into a set of consistent and authentic brand experiences. 

    Overall, a design system helps product teams become more collaborative and create more consistent products, while also helping you accelerate your speed to market – saving money and time on your product development.

    Improving your design process and productivity

    A design agency can help your organisation increase efficiency and productivity across your product development workflows and operations, using a DesignOps methodology.

    Inspired by the DevOps movement, DesignOps bridges the gap between agile engineering and design. It encompasses the orchestration and optimisation of people, processes, and skills to maximise the value and impact of design at scale. It addresses the challenges of building and growing effective design teams with the required skills.

    Boosting design productivity is important for improving your product development – with new tooling and processes emerging and evolving to help. Productivity can be a complicated area to navigate, whether defining, measuring, or looking to improve – but it is a necessary area of focus for any company with product design operations.

    An agency can help you identify and overcome the bottlenecks and blockers in your design workflows – conducting user interviews and workshops to identify causes of congestion that may be hindering productivity.

    Provide an outside perspective on product design

    Your organisation’s internal product teams build familiar and comfortable ways of working over time. This creates strong teams but can limit your design thinking to repeating the status quo.

    Working with an external agency can help open your teams up to an outside perspective on product design. This helps you challenge, rethink and improve your approach. It helps you see your products the way that users and customers will view them, so you can more accurately meet their needs.

    An agency can help you broaden design insights by involving others from across your organisation in product development. With consultative workshops and working groups, you can build collaboration across the business and validate your product decisions.

    You can also widen your viewpoint by talking to real-world users and customers – and even testing visual prototypes with them to gain feedback.

    A design agency will have a good overview of the market, so you can see how your competitors approach similar challenges. You can also gain ideas from other industries that can inspire new possibilities for your own product design.

    What is the role of a digital product designer?

    Find out more about what a digital product designer actually does, and how they help organisations create better digital products and services.

    A skilled and experienced designer of digital products will help your organisation by providing a fresh and pragmatic perspective on your product challenges. 

    They will work quickly and efficiently to design the best possible products and bring excellence to your digital delivery processes. The right designer can accelerate and elevate your project – whether focusing on a specific product area, or driving end-to-end delivery. 

    Let’s explore some of the specific aspects of the role of a digital product designer.

    Combining expertise in UI and UX

    An expert digital product designer combines the skills of both user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Understanding the objectives and desired functionalities for your product, they will research the needs and pain points of your customers or users, and find ways to address them. They map out user journeys and information architecture, determining how people will engage with your product. 

    Working within this UX framework, they develop the detailed ‘look and feel’ of the UI to create an intuitive brand experience. As digital products are dynamic rather than static, the product designer also thinks in terms of interaction and dynamic content. Having proficiency in both UI and UX enables the designer to move seamlessly between the broad overview and fine detail of your digital product.

    Furthermore, some product designers will use IxD design principles to study how people use apps and programs by analysing what actions users perform in a specific program. 

    Designing and testing high fidelity prototypes

    An experienced designer will test and validate the product design approach before software engineering proceeds. They design the interface screens that your users or customers will move through to achieve their objectives – and ensure that the user journey is as intuitive and frictionless as possible. 

    The designer will then create and test high-fidelity interactive prototypes with users to obtain their feedback. In this way, they shorten feedback loops and can iterate quickly and incrementally. Presenting even a small set of screen designs can make it easier for non-technical stakeholders to imagine a real working product – and provide valuable feedback. This prototyping is also a great vehicle for building positive momentum and buy-in across your organisation.

    Working closely with engineers in an agile manner

    Expert product designers work closely with engineering colleagues in integrated teams to enable end-to-end product delivery capabilities. They understand the fundamental principles and requirements of both design and engineering – so will never present solutions that cannot be built. 

    The product designer’s technical understanding makes their team relationships and working processes more agile and efficient, so decisions and actions can be made quickly.

    Establishing design systems

    A product designer will help your organisation create and grow a high-quality design system. This comprehensive tool set of design standards, assets and resources empowers your organisation to manage design efficiently and consistently, with reusable components and clear guidelines. 

    The design system enables your teams to become more collaborative and create more consistent products. It also accelerates your speed to market – saving money and time on your product development.

    Creating an outstanding customer experience (CX)

    An experienced product designer understands that, when it comes to providing great experiences, the demands on organisations are much higher today than ever before. The designer knows that customers and users expect high-quality, delightful experiences – whether they are doing business with you or working for you. For this reason, the product designer will work to help your customers enjoy seamless multi-channel engagements with you that deliver on your brand promise. 

    The product designer will also help you give your employees the digital products, tools and processes they need to be more productive, reduce stress – and work from anywhere. They will help you gain new clarity into the effectiveness of your organisation’s digital experiences – and the capability to continuously improve them.

    See what a product designer can do for your organisation

    In summary, an expert digital product designer can bring many valuable capabilities and benefits to your business – helping you to:

    • Elevate the quality and recognition of product design in your organisation.

    • Design and deliver whole products or features end-to-end.

    • Radically increase the speed and quality of delivery.

    • Remove any barriers from designing products quickly and effectively.

    • Improve process around design/engineering handoffs.

    • Introduce and utilise the latest product design methodologies.

    • Champion a customer-centric and user-focused view.

    • Stay up-to-date with the latest design technology and tools.

    • Ensure your product provides the best possible experience for users and customers.

    What is an example of digital product design consulting?

    Explore some examples of how a digital product design consultancy can help organisations create and improve their digital experiences and offerings.

    A digital product design consultancy can bring many advantages to your organisation, in terms of skills, experience, resources – and outside perspective that champions the needs of users and customers. But what kinds of projects do they actually work on?

    Let’s explore some good examples from recent projects undertaken by London-based digital product design consultancy Elsewhen, for companies in a variety of industry sectors.

    Example 1: Redesigning an existing digital product

    Magic Mountain is a social fitness and wellness app, designed to help people build healthier behaviours through the power of teamwork. The business recently worked with a digital product design consultancy on a 12-week engagement. The aim was to overhaul the existing app user experience (UX) and design new functionality – bringing additional value to the company and its app users.

    The business had successfully launched into a growing market, and gained traction with a basic and quickly-built version of its app. But to reach the next level of growth, they realised they had to move up to a much more thought-through and high-quality digital product.

