3 Ways to Use Design Thinking to Build the Right Product

3 Ways to Use Design Thinking to Build the Right Product

So you have a product idea, but something’s missing. You’ve pitched to several friends and have gotten mediocre responses like, “That’s cool!” or “Seems interesting…” What do you do next? It’s almost like you’ve got the perfect dish – you know it has the makings of something divine and delectable – but it lacks depth, spice, and perhaps even texture. What do you do next? You know you need something but you just don’t know what…

Fear no more! Here is a guide of design thinking inspired questions to keep in mind as you continue to develop your product. After 6 years of designing both physical and digital products, I’ve rounded up the top questions I ask myself when designing. I’ve used these tactics while designing for Google, RetailMeNot, Favor, and many small projects in between. If you continue to ask yourself these questions, I promise you that your product will grow to become immensely appealing to your target users.

3 Ways to Use Design Thinking to Build the Right Product

1. What is the specific user need I’m solving?

This was something I knew in the back of my mind, all along. It seems like common sense, right? I thought so too. It didn’t really hit me that this question was what I need to be asking myself several times a day until I was at RetailMeNot (RMN).

One of the products I worked on during my time at RMN was the Store Page. Each merchant (Macy’s, Express, Target, etc..) has its own RMN page with all of its coupons listed out. At one point, I was working on introducing a new, more robust filtering feature on the page so that users could sort through coupons not just by type, but by category as well. My initial proposal put categories and discount types at the top of the filtering section and put coupon type at the bottom like so:

RMN Store Page - Draft
RMN Store Page – Draft

Looks like a decent solution, right? My thoughts here were that if a user could go directly to the coupon they wanted (like a coupon for baby wipes or bluetooth speakers), they could find it, use it, get a discount and be on their way.

However, I wasn’t really considering the user’s true need here. A quick discussion with my awesome designer friend Tyler Manhart reminded me of that. He kept asking me, “What problem are we solving for the user?” And I kept responding, “We’re letting them get to the coupon they want right away by filtering!” But I was forgetting one important detail from all the research I had observed and conducted: users want coupons that work and they don’t really care to see sales or other types of deals as much. They only want to see coupons with a discount code.

That simple idea is the reason you see Coupon Type as the first filtering option on any RMN Store Page today. I realized that when I user lands on this page, they want to first make sure they are looking at coupons that work and that have a code they can use. Only then would they want to filter by category or discount type. You can see the finished product here:

RMN Store Page - Final
RMN Store Page – Final

Designing in the world of coupons, I learned that I needed to be crystal clear and hyper-aware of the user need I was solving. If I couldn’t answer that question on the spot, it was a signal to me that something was wrong; either I was designing the wrong thing or I was looking at it from the wrong angle.


2. What is the #1 thing the user wants to accomplish?

Typically when designing any experience, there is one major driving factor for the user. That factor should always be in the back of your mind while developing a product. If your user could accomplish one thing with your product, what would it be? This keeps your product focused on the important things. Often you’ll see product creators bloat their products with too many extra frills and features.

A great example of this can be found in popular word processing applications. If you’re like me, you grew up typing papers in Microsoft Word, and saw the application’s header evolve and grow over the years into something like this:

Microsoft Word Screenshot (2008)
Microsoft Word Screenshot (2008)

Looks like a lot of cool features… good right? Maybe not. Some people just want to accomplish one thing with word processing applications: they want to write something in a document and share it with others for feedback. They may not need all of what Microsoft Word provides, besides some basic formatting. The fact that Word provides everything front and center adds complexity and then confusion for many users, which means these users are about to drop your product like a bad habit.

In contrast, an alternative word processing application for this group of users is Google Docs (which I use almost exclusively these days). Take a look:

Google Docs Screenshot (2008)
Google Docs Screenshot (2008)

You can see how the Google Docs product is much more streamlined and puts the most necessary things in front of the user. All other functionality is hidden behind a menu or removed completely. Notice that what is front and center and the main call to action is the “Share” button in the top right corner – this is the #1 thing Google Docs users want! SIMPLE! This tool allows users to think less, make fewer decisions and be super lazy. (Trust me, they’ll LOVE the last part.) Making something simple and straightforward will attract more users and keep them using your product much longer.

3. How does this look from the user’s perspective?

Put yourself in your user’s shoes. The only way you’ll be able to feel what they are feeling is to experience what they are experiencing. This idea is called “empathic modeling” and is practiced by many designers, researchers and companies around the world. In fact, many tech companies call this “dogfooding.” New features that are released are first tested by company employees and then released to the world.

Dogfooding is something we do regularly at Favor. The concept of the app is super simple: you order something through an app and a Runner on the other end receives and fulfills your delivery request immediately. In order to keep a product so simple, we have to constantly be monitoring the applications, using them ourselves and testing them out in the real world. Only under those circumstances with the pain points be revealed. In fact, this is how many of the features in our Runner app came to be!

One example of this is “Night Mode” that was released in our iOS Runner App a few months ago. One of our developers, Will Johnston, and a few other employees had gone running with the Favor Runner app at night and realized that the white and light-colored design put a strain on their eyes when driving and delivering after dark.

Favor Runner App iOS - Before Night Mode
Favor Runner App iOS – Before Night Mode

After a bit more digging, we found that several users had been complaining about this in one of our feedback channels. So Will, Cooper Welch (another Favor designer), and I went to work on creating an experience in the Runner App that was easier on the eyes at nighttime. After a little bit of testing, dreaming up colors, and messing around with code, we came up with Night Mode:

Favor Runner App iOS - Night Mode Enabled
Favor Runner App iOS – Night Mode Enabled

Favor Runners were thrilled when this feature was released for iOS! The fact that they loved it only confirmed that we were doing the right thing by taking our products for a test ride ourselves.

Knowing the feelings of the users intimately can really help set a product apart. The old saying is true,”You really can’t understand another person’s experience, unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” So – go out there! Learn how fitness trainers operate, how small business owners post on social media, or how race car drivers track their stats. Get inside the head of your user!And there it is! Three simple questions to keep asking yourself while building products. Asking yourself these questions isn’t always easy; if you are bold enough to do so, you will see an immense change in the quality of your product and even feedback from your users. It’s all about working smart, not hard. Use these questions as guidelines and I know you’ll be creating FABULOUS products in no time!

Still have questions? Comment below and ask away! Come back soon for more fabulous discussions about tech, design and business. And of course, thanks for reading!

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  • Love how straightforward and practical this advice is — thanks for sharing UX Queen!