Steve Jobs has famously said, “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is about how it works.” Truly enough, these days design has transcended beyond the box of purely serving to provide aesthetic value to a person, object or event in the word. Designers have gone beyond just “prettifying” materials; the goal has shifted to evoking emotion from audiences, delighting them so they remain satisfied and to an extent loyal, or eliciting a reaction in efforts for the design, brand or product to fully engage with its viewer or user.
This in itself sounds like a handful of a task for any designer, which is why different specific fields of design have prospered over the years. UI and UX designers, as positions, have long been around mainly focusing on how a product looks and feels to its users. But as customer demand (who now want more personalised experiences and interactions) and competition strengthened amongst the growing number of businesses, the aspects these designers took care of became just part of what is now a complete process on creating products that holistically understand, serve and (later on) satisfy customers. That process being product design.
Simply, product design as a step forward on how design now works with the rapidly-changing demands of the modern world.
“It’s about the entire process of creating usable products and experiences, starting by defining real people’s problems and thinking about possible solutions. That will eventually lead to the best design.”
The emergence of the design thinking process may have influenced the evolution of how product development works, and designers are now in the forefront of it. Innovation is more than ever the key for businesses to survive, and at the core of it is acquiring genuine and quality customer insight; because for who else are they pushing out products for anyway? Nowadays, data and information are as much currency as the money in our pockets, and it starts with knowing a customer’s real problems, not merely perceived ones. From there the whole design thinking process builds up on it, creating new ideas and prototypes executed later on for testing, feedback and improvement. At the core of it, design thinking — and in essence now product design — is all about problem solving.
With product design at the forefront giving businesses the edge it needs against competitors, a new role has emerged, giving way for what Nick Babiche of Adobe described as a designer who designs experiences — the Product Designer. The role however is obviously not a simple one. The Product Designer has to balance having technical skills, being more than adept at design, content and most especially research, and soft skills, which Leonie Brewin of Novoda identifies as empathy, curiosity, fearlessness and self-awareness to fully grasp the needs of the customer. One should not have to wonder anymore then why that quite often, the Product Designer is described to be as the “champion of the user’s needs.” After all, the whole process does start there.
Chris Jones of the Silicon Valley Group describes the role as, “. . . the modern product designer participates in all phases of a product, from discovery to delivery to iteration. Rather than sitting with fellow designers, the modern product designer sits together with his or her product manager and if at all possible the team of engineers building the product.” Eric Eriksson, Product Designer for Instagram, breaks down the design aspects that make up the scope of the role. It manages the researchers and analysts who gather quality data and produce valuable insight into the customer’s dilemma. It gathers the different designers (UI, UX, motion and visual) and prototypers to create the winning idea to solve the problem, give it form and test it out before throwing it back into the world. And before that even happens, the Product Designer works with marketing, sales and communication personnel on deciding the value of the idea they have been working on, and how it will be communicated and delivered to the intended customer. As Product Design covers whole process, so is its titular designer deeply involved in every step of the way.
“(They) will gather user data, brainstorm ideas, and validate the best ones by getting them in front of the users.”
As Product Design oversees the whole process, it grants the opportunity to present a bigger picture of the problems and solutions at hand. Change is the only thing that doesn’t in this world and by adhering to the ways of product design and design thinking, challenges and obstacles (whether for the business or its customer) can be solved and overcome with the right information and the most creative ideas. Through product design, designers are no longer just making the world a more beautiful place, they are reshaping it for the better.