    The user interface (UI) did not resonate with most of the user base – lacking a premium feel of design maturity and refinement. There were also many instances where the user experience (UX) was complicated and illogical. As a result, the app’s user retention rate was dropping to 13% within a month – indicating lack of engagement with the product.

    The product design consultancy worked to give the Magic Mountain app a fundamental overhaul. The design strategy had to be not only ambitious, but also realistic in scope. There was a fixed 12-week timeframe to achieve this transformation in advance of Magic Mountain’s next meetings with investors.

    The approach was to manage the available time in a series of two-week phases. An initial discovery phase was followed by five sprints of design and development work, using Agile methodology.

    In the research and discovery phase, the product design consultancy ran workshops to establish the current status and desired objectives. They conducted interviews with a range of app users to understand their experiences and opinions. The team also assessed and prioritised project features in terms of the RICE framework – reach, impact, confidence and effort.

    The consultancy’s findings in the discovery phase made it clear that the app user experience and interface needed a full refresh. This called for substantial work – but this had to be a pragmatic update rather than a complete reinvention. The consultancy transformed Magic Mountain’s rough conceptual ideas into a functional product design. The research into real-world use cases for the app helped shape an improved user flow.

    At the end of the engagement, the consultancy conducted a design handover – empowering Magic Mountain to move the app forward in future. The business gained a transformed app – in time to demo at their next investor event. 

    Users loved the improved UI and UX as well as the new features of the app. Magic Mountain is now ready for a new phase of user growth and investor attention – with an app that’s truly fit for the future.

    Example 2: Creating a design system for digital products

    Inmarsat is a leading satellite communications company, providing global connectivity products and services to business customers in a wide range of industries – including maritime, logistics and aviation.

    The business needed a way to maintain brand consistency across its current and future digital product experiences, and to speed up design and development processes. This had to be consistent for designers and developers, both internal and for their partners, and be resilient to changing requirements and the development of new products.

    Inmarsat engaged a digital product design consultancy to develop a cohesive design system – a toolkit of guidelines, methods, assets and resources to enable design consistency.

    The consultancy started with a tight focus, developing a framework to empower a single team. They then grew this out for use with multiple teams across the wider organisation. Finally, this was opened out beyond internal use to be accessible for Inmarsat’s partners. At the end of the engagement, the consultancy showed Inmarsat how the design system can continue to evolve with the needs of the organisation.

    The new design system emerged from the real-world needs of Inmarsat teams. It provides time-saving features and supports better, faster workflows. The system has helped to unify all of Inmarsat's products into a set of consistent and familiar experiences – and can now be used by them to build out a clearly integrated suite of products.

    Not only is Inmarsat’s design system helping product teams become more collaborative and create more consistent products – it’s also helping them reduce their time to market, saving money and effort overall.

    Example 3: Designing products for better ways of working

    Media technology business Finecast is a leader in ‘ addressable TV’ – which enables advertisers to precision target viewers across on-demand, linear and live-streaming TV environments. Finecast’s addressable TV offering provides a powerful opportunity for advertisers, but its sophistication and complexity can make it hard for agencies to understand at first. 

    Finecast wanted to help its teams convey the power and precision of their service to agency customers more effectively. The company engaged a product design consultancy to create a new digital campaign pricing and reporting platform.

    Finecast asked the consultancy to deliver on its vision to centralise campaign planning, pricing and reporting activities into a single world-class self-service platform – and scale this out across multiple teams and territories.

    The product design consultancy collaborated closely with Finecast on the project, using Agile ways of working. The consultancy had to dive-in and quickly understand the company’s workflows in great detail, to gain context on how the new platform would be used. They designed a flexible, built-for-purpose platform that elevates business insight with highly visual and customisable reports and dashboards. Creating a design system and visualisation components enabled the consultancy to very quickly produce high-fidelity working prototypes to test with users and improve iteratively.

    They designed a powerful self-service platform that allows precision campaign audience planning, pricing and reporting to be delivered in an efficient, repeatable and scalable fashion. They created a cohesive Finecast-owned data visualisation framework for teams to understand and communicate insights to agency clients. Advertisers can identify market hotspots for their offering on a geographic heat map that adjusts in real-time as filters are applied. Finecast can then use the platform to plan, schedule and price a campaign – and arrange for it to go live on the right TV platforms, for the right audiences.

    The new platform gives Finecast total campaign visibility, full value from their data, and a powerful yet simple and intuitive user experience. It brings a new level of sophistication, accessibility and depth to campaign management, and has redefined how the business drives performance for advertisers.

    Example 4: Creating a lean digital-first brand

    Founders Bank aims to be the go-to bank for founders and their startup businesses. This new challenger bank is led by an entrepreneurial team of seasoned banking executives. Many new companies operating in perceived higher-risk areas, such as fintech and cryptocurrencies, find it hard to get an account with a traditional bank. Founders Bank aims to meet this demand – as a modern digital-first financial partner to tech entrepreneurs.

    Founders Bank engaged a digital product design consultancy to create a brand suitable for their digital-first business – and implement this across the design of their banking platform and products.

    The consultancy ran interactive workshops to form an agreed creative brief for the project – and build a shared understanding of creative references provided by the bank team. Together they developed a set of corporate values to form the foundation of the brand personality and positioning.

    Next, they researched the expectations and needs of target customers, and mapped potential customer journeys during interactions with the bank. They used these insights to design platform concept screens for online and mobile app-based banking – providing several different creative executions of how Founders Bank could deliver their vision.

    Feedback sessions were run by the consultancy to gather opinions from the bank team and a selection of target customers. The consultancy then narrowed down to three preferred routes, one of which was chosen as a clear winner by the bank team.

    Based on the chosen route, the consultancy established a design system with rules for the creative direction of the Founders Bank brand and digital platform – with a plan for how to roll it out further to all UI, touchpoints and collateral. The work equipped Founders Bank with a brand and platform design that perfectly reflects its positioning as a digital business innovator.

    What are the types of digital product design consulting?

    Find out the main ways that a product design consultancy can help your organisation create better digital products.

    A digital product design consultancy can provide the skills, experience and knowledge to help you improve the way you make products. These qualities are provided in the form of expert people – product designers that can work with your existing teams to bring out the best from everyone.

