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Product Design: Simply Explained

 |  Emily Henry

Product design: Simply Explained

Product design encompasses all aspects of the design process. From user research and problem identification to ideation, prototyping and finally testing and refinement, product design is an ongoing process. At its core is the need to create a product using product design software, be it physical or digital, which helps people to solve a problem. Here are 5 key phases in the product design process.

What Is Product Design? 

Product design refers to the process involved in the imagining and creation of new products aimed at solving problems. Product designers work closely with brands to help them create successful products that address a particular need within a given market. Importantly, product design can be used to refer to any product, including digital and virtual products.

Product designers are especially concerned with ensuring that the product is useful to the user, as well as ensuring that the product meets business goals. Product design aims to create solutions to real problems, for real people. As such, a clear understanding of users’ needs, behaviors, expectations, habits, and wants are essential. 

How Is the Design of a Product Created?

product design basics

Product design requires vigorous brainstorming, planning, and execution. First, brainstorming will help get your project off the ground through sketching. Then, the planning process will look at how the product design will be created (either through 3D modeling, 3D rendering, etc.). Afterward, you’ll create a prototype with reputable product design software.

One of the best software for product design is SelfCAD, which offers affordable 3D modeling regardless of your skillset in the business. You can download the software for either PC or Mac for free, or you can use it online. There is a free version, though it’s limited in functionality. To access all the details, you will need to upgrade your account at an affordable cost.

The 5 Phases Of The Product Design Process

The product design process will differ slightly for each product. However, most product designers will use the ‘design thinking’ approach to guide their process. Coined by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO, this approach has become increasingly popular due to the fact that it incorporates the ideas and methods of a human-centered approach to product design in a single, clear concept or definition.

1. Empathize With Users

The first step in any product design process is understanding the needs of users and whether or not there is a need for the product in the market. To achieve this, it’s essential for product designers to carry out user research. 

One of the most common qualitative research techniques involves conducting in-person or online interviews with users. Although these can be time-consuming, they offer the opportunity to gain additional insights by looking out for verbal cues, as well as body language. Typically, interviews are conducted one-to-one with an experienced interviewer and tend to last for about half an hour. However, asking the right questions is essential to this process.

Another popular option is to use online questionnaires. These have the benefit of being cheap to conduct and being able to reach numerous people. Whilst there is scope to ask more open-ended questions, it’s not possible to delve deeper into the answers provided. Additionally, users tend to prefer to partake in shorter questionnaires with more close-ended questions, which are often quicker to complete.

Alternatively, product designers may choose to carry out a contextual inquiry. This is when researchers observe people in their normal day-to-day environments and gather information about the context of use. This provides researchers with the opportunity to truly empathize with users and their needs. 

Finally, market research is also extremely important. In particular, product designers need to have a clear understanding of what products are already available on the market, including how competitors are addressing similar problems. Learning from their design flaws can help a product design team to create a more successful design and product. 

Once all the data have been gathered, it’s important for the product design team to synthesize them, so they can apply them to the decision-making process. An important part of this user analysis includes developing a clear understanding of the target audience. Often, design teams will create a user persona as part of the process to help them gain a better understanding of who it is they’re creating the product for.

2. Define The Problem

Once all the data have been gathered and analyzed, the next step of the process involves creating a problem statement definition. This is when product design teams clearly and succinctly identify the problem they are aiming to solve.

This allows the entire product design team to develop a clear and shared understanding of the objective they are working towards. Additionally, this provides everyone involved with a clear goal to work towards, as well as the opportunity to define success criteria, both from a creative design perspective and from a business point of view.

3. Ideation Phase

The ideation stage of the product design process involves all members of the design team brainstorming a range of ideas and possible solutions to the problem identified. This is an important part of the process, as it allows all those involved (including stakeholders) to agree on a shared vision for the project to move forward. 

In this phase of the process, it’s important to consider how users will interact with a product, as well as what the user interface will look like. User journey mapping is a valuable process that many design teams use to help them better understand and visualize the user’s narrative. Its aim is to show the series of steps that a user will take when interacting with the product, in a timeline skeleton. Ultimately, whilst a user may have multiple scenarios or options available to them, it’s important for designers to try to keep the user journey as simple as possible to allow for a focused and more seamless user experience.

Another technique is to use storyboards to present and explore alternative scenarios. These can include scenarios of interactions, which help designers to identify what’s most important to users and how a user might use the product in their daily life. 

Sketching is another highly effective strategy for sharing and visualizing ideas, particularly regarding digital products and what the user interface may look like. Similarly, many designers also use wireframing as visual guides. These are helpful for discussing ideas with other members of the team, as well as stakeholders, particularly when accompanied by clear annotations. These can be presented as sketches or as digital illustrations. 

product design basics

A Woman Sketching ideas. Image source: Freepik

An important part of the ideation phase is to generate as many ideas a possible, trying to improve upon each one. Sharing ideas with others in the team and building upon feedback is an especially important part of this phase of the process.

4. Prototyping

product design basics

Prototyping is crucial because it allows designers to test an experimental model of an idea before fully committing to the full product or solution. Prototypes vary from paper sketches to digital prototypes and interactive simulations that function as a real product would. Different prototypes may be used at different stages of the process, depending on the product in question and which method is most effective and maximizes learning opportunities. 

Once a solution has been prototyped, it can then be reviewed by both users and stakeholders. This is essential for gathering feedback to help design teams better understand what is and isn’t working. From this feedback, the product can then be further refined and a new, updated prototype created. 

5. Test And Refine The Product

Once the product has reached a design stage that works as intended, it is then ready to be tested and validated by users. Usability testing is a crucial stage, particularly as it allows for any issues to be identified early on and addressed.

There are various usability testing methods that product design teams can use:

  • Dog-fooding – this is when the product is tested in-house before being released to the public. It enables the design team to empathize with the intended users and allows for critical issues to be picked up and corrected.
  • Unmoderated usability testing – users will be able to use and test the product without guidance or monitoring.
  • Moderated usability testing – involves a real person moderating and facilitating users in testing the product.
  • Guerrilla testing – when users are selected at random from public places and asked to perform a short usability test. This allows for large amounts of data to be gathered quickly and to test a wide cross-section of users.
  • Diary studies – these are used to test how users interact with a product over an extended period of time. The diary or log usually includes open-ended questions or prompts, allowing for designers to gain behavioral and contextual understanding. 

Even if your product has been released, it’s still important to make it easy for users to provide ongoing feedback. This may be acquired through surveys and email questionnaires, as well as product reviews. Analysis of key metrics is also important in helping designers understand what aspects of the product need to be further refined and updated. Before making any design iterations or changes, it’s useful for design teams to carry out A/B testing to gain a better understanding of what users prefer.


Product design is not a linear process and will vary according to the product and its stage of development. Even after a product is completed and shipped, there will still be opportunities for further improvement and refinement. The most successful products are those where product designers listen to users’ feedback and make necessary changes over time in response to the feedbacks, ensuring that the product continues to meet the needs of the people it was designed for.

About the author

Emily Henry is an experienced writer at Boom Essays, where she regularly writes about product design. Emily has worked with numerous companies throughout the country, helping them to better understand users’ needs. In particular, she is dedicated to helping businesses create digital products which prioritize the user experience. When not writing, Emily enjoys travelling and attending business conferences. 

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