User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

Toward an Integrated Approach to Product Strategy and Design - Part 3 of 3

October 21st, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I explored synergies that exist between product development and user experience design as well as how the two fields fail to leverage those synergies in the product development process. In this part, I explain what product development and user experience teams can do to collaborate effectively.

What Can Product Developers and User Experience Designers Do Better

The instances where product developers and user experience designers collaborate poorly can be easily ameliorated. Overall, this means incorporating a more dynamic and integrated product development process where both teams work together on key phases and in shorter and more frequent cycles rather than long, inflexible phases. The particular steps that need to be taken to accomplish a more integrated process are outlined below.

  • Both teams should utilize an iterative and dynamic product design process instead of rigid, linear approach.
  • Both user experience designers and product developers should be involved in identifying opportunities, competitive analysis, market and user research, feature design, design refinement, implementation.
  • Product developers should not seek to define how each feature should work, but should rather define the broader project goals and product requirements.
  • User experience designers should stick to constraints defined by product developers, should consider the viability of their design in the context of implementation and marketability, and should consult with product developers on viability of features.
  • Both the user experience and product development teams should garner more frequent feedback from each other.
  • Treat the specifications documents and user experience design collateral as living documents.
Iterative and Dynamic Process

The most important optimizations to the product design process is incorporating shorter and more frequent product development cycles as well as involving each team in key phases. Although one team may take the lead in a particular phase, both teams should be involved in tasks that can benefit from both sets of expertise.

An Iterative and Dynamic Product Development Process (This abstraction does not implementation.)

An Iterative and Dynamic Product Development Process (This abstraction does not include implementation.)

A more dynamic and iterative process will force greater exchange of ideas and more frequent checkpoints. This means that the product design can change tack regularly, allowing the design to incorporate requirements and input from both teams instead of heading in a wrong direction for long periods of time and wasting time and resources.

The user experience design and product development teams can collaborate on many key stages in the product development cycle.

The user experience design and product development teams can collaborate on many key stages in the product development cycle.

At the same time, ensuring that both the product development and user experience teams are involved in tasks that require both sets of expertise can ensure that work is not duplicated and that solutions are more robust. Both the product development and user experience design teams can collaborate on such tasks as:

  • Determining business objectives
  • Identifying markets, customers, and their needs
  • Analyzing the competitive landscape
  • Conceiving a product strategy
  • Vetting unsound ideas
  • Defining and designing product features
  • Conducting and analyzing user and marketing testing
  • Refining product features and design
  • Ensuring accurate implementation of product design

Not only does cooperating on the above tasks lead to greater efficiency but also to a better product strategy and design.

The Discovery Phase and Fuzzy Front End

The conventional product development process does not intensively involve user experience designers in the fuzzy front end, where their expertise can be very beneficial. It is the product developers that typically analyze users and their needs, conduct competitive analysis and market research, identify product opportunities, come up with feature ideas, vet those ideas, and document product requirements. In all these tasks, user experience designers posses competencies that can be leveraged to improve the final outcome of this discovery phase of the product development process. User experience designers should be incorporated throughout the above tasks, or the fuzzy front end should occur in multiple spurts, where the teams alternate working on the product strategy.

The ultimate outcome of the discovery phase should be a robust product strategy articulated in the product requirements document that defines relevant information for the design and development phase. The PRD should capture such things as market opportunities, constraints, user types and use cases, and feature requirements. The discovery phase should end at this point, and product developers should not define how specific features must work; that is primarily the responsibility and competency of the user experience design team.

Finally, the level and nature of specification in the user experience design and PRD must be appropriate for its function and audience. The PRD should define the strategic outline as well as relevant information and should not seek to define the user experience design before it occurs. The product requirements document should lay the foundation for the user experience design team without duplicating their work.

Design and Development

Once the high-level product strategy has been defined in the PRD, the specific features comprising the product must be further detailed. The user experience design team is chiefly tasked with this as they have the training and expertise particularly suited for designing how features function as well as work together toward a coherent product experience. However, user experience designers should not operate in isolation for long stretches of time. Such an approach exposes the potential for wasting time and resources on designing features that are not in line with the product requirements, are not viable in the marketplace, or are not practical to implement.

As in the discovery phase, both teams should be involved throughout. Despite user experience designers taking the lead on the actual design, product developers should be more involved in reviewing the design and adding their input. Design should occur in short spurts with frequent checkpoints with the product development team.

While a more recursive process that involves both teams can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the product design, adopting a more responsive mode is key to ensuring that the most valuable designs are incorporated. This means that product developers must be open to refining feature requirements based on user experience and usability considerations. At the same time, user experience designers must welcome augmenting their design based on market and implementation factors.

These elements translate to the product strategy and design documentation. The product requirements document should be treated as an evolving document. During the overall product development process there constantly are new ideas, feedback, and data that lead to refinements which must be documented. At the same time, the user experience design should articulate how each feature will function and any relevant implementation details, so product developers can more easily evaluate them and ensure their proper implementation.

Product Experience Development

Adopting a more dynamic and iterative process and incorporating both teams throughout the product design process promises to produce a more robust and accurate product design within a shorter timeframe and with less inefficiency.

But beyond changing specific practices, I believe that product developers and user experience designers need to start thinking of the entire process in a different light. Product developers need to think of experience design as a critical and integral part of the product development process. At the same time, user experience designers must not consider their work to be insular, but rather an intimately connected facet of the entire product development process, which is directed and influenced by all of the other parts from market research to product support.

Moreover, I believe that the optimal product design and development process necessitates both product development and user experience design methodologies. I call this approach “product experience development” to emphasize the equal rolls of both fields in the overarching process. Product design and development focused on only one of the fields is incomplete and ineffectual.

Further Reading and Resources

—. Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) Website. <http://www.pdma.org/index.cfm>.

—. “Product Development.” Wikipedia.org. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_development>.

—. “User Experience DesignWikipedia.org. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_experience_design>.

Cooper, Robert G. Winning at New Products. New York, New York: Perseus, 2001.

Crawford, C. Merle and Anthony DiBenedetto. New Products Management. 9th ed. McGraw Hill, 2008.

Kahn, Kenneth B., Editor. The PDMA Handbook of New Product Development. 2nd ed. Wiley, 2004.

Kotler, Philip and Gary Armstrong. Principles of Marketing. 11th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2006.

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Paluch, Kimberly S. “What Is User Experience Design?Montparnas.com. 10 October 2006. <http://www.montparnas.com/articles/what-is-user-experience-design/>.



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