    But how exactly do these product designers engage with your organisation and teams? There are three main types of engagement or roles that product design consulting can take:

    • Product strategy

    • Product delivery

    • Creating a design system

    In practice, a consultancy may help your organisation in one, two or all three of these areas at the same time, or within the same overall project.

    Across these three areas, the activities of the product designer will range widely, from the conventional visual design of user interface (UI) elements and user experience (UX) – to management of complex processes, high-level user research and strategic business problem-solving.

    Below, we examine the main types of product design consulting in turn.

    Product designers can work as part of a product strategy team

    Your product strategy team will work together to develop and manage the high-level plan for your digital product. A product designer can play a key role in the strategy team as creative thinker, problem-solver and champion of the needs of the user or customer.

    In this strategic role, designers help create the roadmap to ensure the product will provide real value to users, and have a good fit for the market or business requirement.

    The bedrock of your strategy must be the product vision. An experienced product designer can help you express a vision for what you are trying to achieve – and why you are making a product in the first place. 

    For example, YouTube’s vision might be “helping people share and enjoy videos”, while Airbnb’s vision might be “connecting accommodation hosts with paying guests worldwide”.

    Note that the product vision should define the destination – but not the exact way this will be achieved, or how the product will work. 

    Based on this vision, the product designer will undertake a discovery phase to research and understand the actual needs of users or customers. This may involve interviewing users, stakeholders and customers, as well as desk research on the market landscape. Gaining this understanding is vital, since the most common cause of product failure is creating something users do not want or need. They may also discover previously unrecognised problems or barriers to a product – before any development begins.

    With a real understanding of the target users, the product designer can create user personas. These are concise and shareable documents that paint a clear picture of an imagined archetypal user – in terms of their needs, pain points, behaviours, mindset and other qualities.

    The product designer can also explore the competitive landscape for your product. Are there well-established competitors or innovative disruptors already out there? How can you differentiate your product from these? If the product idea is to serve an organisation’s employees, are there existing off-the-shelf solutions for this?

    Equipped with all these insights, the product designer can help you define the product strategy. As well as being documented in depth, the strategy should be strong enough to be expressed in a concise and compelling form. This “elevator pitch” will ideally be only a few sentences – snappy enough to win the interest of a decision-maker, investor, stakeholder, user or customer during a hypothetical 30-second elevator ride.

    For example, Airbnb’s elevator pitch might be: “Our digital platform connects travellers with locals, letting them rent rooms or entire properties. Guests save money, and hosts monetise their empty rooms – we just take a 10% commission.”

    Once the strategy is defined, the product designer can begin planning features and designing basic visual prototypes. Presenting and discussing these initial concepts with target users or customers will enable the product designer to test hypotheses and validate assumptions in the strategy. The valuable feedback obtained can be used to update the designs and refine the strategy – before moving ahead to the product delivery process.

    Product designers can work as part of an Agile product delivery team

    A product designer can act as a natural conduit from product strategy to product delivery – possessing a clear understanding of both areas.

    Most digital product delivery processes today are run using Agile software development methodology. Agile focuses on improving product delivery through the collaborative work of self-organising and cross-functional teams. 

    While product designers were not originally given much consideration in Agile methods compared with developers and engineers, today they can work highly effectively as integrated members of Agile product delivery teams.

    An Agile team – and the product designers within it – will have the following priorities and values:

    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

    • Working products over comprehensive documentation.

    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

    • Responding to change over following a plan.

    In other words, the product designer will work responsively, collaboratively, pragmatically – and with focus on user and customer needs.

    Product designers undertake four key activities within Agile product delivery teams, as they move through regular work phases or sprints.

    These include concept design for product features and releases, detailed product design of elements for the next sprint, design support to engineers for the current sprint – and design validation of work on previous sprints.

    The activities may be performed by one multi-tasking designer – or shared among multiple designers with different areas of focus.

    Product designers can build a product design system

    The third main area where a product designer can help improve your digital product is in the creation and management of a design system.

    A design system is a managed and evolving collection of design guidelines, methods, documentation, tools and assets, specific to an organisation and its products.

    With a clearly defined design system, product designers and engineers can focus their efforts on meeting user needs, rather than re-creating and re-inventing design and UI components.

    The product designer will build up a design system that typically integrates elements in the following categories:

    • Layout: Guidance and definitions of how UI elements should be arranged, spaced and aligned. 

    • Styles: The key aspects of your visual and brand language – such as colours, icons, logos and fonts.

    • Components: The basic UI elements – such as buttons, forms and sliders.

    • Regions: Structural design elements – such as navigation menus or search bars.

    • Content: Guidance on the usage of text and media content – including house style, core messaging and tone of voice. 

    • Usability: Advice and rules on user accessibility and internationalisation topics.

    Through your design system, the product designer gives your teams a “single source of truth” on design issues, it helps team members maintain design consistency, rapidly create high-fidelity prototypes to test solutions – and iterate products faster.

    As the design system grows and evolves, the role of the product designer expands from creation to ongoing stewardship.

    The role requires careful collaboration with engineers and other stakeholders across the organisation. It calls for a level of technical understanding by the product designer – such as providing the necessary code for developers to integrate design components into the product.

    Ultimately, the product designer acts as an advocate for the design system – and champions its ability to accelerate and improve the design and development of great digital products.

    Why is a digital product design consulting important?

    Learn how a product design consultancy can bring important benefits to your organisation using iterative design and rapid prototyping.

    What is it that makes the best digital product designers, skills and processes so important to an organisation?

    Netflix has created one of the most successful digital products of the past decade – and the firm’s CEO Reed Hastings has strong opinions on the business value of creative excellence. As he says: “In all creative roles, the best is easily ten times better than average.”

    Recognising the importance of better digital product design

    To enable this excellence in product design, the leading technology-enabled companies create digital products using a process of rapid prototyping and iterative design. 

    With the help of a digital product design consultancy, your organisation can also improve the quality and delivery of its digital products.

    But before we examine this new best-practice approach, let’s consider the traditional way of designing products.

    Traditional product design by a waterfall process

    Conventional product design is typically seen as a “waterfall” process. The analogy is that activity flows like water down a linear series of steps. 

