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Why Digital Product Development Must Rely Upon a User-Centered Design Approach

User centered design approach

Maintaining a successful brand presence in the modern digital landscape is all about having a strong take on digital product development and the implementation of the ensuing offerings. From branded apps and websites, to a strong eCommerce platform that funnels page visitors through the purchase and confirmation process, these digital products represent your organization and serve as the driving force behind the sustainability of your company.

Because of this reality, it’s imperative that your stance on these offerings revolves around a user-centered design approach that places the needs and desires of these individuals at the forefront of the conversation. Otherwise, you run a substantial risk of creating a disconnect with your target audience and letting valuable business leads and market share fall into the hands of competitors who understand the importance of designing digital products with the end user in mind.

If you’d rather not fall prey to this less than desirable outcome, let’s spend some time talking about why digital product development must rely upon a user-centered design approach, as well as how best to go about this process. From here, your brand will be able to let this newfound understanding lead the way toward a brighter commercial future – all thanks to the creation of powerful and intuitive user-centric digital products.

The Basic Tenants of the User-Centered Design Approach

Before going any farther with this discussion, it’s important to provide you with a strong understanding of the basic tenants of this approach. According to Sitepoint’s Adrian Jones, this take on the digital product development process can be boiled down to five key concepts or principles:

  • Understand your audience and support the goals of these users.
  • A great user-centric design is easy to learn and enjoyable to use.
  • Consistency is key across each screen or phase of a digital product.
  • Create an interface that “speaks” to the customer via smart navigation and feedback opportunities.
  • Having problems or bugs is simply not acceptable as part of a user-centered design.

As you can see, user-centered design is all about putting the target user at the forefront of the development process. To do so requires having an intimate knowledge of the consumer’s needs, as well as tailoring the digital product experience to the goals of this audience. Additionally, creating a consistent and bug-free experience that allows for interaction with these users is also a key pillar of the user-centered approach.

In terms of a strong example of the above tenants in action, example of Uber Conference is worth quoting as it embodies the concept of developing a digital product exclusively with the end user in mind.

Uber conference UX

UberConference, with its simple design, is a visual conference calling done right. Perhaps the most impressive part of Uber Conference as an example of this approach is its simple design for easy team communication. With UberConference, it’s simple for users to join conference calls from their phones without having the headache of remembering and entering PINs, while also never having to wonder “who’s here” and “who said that”.

Why Focusing on the Needs of Your Users Is Vital for Digital Product Success

Now that you understand what user-centered design is and how it works, it’s time to cover exactly why this viewpoint is vital to your digital product success. The best way to explain the need for this stance on design starts with breaking down a quote from industry expert Jesse James Garrett, via a post on SlideShare from Inzovu’s founder Jason Ulaszek:

“If you’re only looking at the problem from your own point of view, you’re only going to be, at best, half right.” – Jesse James Garrett

The point Garrett is making is that developing a digital product without the end user in mind naturally leads to gaps in performance and effectiveness. Think of it this way: If you don’t know exactly what this audience wants, how could you and your team of web and app development experts ever hope to meet their needs?

Going a step further, Ulaszek notes that promoting a user-centered approach to the development of digital products also comes with a wide array of tangible benefits that bolster your bottom line and encourage brand success. These benefits include:

  • Increase in overall product quality.
  • Higher customer satisfaction and product sales.
  • Elevated user acceptance and adoption rates.
  • Increase in end user productivity.
  • Lower support and training costs.
  • Reduced maintenance costs via the fact that user needs are met before products hit the digital marketplace.

The recurring theme here is that leveraging a user-centered outlook to digital product design offers a more effective, complete, and productive experience for brand and end user alike.

Standing true to the above benefits of a user-centric design is QuardioArm app that helps measuring, recording and sharing user’s blood pressure data with the family or doctor using the Qardio App, compatible with iOS and Android devices.

qardioarm UX

Its user-centric design is a winner as it eliminates all the inconveniences that come with regular blood pressure monitoring, that too, without looking like a medical device. Its simple 3 step manual wrapped inside the cuff for the user to find it before the first use or doubling the use of the cuff as a protective sleeve is capable of fitting into a modern lifestyle.

Understanding the Importance of a Development Process That Relies Upon Strong Design Tactics

Even with all of the aforementioned benefits framing the discussion, many organizations still adhere to inefficient or antiquated design practices. Unfortunately for this stubborn segment of the marketplace, the continuing trend toward user-centric digital experiences proves that making the switch toward end user driven development isn’t an optional choice; if your brand wants truly succeed with its target audience, putting these consumers first is virtually mandatory.

Breaking down User-Centered Design Principles and Best Practices

As far as how to enact a user-centered design goes, Gartner’s Ray Valdes and Brian Prentice suggest following a four step process that places an emphasis on properly valuing the consumer through each phase of development. These steps include:

  • Observe – Understand who fits into your target audience and what kind of apps these consumers currently gravitate toward.
  • Define – Lay out a strong definition of what constitutes a winning user-centric experience in relation to this audience, as well as how your brand and its team of trusted digital product development experts can achieve these goals.
  • Build – Craft the first iteration of your user-centric app or other digital product based on these specifications.
  • Refine – It’s not very often that a project is perfect on the first try, so be prepared for multiple stages of focus group testing and the subsequent refinement process that follows this user feedback.

