Understanding how to design your product with mobile as the first consideration can lead to many sleepless nights. We explore the process of mobile product design, the good the bad and the ugly, what to do, what not to do and lessons learned from experience.
The product development process takes your software from user research and competitor analysis, to conceptualization, and finally to design and development in incremental stages. It helps to refine your product before it hits the market.
A robust development process with in-depth requirement gathering from potential customers as well as the product stakeholders will ensure that your software resonates with users and their expectations. By implementing and rigidly adhering to this process, you’ll guarantee that the success of your product is based on real-world data rather than assumptions.
Sam is Head of UI/UX for UI Centric working with customers globally to deliver industry leading UI and UX design services. Working with clients through wire framing, prototype creation, requirements capture, user storey generation through to user testing and feedback invigilation.
User Research: Knowing & Understanding Your End User
Meeting user expectations is fundamental to the success of any piece of software, but this is often easier said than done. A disciplined design process should always keep user needs at the forefront of its focus.
There are three main components to understanding your end user; conducting user research. The first is understanding the context of how the user will interact with your product. Then off the back of this knowledge; the creation of personas of your users.
With regards to user research, there are a number of methods UI Centric’s User Experience team employ to better understand the needs of the end user. These might include one-to-one interviews, focus groups and surveys.
In addition to having a solid understanding of who your users are and how they might interact with your product, it is imperative to how and where they might use it. This forms the context of the user experience. Will the majority of your userbase be interacting with the product on a mobile device? Out and about at work? or from the comfort of their home? These are crucial considerations that need to be taken into account.
The next step is to translate this knowledge into personas.
Personas should accurately depict different user groups and will act as your ‘user guidelines’ throughout the design and overall development process. Creating profiles of your customers in this way will enable you to always keep a check on the needs of your users and will enable you to develop that is always in line with the expectations of your userbase.
Establishing your customer’s needs in the early stages of your product’s lifecycle will pay dividends throughout the rest of your product development process.
To understand and properly document what your stakeholder and users expect from your software, it’s vital to conduct requirement gathering. Requirement gathering can take many forms, but essentially it results in you having a clear list of deliverables for the product that you are building.
A key part of UI Centric’s strategy is to hold workshops with clients to discuss and define their requirements. By understanding and defining our client’s targets and goals in addition to understanding in addition to makes customer’s tick we can more effectively tailor the solution to meet their requirements.
The key to successful requirement gathering is to get down to specific details of each anticipated interaction and piece of functionality. Additionally, the more specific the requirements are, the better you’ll be able to test your product as development commences.
You cannot hope to have a successful product development process if you only have a superficial grasp of your client and customer needs. After you’ve gathered specific requirements from your users, the next part of the strategy is to translate them into user stories to design, develop and test against. A tried and test method of ensuring you’ve understood your customer’s needs is to write down each user story in the following format:
“As a user…”
“I want to be able to…”
“So that I can…”
By using the test above you’ll be able to assess how well you understand your customer’s motivations, and to be able to assess your product development process on real-world feedback, rather than making assumptions about your client’s needs. To get the best results, set your user’s requirements in order of priority, recording them as low, medium and high.
By Understanding who your competitors are, and the strategies they employ, you will be better equipped to see where your service fits in amongst the competition. Competitor analysis acts as an opportunity to understand what your product has to offer above others on the market, and for you to position yourself within the market. This can ensure that your product stands out and doesn’t get lost amongst the competition.
Competitor analysis will also enable you to identify what your competitors do well, and what they do badly. It’s important to take some time to see if there’s anything that can be learnt from them. If they are retaining customers and turning profits, their service must be satisfying customers! To conduct a detailed competitor analysis, record every piece of information you can think of. Listing their unique services, overall profitability, marketing strategies, objectives and future growth expectations. Pay particular attention to identifying direct competitors (these are your priority at this stage). In addition, evaluate the overall strengths and weaknesses of their business approach.
To conduct a simple competitive analysis record the following details:
- The Name of your Competitor
- Products and services (What makes their product unique?)
- Share of the market
- Marketing strategies
- Frequency of their product updates and time since their last major update
- Strengths and Weaknesses
- Potential threats to your business
You want to be as comprehensive as possible to understand where your product fits in to the overall market. By understanding what services your competitors do and don’t do well, you leave yourself in a position to situate yourself much more confidently in within the market.
Prior to getting into the detailed design and prototyping phase, it’s incredibly beneficial to take your key user stories and convert these into user flows.
User flows are essentially the steps you anticipate the end user to take in order to complete a task. A good user experience will minimize the number of steps in a user flow and ultimately reduce the complexity of the solution.
The user flows will also invariably help towards forming a high level architecture and therefore a site/app map, as key stages in a user’s journey will typically correlate to different pages within the product.
At the wireframing phase of the design process, the structure of pages and interactions on each page can start to take shape and evolve. Wireframes are typically created as monochrome visualizations of each page. The lack of colour and any branding means you can focus solely on the structure, navigation and interactions, without the distractions of what the final visual design will look like.
This lack of fidelity at this stage also lends itself to quick updates and iterations. Changes can be made based on client and user feedback very rapidly.
Wireframes can either be simple static visualizations right through to complex clickable prototypes able to run on multiple device types. What level of interactivity is introduced into wireframes is often dependent on timescales and budget for the project.
Visual Design and Interactive Prototypes
With wireframes signed off, the visual design phase can begin. Here the graphic design team will take the wireframe ‘templates’ and apply the visual design treatment in line with the client’s branding to produce a set of polished, pixel perfect representations of each page. It is important for the UXers to still remain involved in the process.
With a complete set of visuals for the application or website, it is now possible to create an interactive prototype of the product that stakeholders and users can interact with and test without writing a line of code yet. Interactive prototypes can be published to the intended devices on which you intend to deploy – this allows you to test gestures and interactions specific to platform
This gives a tremendous sense of what the finished product will look like and how it will behave, yet is still in a position to be updated and modified based on any feedback received. It is useful to present these to the client and can gather much better feedback from them.
Throughout the above processes, we’ve frequently made reference to gathering user feedback. At UI Centric, we encourage frequent user testing at each stage of the design process in order to validate decisions and iron out any issues before development starts.
Testing can cover a range of topics from functionality and interactions to the design and visual presentation of the product.
User testing can take many forms. From informal ‘show and tells’ and focus groups, to formal lab-based testing utilizing eye-tracking and screen recording. As before, the amount of user testing and the method employed will be dependent on timelines and budget available.
Additionally, user testing sessions often result in additional features and functionality that had not been initially considered or deemed unimportant during the initial project scoping phase.
The Product Development Process: Making Your Product Market Ready
The Product Design and Development process has become an established ‘best practice’ methodology to design and prepare software to go live on the market.
The process goes hand in hand with deep industry knowledge and experience obtained on cross-industry projects, before applying this expertise to meet the needs of customers.
From the beginning, the central component of a successful process is matching your design efforts with meeting user requirements. From the moment you start capturing user requirements and conducting a competitor analysis of the market, you will be narrowing in on a target audience. The more you understand your target audience, their wants and their capabilities, the more you’ll be able to tailor and design a user interface to their needs. Throughout the process, user testing will assess how well you have understood your user’s requirements, and whether or not you’ve met their expectations.