    In the case of developing a product, this may work as follows. First, there is the product idea. This is then refined into a definition of what the product will be. Next the definition is tested for validity and likelihood of success. Activity then proceeds to the initial design stage, followed by refining to a fully branded version. Next the product is  built, before finally being launched and delivered to users.

    Although this has long been the norm, there are numerous drawbacks to following a waterfall process in product design. The linear phased nature of the process means that many aspects are “locked” at each stage and become impossible to change. However good the initial idea, new information and factors will emerge that require changes – but after the early design stages, this is not practical.

    This inflexibility and lack of agility has been a key reason why so many digital products designed using a waterfall model will fail to meet their objectives.

    Why wireframes are a waste of design time and effort

    Another aspect of conventional digital design is the use of “wireframes”. Playing a similar role to an architectural blueprint, a wireframe is a visual outline or block diagram of a web page or app screen, showing the basic layout and key components of the user interface (UI).

    Wireframes have traditionally been used as an interim stage between initial rough sketches and polished designs for a digital product. They show an outline of the content placement, and the order of components on a page. They are also used alongside documentation to describe interactions the user can make. As well as defining structure, they also guide the product content, design and development. 

    Wireframes may be created at an early stage by an information architect or digital strategist – and only later given to a designer for “polishing up”. The wireframes will then be discussed with clients or stakeholders for feedback and adjustment. Finally, they are passed to the developers or engineers to make them work in practice.

    Wireframing creates a one-way process that can cause many communication problems. People further down the waterfall feel limited in the decisions they can make. Designers have powerful problem-solving skills they could apply to improve a product – but they cannot use these when given a fixed wireframe to fill in like a paint-by-numbers picture.

    Wireframes often fix things in stone too early in the development process. Showing wireframes to stakeholders for sign off creates a lock-in for designers and developers before they start their work, and restricts their creative potential to add value. Static wireframes don't provide much interactivity, so designers need to include extra descriptions that can be confusing.

    Moving to an iterative design approach

    You can now manage the digital product design process much more efficiently. With a digital product design consultancy, you can use iterative design and rapid prototyping.

    As the name suggests, the  iterative design uses a sequence of iterations – incremental improvements based on feedback. Rather than being purely linear, the process moves forward as an agile series of iteration cycles. Each cycle involves design, prototyping and testing – with feedback and insights being incorporated into the next cycle.

    Using iterative design and development, you can build better products with much less risk of failure. The approach optimises each part of the product design process and builds confidence for all participants.

    Shifting from static wireframes to dynamic rapid prototyping

    This modern product design methodology also discards the conventional use of wireframing – replacing it with rapid prototyping.

    Rapid prototyping uses realistic-looking digital mock-ups of pages and screens, rather than non-representative diagrams. These “high-fidelity” prototypes are built with the same digital technologies as the final product –HTML, CSS and JavaScript – so they can have clickable UI elements and accurately demonstrate how user interactions will work. From the start, stakeholders and testers are given a much clearer vision of how the final product will look and function.

    Using these technologies means that moving from prototypes to usable products is a relatively seamless journey. Annotations from designers and developers can be included as comments within the actual HTML code during the process, rather than existing as separate and disconnected documentation.

    The benefits of a new product design methodology

    In rapid prototyping, creation is a shared activity. All members of the product team can be involved in creating and evaluating prototypes – helping to build a stronger and more integrated team.

    Designers will work more efficiently, creating only what is necessary to get user or stakeholder feedback. Rather than creating a series of different screens or pages, designers will think holistically in terms of design systems – creating a set of standardised UI components or modules that can be reused throughout the digital product.

    Rapid prototyping allows a product team to iterate swiftly, validate design choices and get valuable feedback. The initial prototypes can be created in a basic form, without much attention to aesthetics. By focusing initially on content and functionality, you help testers and stakeholders feedback just on the key aspects of the product. 

    A rapid and iterative path to better digital products

    With expert people, wide experience and deep resources, a product design consultancy can help you move your approach to the next level – and embrace the advantages of iterative design and rapid prototyping.

    How can digital product consulting improve design-engineering handoffs?

    Discover how working with a digital product design consultancy helps streamline workflow between designers and engineers to improve your digital product delivery.

    The design-to-engineering handoff is a crucial aspect of any digital product delivery process. Working with an experienced consultancy can help you maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of handoffs – leading to better products, more productive teams and faster time to market.

    But what is a “handoff”? The term has been taken from sport. In American football, it describes a pass where one player puts the ball directly into the hands of a team-mate – or in a relay race, how one athlete passes the baton to another. 

    The term was subsequently applied in business, to describe the point in a process where one person or team passes control or responsibility to another. 

    In the creation of a digital product, the handoff between designers and developers or engineers is a critical phase – where the product moves from concept to implementation. At handoff, designers pass the designs, prototypes and documentation of required functionality to the engineers – for them to turn into the working product.

    Improving the product design handoff experience

    The success of the handoff is crucial to any product delivery project. Designers and engineers often find the handoff to be a stressful experience – as If either side misses an issue, it could create product faults or delay delivery.

    Although the design team is primarily responsible for creating the prototypes, design assets and documentation, the overall handoff should be a collaboration with engineers and product managers.

    The handoff should not be seen as a single event in the product creation timeline. Rather, it should be a process that begins at the earliest design phase, and continues until the final product is delivered – and beyond, to drive future product improvements. Designers must work closely with engineers to make this a seamless and streamlined activity – avoiding the risks and negative impacts of a mismanaged handoff.

    A digital product design consultancy can help your organisation improve design-to-engineering handoffs – by enhancing the fidelity of prototypes, enabling modern tools and methods, and helping teams collaborate in a more agile way. This enables designers and engineers to work with a shared product language and vision to smooth the handoffs from idea through to launch.

    Creating clarity and confidence with high-fidelity prototypes

    Your product design consultancy can help you raise the fidelity of digital prototypes to more accurately reflect the desired final product – helping to avoid handoff misunderstandings.

    By working more closely with designers during the prototyping phase, engineers can provide valuable early feedback and offer technical insights. They can also advise how designs might display and work in practice across various browsers and devices.

    By discarding traditional wireframes and moving directly to high-fidelity prototypes, communication is improved across design and engineering teams, as well as with product stakeholders and test users.

