An Architect on a journey into the Product Design Space. (Week 2)

Designers are Creators and Creators rule the world.

It’s the second week of the Cowrywise + Asa Product design program which I’m very privileged to be a part of. However, this is my first class.

We kicked off the class by presenting the group assignments we were give the previous class. The assignment was to pick a problem in our society and propose a solution to it. I had missed the first class but made sure to join a group and work on the assignment. We proposed a solution to the high mortality rate in Nigeria due to lack of emergency services. I’m not going into details about our presentation because if you ask me, I think it was poor. However, I learnt something significant during everyone else’s presentation, the one thing they all had in common; Storytelling.

The Importance of Storytelling.

At the core of product design is User-Centricity. This is why in order to create a good design, it’s important to base your findings on real people. When we study and understand people, their problems which need solving, no matter how little, become visible to us.

When presenting your product to your potential users, you need to tell a story that makes them feel like they really need that product and have no choice but to get it. You want them to realize that your product is the best thing they never knew they needed. This is where stories come in. Stories are framed around real people and their real lives, not fictional characters and all the impossibilities that come with them. They provide us with concrete details about the problem and go ahead to inspire the opportunities, ideas and solutions designers eventaully come up with. Humans generally have a short attention span and it’s even worse when they are completely uninterested in whatever’s going on. But a good story captures your potential user’s attention because they find it so relatable. It’s sort of a reflection of their own lives. Stories are important because they prove that your product is in fact a necessity.

Here’s another lesson I learnt from the presentations;

Apps are the new cool but aren’t always the solution.

Not every problem today needs to be solved through an app. There’s more to technology than phone and web apps. That’s where your creativity as a product designer comes in. In this part of the world, when we think product or UX designer, our minds automatically think of softwares. However, technology isn’t limited to just softwares. The devices that house these softwares are also as a result of technology. And guess what? People who design those hardwares are product designers as well. It could be as little as a smart wrist band or as big as an OLED Tv.

With that being said, what if just another app isn’t the best solution to that problem? What if a seemingly minor feature added to an already existing app might just be the big break you’re looking for? What if designing a hardware, as ambiguous as it may sound, is the simplest solution to that problem? I may be wrong and the actual solution might just be another app but I want you to leave no stones unturned before arriving at the solution.

My final important lesson is about Primary and Secondary research. Secondary research is done by other people, while primary research is done by you, the designer. Both are important. As a designer, a secondary research should merely be a foundation for you to carry out your primary research. Designers, never build your product on secondary research.

My takeway from the actual class.

What UX design is not:

User experience (UX) is not design thinking. Design thinking is great but being aware of it doesn’t automatically make you a UX designer.

User experience is also not User Interface (UI). A common misconception is that UI&UX are pretty much the same thing or are interchangeable terms. I’m here to tell you that this is false! UI is what allows for interaction, its basically what users can see and touch. Its those apps or softwares you use. UX however, isn’t just about creating products. It’s creating products that give users meaningful and relevant experiences. UX is what adds value to UI.

UX transcends the aesthetics we see. The visual appeal is part of and can influence UX design but it is not in itself UX design. UX involves making the users the core focus by spending a lot of time asking questions and getting the necessary feedback to understand what they really need. This is primary research. Primary research influences your design requirements which in turn morphs into those features added to UI. Without UX, all you have is an aesthetically pleaseing UI. This is why its possible to be great UI designer and a bad UX designer if your product looks good but is too complex to understand and navigate by the end users.

Sub-disciplines of UX design

  • Information Architecture: This is the act of structuring and organizing your content in the way that users find it relevant. Good information architecture does not prioritize aesthetics over usability.
  • UX Strategy: This is the long term plan that considers all the necessary factors that makes the product successful and stand the test of time.
  • Interaction Design: The creation of dialogue between a person(the User), a product/system/service and Time. It can be referred to as communication. The user sending inputing a message into the product and the product giving the user the appropriate feedback. What happens when a user clicks on an icon? What information comes up? Is it what they expect? Do they have to make too many clicks to get what they want? These are some of the questions that lead up to a good interaction desig.
  • Service Design: This aims to convince your customers to become users of your product. Service design is what makes Miss A, who has been hearing about your product but remained skeptical, click on your website and decide to become a user of your product.
  • Visual Design: Visual design focuses on people’s minds and how they interprete graphics. Visual design is where aesthetics comes in. A good design should be aesthetically pleasing but not in a way that is overwhelming and gets in the way of user experience. Visual design should seamlessly add to the users overall experience with the product.
  • User Research: This is a process that is carried out before a designer even puts pen to paper and continues throughout the lifecyle of the product. It focuses on user behaviour, their thought process, their aims and objectives. If you intend for your product to beused by actual humans, you might as well extensively research about what it is that they need.
  • UX writing: This focuses on words and how they fit within a strategy. The goal is to capture the users attention be easy to understand. Some things to consider are text styles, colours and structure.

I’m about to wrap up this article but let me digress a little with something quite interesting I’ve discovered on my journey to becoming a product designer — Architecture and product design are similar in more ways than I expected. The process that leads up to finally designing a product isn’t so different from what Architects, such as myself, do before designing a building.

One of the oldest topics of debate amongst Architects is “Form follows function”. Maybe i’ll write about this soon. To my suprise, this same argument came up during our product design class. Apparently it’s also been an ongoing debate in the tech design space for the longest time. I just find it interesting how there can be so many diffeernt categories of design but there will always be certain fundamental principles that tie them all together.

To be continued…

I'm an Architect and a soon to be Product designer. I'm also a Podcaster and an all-round creative badass.