If we’ve learned one thing through our years of design experience, it’s that the digital product design process isn’t linear. That, and yellow text doesn’t play nice with a white background. You live and you learn. All too often, you might need to circle back between steps or start your usual process out of sequence. But fear not — that’s because each digital design process is unique — and your approach should be, too.
In fact, we think the most effective digital product design processes are iterative, cycling through multiple phases of design, development and testing. Luckily, our clever-clogs designers can adapt their processes to whatever timeline, budget, or shoot-for-the-stars ambition they’re pursuing. This is what sets us apart as a digital product design agency.
Though we’ve already covered what our ‘standard’ process looks like (if there is such a thing) it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to digital product design. Each project you take on will have its own requirements, and your workflow will need to be tailored accordingly.
But how do you tweak your tried-and-tested processes and still manage to create the very best product? Let’s talk.
The typical digital product design process
Firstly, we’ll have a quick recap of what the digital product design process is. Or, we prefer to describe this as the minimum viable digital product design process. This is the bare bones of how your workflow might progress, typically executed on a step-by-step basis.
1. Market research
To kick off your project, you’ll set objectives for your digital product and research the pain points that need to be addressed, the conventions of the market, and your intended user.
2. Interface drafting
Next comes the idea phase. This is when the creative juices flow and you'll think up your colours, buttons, navigation and more, subject to review. You’ll configure any new platform structure, calibrate it to audience needs, and map out user journeys.
3. Development and advertising
Once the idea’s coming together, your design can be tweaked, prototyped, and sent for development. And then you might create assets for advertising and product launch, depending on the scope of your project.
Loosely speaking, these are the key components of a digital product design process, and the typical chain of steps followed by designers. However, this order of operations only applies to the ‘ideal’ scenario, in which you have your brief ready and all the time in the world to dive in and conceptualise. In this shining utopia, you’ll create some successful early designs which can be tweaked a little and sent for development.
But as the phrase goes, the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.
In reality, you’ll usually need to head back to the drawing board several times to brainstorm more concepts, collaborate with your team, and conduct further research. And actually, this is a good thing — it ensures that you’re creating the best possible product, rather than the first that comes to mind.
When you need to adapt your design process
There are plenty of considerations to make as you work through your digital product design processes — but how will you know when to adjust them? Foolhardy designers will press on through their standard processes and miss the telltale signs that they should revisit or revise one of their previous steps.
The more conscientious designers, on the other hand, will recognise when it’s time to conduct that little bit more UX research, or map out an entirely new user journey, etc.
Here are some of the key influences that could require you to break from standard operating procedures.
The type and complexity of a product
From a simple mobile app to a complex enterprise-grade tool, the nature of the product you’re designing can vary immensely. As a result, your design processes will need to be tuned in accordance.
If you’re creating a consumer-facing mobile app, for example, you’ll need to map accessible user flows as a priority. On the other hand, a complex analytics platform may emphasise data visualisation functionality instead, which could demand more rounds of prototyping and testing.
The budget and timeline
When you’re running low on resources, be it your finances, time or manpower, you put pressure on the design process. But this doesn’t mean your work will be low-quality — it just means you’ll need to meticulously plan each step of the design process and prioritise your key ambitions, rather than explore and iterate as much as you’d like.
Achieve this by setting clear day-one objectives that align with your client’s expectations.
The specific user needs
You’ll need to tailor your design process based on your intended end user. It’s vital to recognise and accommodate specific user needs, which may evolve or become more complex as user expectations change or your product develops.
If you have a highly specific audience in mind, you’ll need to conduct much more user testing as part of your design process, and seek detailed feedback that can help guide your designs. Consider implementing a feedback loop into your design process, ensuring regular updates to align with user requirements.
So far, we’ve discussed plenty of the components of the digital product design process that can be reorganised, revisited and reconfigured based on the individual project. But on the other side of the debate, what are the core pillars that need to be kept the same?
The process of product design we follow today looks different to the one we’ll follow tomorrow, but these are the principles we aim to tackle in every project we take on. They not only lay the foundation for how we work, but also play a pivotal role in the success of the final product we hand to our clients.
1. User-centred design
When we talk about user-centred design, we’re referring to placing the user at the heart of the design process. Every decision, from button colour choice to animation speed, should revolve around meeting the needs and expectations of the end users. User-centred design recognises that a successful digital product hinges on how effectively it solves user problems and enhances their experience.
Targeting this principle in every project we take on ensures that users take value from our products. When users find an interface intuitive and useful, they are more likely to engage with it, fostering loyalty and satisfaction.
Neglecting user-centred design, on the other hand, can result in a product that fails to resonate with its intended audience, leading to poor adoption rates and negative user feedback.
2. Iterative design
Iterative design is an ongoing process of refinement and improvement. It acknowledges that a digital product's initial concept is rarely perfect, and that continuous assessment and adaptation are essential. By iterating over and over again, you can incorporate user and client feedback, address missed design flaws, and keep aligned with evolving market trends.
Iterating ensures that our digital products stay relevant and competitive, for example by allowing for the incorporation of new features based on real-world usage data. Without iterative design, a product could quickly become obsolete — especially in the internet era where more digital products are being sold than ever before.
Lastly, data-driven design leverages quantitative and qualitative data to inform design decisions. It provides insights into user behaviour, preferences, and pain points, enabling designers to make informed choices that improve how users experience their products.
This ensures that all choices are grounded in evidence rather than assumptions. It minimises the risk of making design decisions based on personal biases or unfounded opinions, which we’ve all been guilty of from time to time. By taking a data-driven approach, we achieve higher user engagement and increased conversions.
Partner with Shoreditch Design for best-in-class digital design
The process of product design is most effective when it’s adapted to your specific project — considering its complexity, budget, timeline and intended audience. All too often, entrepreneurs get started with their million-pound concept only to quickly run into resourcing roadblocks that halt their plans. But Shoreditch Design can help.
We’re a digital product design agency with decades of experience in creating cutting-edge digital products, from pioneering fintech platforms to stylish e-commerce outlets that change the way consumers shop. If you’ve got a bright idea, we’ve got the design skills to bring it to life.