    Built with the same technologies as the final product – such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript – these high-fidelity prototypes can also be interactive – with clickable elements and realistic transitions – so there is less ambiguity about the intended user experience (UX).

    The process of creating high-fidelity prototypes helps engineers to understand the desired interaction flows – and for designers to consider the technological implications of their ideas.

    As well as providing a pixel-accurate vision of the final product, another advantage of modern prototyping tools is that they can then output much of the required code for engineers to build the elements of the working user interface (UI).

    Designing products with engineering in mind

    A product design consultancy will help you bring designers and engineers together on the same page, from the early stages of product creation.

    Getting engineers involved in the ideas from the beginning helps them to catch potential problems early – saving everyone time and stress later when it comes to handoffs.

    When designers and engineers communicate and collaborate during the process more effectively, the handoff becomes a much simpler matter of checking what is already agreed upon and understood.

    A consultancy can also help you improve design handoffs by making them as frictionless as possible. Designers should prepare all files carefully, labelling components and deleting unused layers to prevent any confusion. Teams should use a consistent naming convention, such as the Block Element Modifier (BEM) system to help engineers find the required files, assets, components, and elements quickly and easily. Your engineering team may use a preferred file structure in their workflow that designers can adopt when supplying files.

    It is also vital that developers add clear annotations to their work files, so engineers can get a clear understanding of the requirements. Such annotations can provide essential context and describe advanced functionality that prototypes were unable to show.

    Designers need to personally talk through their thinking, files and documentation with engineers at handoff to ensure full mutual understanding – and make themselves available to answer subsequent questions as development progresses. In this sense, the handoff should be seen as an ongoing “handshake” between collaborative teams.

    Creating designs that can be built in practice

    In the early stages of product design, the internal customers or stakeholders can make unrealistic demands on the expected capabilities and features. Designers may be happy to accommodate these ideas, developing visuals and prototypes that make big promises, sometimes to encourage excitement and buy-in for the project.

    However, this approach can cause major problems at the handoff stage, when engineers explain that the desired functionality cannot feasibly be built within the scope of the project – and this in turn causes stakeholder frustration that early promises were not kept.

    A consultancy can help you avoid this situation by building better communication between designers and engineers at these early stages. With engineering insights, designers can know from the start what cannot realistically be incorporated, and manage stakeholder expectations accordingly.

    Embedding design in an agile product team

    Many of the potential problems with design-to-engineering handoffs come from the traditional product development process. In a conventional linear “waterfall” process, the design and UX team do the bulk of their work first in the discovery and design phases. This work is then passed to engineers for development in a one-time handoff – after which revisions to the design become very difficult. Handoff misunderstandings and mistakes are a key reason why many products developed using this conventional model fail to meet their objectives.

    The agile model of software development has been widely adopted in recent years to address these issues. In the agile methodology, engineers work in small and nimble teams, breaking development into a series of short sprints that deliver incremental advances and improvements. This gives teams the ability to adapt and pivot to changing circumstances and emerging factors. The goal is to quickly and efficiently deliver a working product – rather than cling to an inflexible pre-formed plan.

    A digital product design consultancy can help you integrate designers into your agile development teams. This means that designers and engineers work closely together throughout the product creation process. The problems that can come with a single major handoff are avoided, as handoffs become an ongoing series of small and incremental collaborations. Bringing design and engineering together prevents many typical handoff issues, as you form one strong agile team with an extensive shared product vision.

    Applying the right tools to streamline handoffs

    Your product design consultancy can equip your teams with the best modern digital tools to support seamless handovers.

    These handoff tools will translate designs into working code – such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Swift, or Android XML. These code elements are  used by engineers as the starting point for developing a fully functional product.

    Modern cloud-based collaborative design platforms such as Figma replace traditional design documentation with a single online source of truth. They enable designers to give engineers a URL link to everything they need to begin development. 

    Tools like these avoid the need for a designer to do manual “redlining” – the conventional writing of design specs for each layer in a design. This eliminates a handoff aspect that often creates misunderstandings between designers and engineers.

    Using design systems for speed and consistency

    A digital product consultancy can also help you enable quick and efficient handoffs with a product design system.

    A design system is a comprehensive tool-set of design standards, methods, assets and resources. It can help your organisation to manage product design efficiently and consistently, with reusable components and clear guidelines.

    Your design system provides a way for designers and engineers to maintain brand consistency across current and future digital products. It will also simplify and speed up design handoffs.

    A well-managed design system is a vital support to any modern digital product creation process. Having a component-based design system helps engineers access reusable code elements to build the final product quickly and efficiently.

    Design systems enable a two-way exchange of information and resources between designers and engineers. For example, engineers can provide technical specifications for asset formats and sizes, so designers can optimise their work for different channels and requirements.

    Design systems encourage systematic thinking and methodical approaches for all team members. They enable faster design iteration, support scalability for teams and products, encourage best practices – and ensure seamless design handoffs.

    How can product design consulting help to deliver better digital products and services?

    Discover why expert design is essential in creating successful digital products and services, and how a design consultancy can help your organisation.

    Digital product designers play an essential role in taking your organisation’s digital products and services from vision to reality. Let’s explore the ways that they can improve digital products and services – and how working with a digital product design consultancy can help your organisation get the most value from them.

    Designing better products and services for your organisation

    Digital Design is a vital resource for your organisation’s ability to serve customers and employees with great digital products and services. Through highly complex and creative work, designers can drive improvement of your business processes and customer experiences. They do the work required to go from strategic thinking and planning – to bringing real digital empowerment for your employees and customers.

    Digital design enables a complete rethink of the products and services you offer to your customers – and the business processes and tools your employees use. Your digital product design consultancy can help you bring out the best from your own designers – and provide experienced design personnel to work collaboratively with your existing teams.

    Design’s importance in better product and service creation

    Skilled and experienced designers of digital products help your organisation by providing a fresh and pragmatic perspective on your digital offerings.

    They work efficiently to design the best possible digital business tools, processes and products – and bring excellence to your digital delivery processes. The right designers can accelerate and elevate your product operations – whether focusing on a specific aspect, or driving end-to-end delivery.

