The 10 obstacles that prevent you from designing a quality product

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The digital product design industry is booming, with new releases almost daily. But why, with so many experienced professionals brought in and with solid design guidelines in place, do we still see so many poorly designed results? As the design director of San Francisco-based software company Milkinside, I came to some conclusions about the fundamental issues to be solved.

1. Lack of empathy for users

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings and thoughts without having had the same experiences, and this is a fundamental quality for a good product designer, but far too few apply it well in the field. user experience. Why? Because empathy is not a set of rules that can be followed, it is a mental habit. Designers need to do a real study of the needs of their target audience and turn them into design decisions, but that’s easier said than done.

This is a very common situation: a designer is asked to create an application that he will never use in real life. As a result, there is less empathy with users, as they do not belong to the target audience and are often not particularly motivated to know their issues.

At my company, we follow a “Walk for Them” approach: learn as much as possible about target users and evaluate each product design decision against the value provided to them. Any other approach will simply not provide such information and the results will be unsatisfactory and unprofitable.

2. Confirmation bias

The tendency to seek out, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports previous beliefs or values, confirmation bias is one of a designer’s worst enemies because it causes them to ignore real user feedback and thus design. products for themselves rather than for users. The aim of designers is not to honor our egos but to improve people’s lives. If research tells you that a design isn’t right for users, the need is to develop a different solution – a principle that should be built into the design culture of any organization.

3. Lack of support and advice for a product team

Design is a team sport: several people are responsible for creating just about any product. And when a digital product team needs new members, it’s usually aimed at a User Experience (UX) professional, but it’s not enough to just hire a new member. Guiding and supporting this person (s) is essential – a particularly important task when hiring a junior designer.

Covid-19 has changed the way we get people on board. Newcomers, seemingly overnight, have been denied in-person training, and the hard truth is that distance training doesn’t guarantee the same level of knowledge sharing. So in my company we assign a mentor to every new staff member and have an onboarding checklist per position that the new person can refer to. This mentor, among other tasks, organizes regular individual checks during a trial period (one month) to ensure that the new work experience runs smoothly.

Related: User experience is the most important metric you don’t measure

4. Characteristic creep

This term encompasses the continual and excessive addition of new functionality to a product. Too often a team will follow the idea, “The more features we add, the more value the product becomes for users,” but in reality, such value is rarely directly related to the number of features. Product teams may be too focused on short-term actions and forget to see the big picture.

The “Pareto principle” states that about 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. (Named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who devised this ratio at the University of Lausanne in 1896.) In the context of product design, this principle is adapted to emphasize that 80% of value comes from 20% characteristics, which makes it all the more essential to conduct solid user and market research in order to understand the real needs of a target audience.

5. Too frequent reuse of drawings

Reapplying the same decisions in many projects is one of the most common mistakes designers make for two main reasons. First, what works in one context may not necessarily work in another. Second, this approach can easily lead to generic design rather than true innovation. Product teams shouldn’t be afraid to take new approaches when designing products, and the only way to do that is to step out of their comfort zone.

Related: A Guide to Turning Your Customers into Product Designers

6. Obsession with new trends

New visual ideas are constantly appearing, of course. Dribbble and Behance, to name a few examples, are platforms where thousands of designers compete for the attention of viewers, and some of them come up with awesome new solutions, but not all design notions are met. not good for users. For example, the neomorphism trend – a purely decorative aesthetic that reinvents the old skeuomorphism design movement – became popular at Dribble in 2020, but didn’t particularly boost the user experience.

Of course, designers should be aware of new trends, but nevertheless should analyze them carefully and choose only those that show interesting results, not just gimmicks.

7. A strictly linear process

A particularly common problem in organizations with a fixed budget and schedule, linear design plagues a team when working in a “waterfall model,” where requirements are set in stone early in the design process and not. not change until the product release. It’s easy to imagine why this approach can lead to failure.

By its nature, design is iterative – a never-ending process of refining a solution, and the more you learn about the users, the better the resulting solutions will be. My team follows a “Build, Measure, Learn” approach, in which we start with the MVP (Minimum Value Product) and refine it by testing with users.

Related: This design platform is ideal for small businesses

8. Poor communication

It goes without saying that communication plays a key role in the design process, and poorly established information channels, especially among stakeholders, are among the main factors triggering project failure. As we know, the communication challenges got even more serious starting in 2020, as most of the design teams switched to working remotely and the number of in-person meetings was reduced to practically zero.

I have long believed that transparency is an important competitive advantage in a product design team. So we start with a kick-off meeting where we invite all team members and stakeholders to define project goals and milestones. Regular weekly meetings are held afterwards with team members, where we share design ideas and receive feedback from stakeholders to keep our hands on the pulse.

9. Lack of creativity

Why do so many products look so generic? The answer is simple: designers follow all too common guidelines to create them. While these can help create products with decent usability, they will likely never be a driving force for truly creative solutions.

Because creativity is a state of mind, and in order to produce something new and exciting, it helps to occasionally take a ‘go crazy’ approach, where you start from scratch and create without looking back. industry and its standards. Ultimately, you’ll need to validate decisions by testing them with users, but the key idea isn’t to restrict yourself from the start.

10. Late or non-existent usability testing

“Test early, test often” is a fundamental rule in many industries. Early testing can help reveal key product design problems and reduce the cost of solving them, but too many teams delay usability testing until a product is released – essentially a “D” philosophy. ‘first we post and then collect user feedback’. One can imagine the resulting misfortune.

A variety of tactics can help avoid such situations. For example, you can use the ‘false door’ technique to get a feel for market interest – create the most visual part of a product or its key feature and show it to customers, even if that product / function is not yet active. It can be as simple as a landing page with basic information and a ‘Register for Early Access’ call-to-action button.

Related: How to determine if there is a market for your business idea

Bonus: Lack of diversity in the team

Today, products are used by increasingly diverse users, cultures and environments. It can be difficult to consider all the factors influencing the design, but in my experience, tasks get easier if you diversify a team based on both demographics (members should be from different parts of the world and encompass different ethnicities and religions) and specialization (ideally a combination of UX designers, UI designers and UX writers on board).


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