By following through with the core concepts outlined by Valdes and Prentice, your brand will have the ability to form a strong plan for researching and implementing an engaging user-centered design. However, this is merely the framework for embracing a user-centric approach; to truly stand out on this front, you need to be willing to go above and beyond when it comes to offering features and functionality based on the needs of your audience.

A good example of this transition in action is Slack, a resource that lets create teams of unlimited members and share not just your messages, but files, images, documents, PDFs, and spreadsheets can also be shared with anyone.

slack UX

The fact that Slack is not a basic instant messaging and collaboration system but a revolutionary innovation under the hood is one of the best things about the product. It allows users to centralize all their notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where their teams can discuss and take action on each.

To achieve a powerful user-centric deisgn, Smashing magazine’s Dave Schools outlines six advanced user-centered design principles. These concepts and tactics serve as a series of industry “best practices.”

  • Irreducible Simplicity – Extraneous features and unnecessary additions bog down the user experience, so question every functional inclusion to ensure that these offerings truly enhance the experience of your target audience.
  • Immediate Intuition – Designing with intuition in mind ensures that your base of users know exactly how to use the digital product without an extensive learning process.
  • Beauty Underneath – Beauty isn’t just skin-deep in the app development world. Make sure that all of the backend functionality and processes are coded correctly. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when bugs and other hiccups diminish the experience of your audience.
  • Approachable Innovation – Don’t try to do too much at the expense of what your audience desires from your product. Innovation is a great thing, but overloading a product with too many changes makes the user experience “scary” or unapproachable.
  • Form and Color Agreement – A strong selection of colors, packaging, and other aesthetic features helps enhance the stated purpose of a digital product.
  • Replicable Methodology – Developing a winning digital product isn’t about short-term success. Having a replicable methodology behind this success ensures that your brand consistently offers up apps, web tools, and other selections that meet – and exceed – the needs of its target audience.

A powerful example of these concepts in action is the Volkswagen site, which uses matchmaking functionality that aims at helping users find their dream car based on whatever particular model, color, features, or price they are looking for. Good thing is that each car even has its own profile page with features, images, and payment estimator.

VW UX

Site’s basic concept is “It’s like a dating site. Except it’s for cars.” Just like online dating is about finding someone you want to meet your local area, through this site, people can look out for cars in their local area and ‘meet’ the car, because car shopping in the U.S. is all about local inventory. This site, hence, aims at providing a single seamless and powerful experience that would get shoppers to real cars in their local area easier and quicker.

Defining the Role of the Product Designer in the Development of These Offerings

If this sounds like a lot to handle in-house, you’re exactly right. Thankfully, there’s no reason why your brand has to go about this process on its own. By having a team of design experts on your side, Rajat Harlalka of Mind the Product points out that other members of the development team can embrace new and innovative viewpoints regarding product successes and failures.

“One area where Design Thinking really helped me was to change the way in which team members look at a product or a feature and accept failures.” – Rajat Harlalka, Mind the Product

Essentially, the role of the product designer isn’t just to create and develop digital offerings. These professionals must also illuminate advanced ways of thinking and direct the mindset of other team members and brand representatives toward what is actually required to succeed in the modern digital marketplace.

Harlalka also explains that having a product designer who can think with user-centric design in mind on the project also allows for the following attributes to enter the design process:

  • Perspective on the product definition from a multitude of disciplines.
  • Processes that increase empathy and awareness of the needs of the user.
  • Understanding the motivation behind each initiative and change.
  • The ability to expedite learning and promote sharing throughout the project.

In other words, the role of product designer spans virtually every phase of the process and goes beyond simple coding and development procedures. This expert – or trusted team of professionals – provides a service that enhances and accelerates the creation of digital products that most brands simply can’t replicate in-house.

Moving Forward with User-Centered Design in Mind

At the end of the day, there’s no escaping one very clear reality about the current digital marketplace: Successful product development must rely upon a user-centered design approach if the end digital product has any hope of truly making an impact with its target audience.

From understanding the needs of these users, to crafting an interface or platform that appeals to their sensibilities and desired functionality, embracing the user-centric approach does come with quite a bit of hard work and effort on the part of your brand and its chosen digital product development team.

However, with all of what you’ve learned here leading the way, as well as having the right team of trusted digital product developers on your side, there’s no reason why your next release within the digital marketplace can’t be a resounding success with the users who make up your brand’s core audience. The only question left to answer now focuses on whether or not you’re ready to truly embrace the tenants of user-centered design and reap the rewards that come with this kind of approach.

 

About the Author
Anand Bhusari
Anand Bhusari heads creative group at Net Solutions and has been in this field from past 15 years possessing vast experience in print, web and mobile. Anand thinks simplicity is the key to design. He is apple fanboy and loves spending time with his family.

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