    Understanding the needs of customers and business

    An expert digital product designer combines the skills of both user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. Understanding your objectives and desired functionalities, they research the needs and pain points of your customers or users, and find ways to address them. They map out user journeys and information architecture, determining how people engage with your digital processes and products.

    Working within this UX framework, they l develop the detailed ‘look and feel’ of the UI to create an intuitive brand experience. As digital products are dynamic rather than static, the designer also thinks in terms of interaction and dynamic content. Having proficiency in both UI and UX enables the designer to move seamlessly between the broad overview and fine detail of your digital products.

    An experienced designer  tests and validates the product design approach before software engineering proceeds. They design the interface screens that your users or customers will move through to achieve their objectives – and ensure that the user journey is as intuitive and frictionless as possible. 

    Using high-fidelity prototyping to clarify the design vision

    The designer  then creates and tests high-fidelity interactive prototypes with users and stakeholders to obtain their feedback. In this way, they shorten feedback loops and can iterate quickly and incrementally. Presenting even a small set of screen designs can make it easier for non-technical stakeholders to imagine a real working product – and provide valuable feedback. This rapid prototyping is also a great vehicle for building positive momentum and buy-in for the design vision across your organisation.

    In short, an expert digital product designer and consultancy can bring many valuable capabilities and benefits to your business – helping you to:

    • Elevate the quality and recognition of product design in your organisation.

    • Design and deliver whole products and services end-to-end.

    • Radically increase the speed and quality of delivery.

    • Remove any barriers from designing products quickly and effectively.

    • Improve process around design/engineering handoffs.

    • Introduce and utilise the latest product design methodologies.

    • Champion a customer-centric and user-focused view.

    • Stay up-to-date with the latest design technology and tools.

    • Ensure your product provides the best possible experience for users and customers.

    Product design consulting in action – delivering better outcomes

    Let’s consider an example of how an organisation worked with an expert digital design consultancy to deliver better products and services.

    Global satellite communications business Inmarsat is a leading provider of data connectivity to maritime, aviation and other industries. Recently, Inmarsat wanted to replace its legacy customer ordering and provisioning system. Their old user journey did not reflect today’s changing customer needs. The business needed to shift its focus to enabling what the customer wants to achieve.

    Inmarsat worked with product design consultancy Elsewhen on the project to redesign the entire customer journey that sits on top of Inmarsat’s services. The aim was to create a new consumer-grade digital experience across the entire end-to-end B2B customer lifecycle.

    Delivering a best-in-class digital experience

    Inmarsat knew they had to make a major business transformation – and provide a digital experience that would put their customer first.

    Customers value and depend on Inmarsat’s advanced products and services – but they were less satisfied with the legacy manual customer service processes. They encountered a disconnected, disjointed experience when ordering services, requiring a mix of online channels, email and call centre support. 

    Inmarsat’s customers wanted to understand clearly what each of the services are, submit and track their orders, and provision services easily – and all of this with a responsive, intuitive, consumer-grade digital experience. 

    Bringing a customer-centric approach to digital product design

    The product design consultancy worked directly with Inmarsat’s project leads, as a key part of the program board to drive the transformation – and collaborated closely with Inmarsat’s existing systems integrators and PMO partner.

    The team enabled a shift from a standard technology process-focused environment to a modern customer-centric lens. They helped Inmarsat embrace an iterative design approach, placing the customer point-of-view at the heart of the project.

    The approach was to bring new modern design, agility and ways of working that would enable better outcomes. The team needed to provide a user experience matching the best consumer-grade apps – in combination with B2B enterprise-grade security, scalability, reliability, redundancy, transparency and flexibility.

    Providing a consumer-grade experience with enterprise scalability 

    The product design consultancy owned the entire customer-facing work stream, maintaining an accelerated pace using iterative sprints for design, build, testing and deployment. They integrated their design team to work directly with Inmarsat’s people.

    The designers delivered the end-to-end customer journey lifecycle in an attractive, simple and highly responsive UI, providing a consumer-grade digital experience. They implemented a design system enabling iteration at speed and scale. This empowered the team to refine the customer journey as they received feedback from user testing.

    Delivering more for customers and the business

    Inmarsat’s new platform has removed a barrier to future revenue streams. Not only is it much simpler for customers to interact with – it is also much easier for Inmarsat to operate, and for its own staff to work with.

    Order volumes, processing capability and customer self-service have increased and customer experience is significantly improved. Customers can now buy and provision connectivity in minutes, rather than days or weeks. 

    Inmarsat estimates the digital transformation has already generated multi-million-pound savings in operating expenses – and radically improved both employee and customer experiences.

    What are the latest digital product design methodologies?

    Explore innovative methods used by today’s digital product design experts to improve design quality, insights and collaboration.

    Digital products such as web applications and mobile apps are becoming ever more sophisticated and powerful. Designing these products becomes increasingly challenging – both to manage their creation and to ensure a great user experience (UX).

    As a result, product designers create and adopt new methodologies to improve the quality and consistency of their work. They also embrace new ways of working that streamline design consistency and collaboration.

    Let’s explore some of the latest methodologies in use by today’s expert digital product designers and consultancies.

    Atomic design

    As the variety of devices and screens continues to increase, designing web applications and sites that will work consistently across all of them becomes ever more challenging. This has led designers to seek ways to bring more order and structure to digital design.

    This was the thinking of designer Brad Frost in 2016 when he introduced the methodology of “atomic design”. Inspired by the concepts of chemistry, the approach breaks down user interface (UI) design into small, manageable components that can be combined to build any desired layout.

    The five key stages of atomic design thinking are atoms, molecules, organisms, templates and pages.

    In atomic design terminology, atoms are the basic elements of a design – buttons, labels, forms and so on. Once an atom is designed and created, such as a green button, it can be reused throughout the application or website – ensuring consistency and avoiding repetition of work.

    Molecules are combinations of several atoms. For example, the atoms for a name label, job title and photo could be combined to make a molecule – in this case a profile heading.

    Organisms are assemblages of molecules. For example, the profile heading could be combined with molecules for contact details and office location into an organism – in this case, a profile intro section. Like atoms, both molecules and organisms are also reusable across the application or site.

    Templates combine organisms to create page archetypes – such as the generic layout of a full personal profile.

