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The winning formula for effective product design

ritam-gandhi

It is well understood that the key to any successful new product launch is a measured and considered planning stage. The issue for most businesses comes in implementing an appropriate process. Many will launch into planning and design with the best of intentions on structured planning, but fail to consider some critical elements which could make or break the efficacy of their latest iteration or product. Even the most promising concepts will be likely to fail if there is a shortfall in organisational understanding of what upsides the product is planned to achieve, and where this can be delivered against a practical design process with flexibility to adjust to unexpected factors and cost suitability.

As head of a digital agency specialising in managing the product delivery process from planning and design to execution across a breadth of industries and scales, I have developed a core approach and set of best practices I believe help ensure the creation of meaningful and successful new technology products, while facilitating digital transformation within businesses. All companies strive to innovate and iterate to find their cutting edge in a crowded and competitive marketplace. As such, it is a shame to observe so much wasted resource being funnelled into ill-advised projects – particularly when a more thoughtful approach to development could have been the crucial difference between fortune and failure.

Studio Graphene recently commissioned a survey, taking in the views of 750 decision-makers at UK businesses on the relative successes and failures of their digital transformation projects throughout the pandemic. Interestingly, well over a quarter (30%) of business leaders reported having abandoned one or more unsuccessful digital products that had been launched since March 2020. While the narrative of the pandemic was certainly dominated by austerity, with businesses streamlining to core operations, limiting risk exposure and adopting a risk-averse investment attitude, it is clear there remained significant wasted resources on inadequate product design.

This is not to say the pandemic served only to shine a light on impulsive business behaviour – indeed, it was found that a majority (54%) had been inspired to undertake long-term digital transformation projects by their experience of navigating the pandemic. So, the question is: how can this revitalised appetite for innovation be guided towards more assured success?

Goal setting

This may seem too simple a point to belabour – but business leaders will ignore it at their peril. Ensuring that adequate time has been applied to ascertain the wider business objectives, and where the implementation of the product in question will strengthen or progress these, is a crucial starting point.

In failing to identify clear goals for the project, businesses make it significantly more challenging to assess the ongoing success and efficiency of both the design process and the value added by the product after launch. Affirming KPIs, then, is crucial to assist developers and team members in concentrating the correct resources on the key aspects of the product. This will also serve to reduce project drift and help developers to quickly identify and solve unexpected issues as they arise, protecting the organisation against future headaches caused by wasted resources.

Mapping user impact

Clear goals will help bring alignment behind the project across an organisation – but this will mean little in practice if limited consideration has been given to how the product will influence users. The key to evaluating this is in ensuring a clear definition of the concept is established before pressing on with development.

Once this in place, businesses may conduct thorough market research to be considered alongside an evaluation of the successes and shortfalls of their existing user journey flows, which can chart a clear course towards a successful product launch. By producing an impact map which demonstrates how user behaviour is likely to respond to the new platform or product, businesses can more aptly refine their plans for the functionality and user experience (UX) elements of design.

When Studio Graphene partnered with Alchemy Wings, for instance, we had just six months to build an on-demand delivery service. Working with the concept team to unlock how we could use the UK’s fragmented convenience store network to offer a fast service for impulse purchases, we kicked off the project by exploring the needs of different users including delivery partners, vendors and customers. It was clear that we needed to build a product with complex business logic but with simple UI/UX to enable all users to achieve their goals. With this foundation, we began exploring the complex challenge around logistics by building a reverse auction feature via an Alchemy Wings API for order fulfilment. This allowed companies to connect, automatically get notified and bid for all delivery jobs via the platform.

Meanwhile, to make sure that customers were always getting the best deals and prices available through the app, we created an algorithm optimised to provide the best prices of goods and delivery costs.

Prototyping

Once the concept and its impact are assessed, the more practical elements of design can come under consideration. Producing a low (or ideally high) spec working model of the product is the best way to ascertain its technical feasibility and allow team members to exert their own expertise to assess weaknesses in the design. A practical, scaled-down model of the core functions of the platform will allow developers to test potential features before substantial budget is placed into ideas which could potentially fall by the wayside, while affording organisations with more scope to test and tweak the design and branding elements which are foundational in a successful UX.

There are a wide range of products which can be useful in producing working models for web applications, including Adobe XD, InVision and Axure RP, though decision-makers should consider the breadth of available software to find the best fit for their product. Costing and capacity requirements will certainly come under consideration – though this is no reason to cut corners on developing a working model. In addition to providing a valuable proof of concept for potential investors, it can produce significant cost savings down the line in averting the need for wholesale overhauls of the platform if too much of the design process occurs on a theoretical basis.

Specification writing

As should be clear by now, ongoing attention to the core details of the product is critical. Green-lighting a full production run before nailing down the productive requirements and developer deliverables is an unnecessary risk which will often result in an unsatisfactory product, unexpected cost spikes, or at worst a potentially project-killing need to start production over from scratch.

Accordingly, businesses should look to produce a robust spec document to tie together all other elements of their planning. This provides a singular point of reference for developers to work from and will concentrate time and budgetary resources on the most effective elements of the product. These will not necessarily become rigid blueprints for the entire process; in fact, they will likely be revised as circumstances evolve.

Of course, these four cornerstones of design and planning will not, when taken alone, assure businesses that their project will conclude and implement on budget, within the planned timescale, and to the anticipated user reception. However, decision-makers must only look at the high-profile failure of application launches throughout the pandemic to gauge the necessity of careful planning and avoiding an improvisational approach to implementing new ideas at pace. In a competitive market, with many businesses looking to carve out a competitive edge through digital transformation, those who avoid rushed development and design processes will set themselves up well for success.

Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.