Explore the role of design in delivering digital products for your customers and employees.
Digital products must play an increasingly central role in any organisation’s activities if they wish to remain competitive and relevant today. This evolution doesn't signify the obsolescence of physical products; the demand for tangible goods like breakfast cereal and bicycles persists, but the integration of digital tools is crucial. But even manufacturers of physical products like these must embrace digital tools and platforms to better serve their customers and enable higher productivity.
How to become a digital product organisation
For decades now, the world of business has been becoming more and more digital. By this, we don’t only mean that every organisation uses computer hardware and software. It’s also moving beyond using the internet for digital marketing and e-commerce.
Recently, when leaders talk about transforming their organisations to be more digital, they will be thinking in terms of digitising everyday processes across the business. This will involve getting to grips with the company’s data about its operations and customers – managing and consolidating data to make it available for wider business usage and intelligent analytics to unlock new business value.
They will be using automation, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to reduce or remove manual steps and improve process efficiency. Organisations will also be migrating systems to the cloud to enable agility, scalability and cost reduction.
Now, organisations are entering the era of the digital product. This does not necessarily mean that the products a company offers to customers will no longer be physical. Rather we are referring to the digital products or systems that organisations create and use to run aspects of their business or to serve customers.
In business terms, a digital product is an application, online service, software tool or digitised process. What qualifies as a digital product can range widely – from a platform like Google Search, Netflix or Spotify – to an online mortgage calculator or customer support tool.
Such digital products could include transactional web platforms, cross-platform mobile apps or specialist workplace tools – enabled by powerful back-end systems, middleware and application programming interfaces (APIs). These products may be customised versions of off-the-shelf solutions – but are increasingly created bespoke by organisations and their digital consultancies.
You can maximise the benefits of modern digital products for your organisation, workforce and customers by understanding the vital role of design – and recognising how a digital product consultancy can help you.
Recognising the importance of digital product design
What is it that makes expert digital product designers so important to a modern organisation?
Here’s how one digital leader views product design. Netflix has created one of the most successful digital products of the past decade – and the firm’s founder Reed Hastings has strong opinions on the business value of creative excellence. As he says: “In all creative roles, the best is easily ten times better than average.”
Working in harmony with software engineers, expert designers lift today’s digital products beyond traditional applications and legacy technologies. Great design takes the effectiveness, usability and value of today’s digital products to a higher level.
A skilled, experienced designer can help your organisation by providing a fresh and pragmatic perspective on your product challenges. The right designer can accelerate and elevate your project – whether focusing on a specific product area, or driving end-to-end delivery.
Working with a digital product design consultancy
A digital product designer is analogous to an industrial designer of physical products – in that they determine the form and functionality of a product, working together with engineers. But the skillset of a digital product designer is incredibly wide-ranging.
This places good digital product designers in high demand – and makes them very hard to hire. Many organisations do not have this capability in-house – and call upon external product design consultancies or agencies to help them.
By bringing together all the required product design skills and capabilities in one expert partner, a digital product consultancy can help your organisation deliver better digital products, faster.
A specialist product design consultancy can provide whole teams of expert designers. By working with an agency, your organisation gains access to the right design talent exactly when needed – without the challenges of finding, managing and retaining this rare resource in-house.
Even when an organisation has some in-house product design capability, it will often lack the experienced senior-level designers that can make all the difference to a project. A product design consultancy will have these senior-level professionals who can bring their valuable input to improve project delivery.
Working with an external consultancy can help open your teams up to an outside perspective on product design. This helps to challenge, rethink and improve your approach. It can also help to see products through the eyes of users and customers to better meet their needs.
Understanding the needs of users and business
Working as a key part of your digital product strategy team, an expert designer will help to develop and manage the high-level plan for your digital product. They will act as creative thinker, problem-solver and champion of the needs of the user or customer.
In this strategic role, designers help create the roadmap to ensure the product will provide real value to users, and have a good fit for the market or business requirement.
Creating an outstanding customer experience
Providing a delightful customer experience (CX) is increasingly recognised as being vital for any organisation – and should therefore be at the heart of all your digital product initiatives. CX is now seen as a key competitive differentiator for your business.
An experienced product designer understands that, when it comes to providing great experiences, the demands on organisations are much higher today than ever before. The designer knows that customers and users expect high-quality, delightful experiences – whether they are doing business with you or working for you. For this reason, the product designer will work to help your customers enjoy seamless multi-channel engagements with you that deliver on your brand promise.
The product designer will also help you give your employees the digital products, tools and processes they need to be more productive, reduce stress – and work from anywhere. They will help you gain new clarity into the effectiveness of your organisation’s digital experiences – and the capability to continuously improve them.
Combining expertise in UI and UX design
An expert digital product designer combines the skills of both user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design.
UX defines the overall experience that a digital product provides for the user. Based on the desired objectives and functionalities of the product, the designer will research the market and the target users.
They can then create representative user personas, identify current needs and pain points, and find opportunities to address these. Next they will map out user journeys and information architecture, determining how users will engage with the product.
Working within the UX ‘big picture’ framework, the designer then develops the detailed ‘look and feel’ of the UI to create an intuitive brand experience.
Example: Redesigning an existing digital product
Here’s a real-world example of how an organisation put digital product design expertise to work for their business – working with Elsewhen as their digital product consultancy.
Magic Mountain is a social fitness and wellness app, intended to help people build healthier behaviours through the power of teamwork. The business had gained traction with a quickly-built launch version of its app – but to reach the next level of growth, they realised they had to move up to a much more thought-through and high-quality digital product.
The UI did not resonate with most of the user base – lacking a premium feel of design maturity and refinement. There were also many instances where the UX was complicated and illogical. As a result, the app’s user retention rate was dropping to 13% within a month – indicating lack of engagement with the product.
The company worked with Elsewhen to overhaul the app UX and design new functionality – bringing additional value to the company and its customers. We worked to give the Magic Mountain app a fundamental overhaul. The design strategy had to be not only ambitious, but also realistic in scope. We had a fixed 12-week timeframe to achieve this transformation in advance of Magic Mountain’s next meetings with investors.
Our approach was to manage the available time in a series of two- week phases. An initial discovery phase was followed by five sprints of design and development work, using Agile methodology.
In the research and discovery phase, we ran workshops to establish the current status and desired objectives. We conducted interviews with a range of app users to understand their experiences and opinions. Our team also assessed and prioritised project features in terms of the RICE framework – reach, impact, confidence and effort.
Our findings in the discovery phase made it clear that the app user experience and interface needed a full refresh. This called for substantial work – but this had to be a pragmatic update rather than a complete reinvention. We transformed Magic Mountain’s rough conceptual ideas into a functional product design. Our research into real-world use cases for the app helped shape an improved user flow.
At the end of the engagement, we conducted a design handover – empowering Magic Mountain to move the app forward in future. Users loved the improved UI and UX as well as the new features of the app. Magic Mountain is now ready for a new phase of user growth and investor attention – with a digital product that’s truly designed for the future.
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