    Pages in atomic design are specific instances of a template. For example, Jane Smith’s profile page would be based on the above template, and consistent with all the profile pages of her colleagues.

    By bringing modularity, hierarchy and reusability to digital product UI, atomic design encourages consistency, efficiency and quality – and has been rapidly adopted by designers as the basis of their design systems.

    Remote asynchronous collaboration

    Even before the pandemic, digital product design teams were often distributed – either across large offices or working remotely, often internationally across different time zones. In recent years, as in most industries, this remote and distributed working has become even more prevalent.

    To maintain the effectiveness of remote and distributed teams, designers and their software engineer colleagues were among the earliest adopters of remote asynchronous collaboration tools. As the name implies, these digital tools support remote collaboration for teams – but are different from “synchronous” tools like Zoom video conferencing, where the whole team must join at the same time. They also differ from tools like email, which were not built for team collaboration.

    Asynchronous tools do not require all the team to be active at the same time. Team members can add their contributions to a shared digital space or conversation, whenever they want and wherever they are.

    The archetype in this category is the team messaging or chat tool – such as Slack or Discord. While these have proved their powerful remote collaboration benefits, the design world has also adopted a variety of other specialist tools to support the requirements of digital product creation, such as:

    • Figma – an asynchronous design collaboration platform with powerful plug-ins, and an integrated online whiteboard, FigJam.

    • Miro – another tool for visual online collaboration.

    • Notion – an online workspace that provides a great way to build a store of knowledge around a problem area or design challenge to solve.

    • Dovetail – a customer research knowledge platform, ideal for capturing user insights, and spotting themes and patterns in user research.

    • Maze – a collaborative product research platform, useful in gathering user feedback quickly to help guide concept creation.

    New powerful tools are emerging all the time, so an expert designer will stay abreast of the latest potential additions to their tool-set – in order to keep remote teamwork and collaboration as effective as possible

    Lean brand

    Now embraced by digital product designers, the concept of lean brand emerged from the startup business world. Successful startups understand that their brand is in many ways the most important aspect of the business. Brand in this sense means more than just a logo and corporate colour – it defines the entire relationship a business has with its customers and the experience it provides.

    Lean brand development is about creating successful, innovative and disruptive brand relationships with customers.

    It focuses on experimentation, iteration, and elimination of wasted effort. It offers a scalable framework, with ongoing cycles of improvement based on customer testing and validation of value hypotheses.

    It uses a “build-measure-learn” loop where the design team defines what it needs to learn, determines how to measure it, and runs a simple experiment to do so.

    Overall, lean brand development helps teams make better, faster digital product design decisions. By learning from the principles of lean manufacturing and agile development, it helps create better products, building stronger customer relationships and experiences around emotional value – while minimising the risk of failing to meet customer needs.

    Lean product design enables organisations to bring their digital products to market faster, validating it with customers and incorporating their feedback on an ongoing basis. Rather than relying on preliminary research alone, teams can build simple design and user research into the agile development process to enable continuous improvement.

    Design tokens

    Today an organisation is likely to operate a variety of branded digital channels – including a marketing website, web applications, and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Managing brand implementation and design consistency across all these channels has become a major challenge for digital designers. Changing a brand colour or typeface across all of an organisation’s digital properties can take weeks or months of manual effort by designers and engineers.

    Design tokens are an increasingly popular approach to meeting this challenge. Tokens are small pieces of code that represent an aspect of a UI – such as a colour, a typeface, a transparency value, or an animation speed.

    As the “tokens” name suggests, the system uses the concept of tokenisation – where one thing represents another. In this case, each token in a design system has a unique name (such as “CTA button colour 1”) and a value (which might be the RGB code for green – “00FF00”). Rather than hard-coding CTA buttons across all the digital properties as green, they are set to use the design token name. The actual colour value is then read from the corresponding token – held in a central repository or design system management tool. The value of the token may need to be translated into different formats for different platforms – but this is a straightforward automated process.

    While using design tokens requires designers and engineers to make an initial shift in the way they create digital products, the ongoing advantages are significant. Designers can be confident that brand aspects are consistent across all digital channels, as they all use a “single source of truth”. If a brand element such as a colour or typeface needs to be changed, only the relevant token value needs to be updated in the central repository  – and the change will be quickly and easily propagated to every UI element using that token name, across every platform.

    Along with atomic design, design tokens are becoming a key building block in many organisations’ design systems.

    Jobs To Be Done framework

    Understanding the needs of customers and users can be challenging. A digital product designer or consultancy can help you build a clear picture of these needs, through quantitative and qualitative research, interviews and surveys of users and customers.

    They will typically apply a proven methodology to identifying customer needs – such as the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework. In this system, customer needs are analysed in terms of “jobs” – the tasks, objectives or outcomes that a customer wants to achieve. You can then identify the customer needs associated with each objective, and consider how best to meet those needs. This is in contrast to the traditional business-focused approach of starting with your existing products and services – and trying to make customers want them.

    Once the underlying “jobs” the user is trying to accomplish have been identified, the JTBD framework helps design teams to reshape or reinvent their product to meet that need.

    JTBD allows designers to break down customer needs into a series of specific process steps, creating a “job map”. This gives product teams a powerful structure for translating real customer needs into better digital products.

    Grounded theory

    Grounded theory is another methodology used by product designers – for turning qualitative user research and other relevant data into valuable product insights.

    As the name suggests, the methodology aims to generate insights that are ”grounded” in data. Originating in the social sciences for data analysis, grounded theory has been taken up by researchers in many other fields – including UX design.

    It can deliver similar insights to the Jobs To Be Done framework – but can also identify broader insights such as problems to be addressed, challenges to be overcome, and opportunities to be explored.

    Grounded theory helps product design teams find trends, patterns and categories that emerge from the data – rather than making assumptions about user preferences or behaviour. For example, an assumption might be that customers make purchase choices primarily on price – when the data may show that they will pay more for a trusted provider or better customer experience.

    In a typical grounded theory process, data (such as user interview recordings or transcripts) will be collected and gathered in a repository. The product designer will then work through and analyse the data, coding and tagging items of interest. A collaborative database tool such as Notion or Dovetail can be used for this analysis. The designer can then organise their findings into low-level concepts or issues – which can be grouped into higher-level categories or themes. 

    Finally these categories can be refined into a set of core insights – valuable evidence-based learnings that can have a real positive impact on the development and direction of a digital product.

    What are the latest digital product design technologies?

    Explore some of the latest popular technology tools and platforms used by digital product designers and consultancies.

    Digital product design is a complex and fast-changing field. To deliver the best products, professionals require not only extensive skills in UX and UI design, and deep experience of meeting customer needs and business challenges. They also require knowledge and expertise of the latest specialist technologies and tools that enable them to perform effectively.

    Today, a designer’s tools not only enable them to design individually in the workplace. They must enable remote working and effective collaboration for distributed teams. 

    New powerful tools are emerging all the time, so an expert designer will stay abreast of the latest potential additions to their tool-set – in order to keep remote teamwork and collaboration as effective as possible.

    Let’s explore a handful of today’s most popular specialist technologies and tools in use by digital product designers.

    Figma and FigJam – asynchronous design collaboration tools

    Even before the pandemic, digital product design teams were often distributed – either across large offices or working remotely, often internationally across different time zones. In recent years, as in most industries, this remote and distributed working has become even more prevalent.

    To maintain the effectiveness of remote and distributed teams, designers and their software engineer colleagues were among the earliest adopters of remote asynchronous collaboration tools. As the name implies, these digital tools support remote collaboration for teams – but are different from “synchronous” tools like Zoom video conferencing, where the whole team must join at the same time. They also differ from tools like email, which were not built for team collaboration.

    Asynchronous tools do not require all the team to be active at the same time. Team members can add their contributions to a shared digital space or conversation, whenever they want and wherever they are.

    The archetype in this category is the team messaging or chat tool – such as Slack or Discord. While these have proved their powerful remote collaboration benefits, the design world has also adopted a variety of other specialist tools to support the requirements of digital product creation.

    A big advantage of asynchronous collaboration tools is that they allow designers to make the space and time to focus on designing when they need to – and manage team expectations about when things will be shared or reviewed.

    Figma is an asynchronous collaboration tool for designing the UI and UX of digital products, websites and mobile apps. Like most of the technologies discussed here, it is cloud-hosted and can run in a web browser – or a full-screen desktop application. Figma has rapidly become one of the most popular tools for team-based collaborative design projects. 

    Figma provides all the tools needed for the design of a digital product, including creation of interactive high-fidelity prototypes. A big benefit is that Figma can automatically turn designs into code (HTML, CSS and JavaScript, plus iOS and Android) that engineers will require to build the working product.

    The key advantage of Figma over traditional design applications is that all designs are hosted in the cloud and can be worked on and reviewed collaboratively by teams. Designers can interact simultaneously and see changes update in real-time. Or they can work asynchronously – and make contributions at a time that suits them.

    Team members and stakeholders can review the latest designs from anywhere via a browser, without having to be sent files that may quickly become out if date – and leave feedback as comments or sticky notes at the relevant place on the design canvas, avoiding any misunderstanding or confusion.

    Figma lets designers build libraries of reusable components that their whole team can access – helping them build a consistent and efficient design system for a digital product.

    FigJam is Figma’s companion tool for collaborative idea creation and whiteboarding. FigJam gives designers and cross-functional partners a shared space to collaborate from the earliest stages of the product design process – to host brainstorming, planning, critiquing and other creative discussions.

    Custom plugins for Figma

    While design tools like Figma and FigJam have a host of powerful features as standard, there is always room for improvement and customisation.

    Figma has built up a large community of users, and many of these designers create and contribute additional features – in the form of installable plugins.

    Figma plugins provide additional capabilities to improve designers workflows, boost productivity – and raise the quality of design even further. .They can add or accelerate a wide range of functions – such as exporting assets, adding custom fonts, removing image backgrounds, resizing icons, ensuring brand consistency and much more.

    Miro

    Miro is another popular tool among product design teams for visual online collaboration. Describing itself as the definitive tool for Agile teams, Miro supports the Agile delivery process by hosting remote team gatherings or “ceremonies” – such as standups, sprint planning and retrospectives.

    Miro helps product teams engage remote members, and reduces the time spent documenting sessions and decisions. Designers can look back at past findings and compare performance side-by-side.

    The tool provides a great space to create user story maps, prioritise backlog, and organise tasks into sprints using customisable Kanban boards. Miro also integrates with other popular collaboration tools such as Jira and Asana.

    Design teams can organise all their project tasks in one place, visualise dependency lines, manage workloads, and make adjustments to stay aligned and on track for product delivery.

    Notion

    Notion is a great tool for designers to build a store of knowledge around a problem area or a design challenge to solve.

    Notion describes itself as an all-in-one workspace where teams can write, plan, collaborate and get organised. It enables users to take notes, add tasks, manage projects and more. It is a customisable knowledge management tool, allowing designers and teams to plan their projects, work and objectives. 

    Notion helps design teams to record and share their thoughts and ideas in a simple, clean space. They can build a wiki with multiple layers of content – and make plans using whiteboards, a calendar and outlining tools.

    It helps designers create a visual hierarchy with all information in any format (such as Figma design files and Google Docs) viewable side-by-side and easily searchable.

    Dovetail

    Dovetail is another valuable tool for organising and analysing design findings, This customer research knowledge platform is ideal for capturing customer insights – and spotting themes and patterns in user research.

    Dovetail is a powerful way of collating customer feedback and user research in one space. It works as a central repository for storing and searching interview notes, transcripts, video recordings and images.

    Designers can use tagging and annotations to help with analysis. Dovetail goes beyond the qualitative focus of most product research management tools – importing a wide range of data from emails, survey results, support tickets, and social media posts.

    Maze

    Maze is a collaborative product research platform, valuable in gathering user feedback quickly to help guide design concept creation.

    Designers can easily create a knowledge space for every design project. From usability tests to user surveys, designers can share insights with collaborators and stakeholders.

     Maze integrates with popular design tools like Figma, InVision, Adobe XD, Marvel, and Sketch. It can help keep the whole design team in the loop, and enable stakeholder collaboration to enhance product decisions.

    Maze helps designers generate clear and compelling reports to communicate their project progress. Teams can use Maze to improve the product design process, drive faster turnaround times, speed up product iteration and create a better user experience.