The 3 most common misconceptions about design in IT product development

”Well, design in product development will take too much time and money. At the end of the design process, all I’m going to have are a few mockups and still no product. Why should I waste time and money, if I could just start the agile product development process right away?”

If you’ve ever thought about skipping the design phase to save some time, then this article will give you insights that prove the opposite. In the following paragraphs, I am going to tell you how easy it is to fall for some common misconceptions about design, how and why you should push away those thoughts, and last but not least, I am going to tell you why design should be at the forefront of your development process. Let me start with a short story of how I got introduced to the world of design.

We all are designers. Are we not?

7 years ago, when I was building my first CRM I wondered how to approach it best. I had a business and tech background but had no relevant experience in design, which allowed me to approach the design aspect of this project without biases.

That’s how I “invented” user personas and user journeys. I spent 2 weeks interviewing the sales department and other stakeholders. I created mockups that demonstrated step by step real jobs-to-be-done and real activities of sales representatives and their managers. All cool but these tools and knowledge had already been there for years. I could have used them earlier. Why didn’t I?

Around that time, people were caught up in the information pollution, and design had become a buzzword and lost its true meaning. There was a time when to me design was synonymous with a fancy awkward chair. I had zero curiosity about design – I thought that learning more about Design was a waste of time. However, with time, I learned about service design and design thinking, and I found a missing link between idea and execution.

Misconceptions about Design in IT

When design became a “thing”, people started to use the word design (as a noun) more often for describing the end result of designing (verb). Most of them had an opinion about designs (noun) but they were lacking the context and the purpose for which it was designed. They saw a distorted picture of what design really is.

During my years as an entrepreneur, I learned that these are the most common misconceptions about design in product development (from my experience in the IT industry):

1. Design is about making products look beautiful.

Sure it is. People buy with their eyes. But it’s just one part of the truth. Design in this context is about great interactions with the product and the look is just one final layer of product.

Most importantly, it is about translating business, market and tech insights into a usable product that people will buy.

2. The Design Process is unmanageable and chaotic. 

Not true. For example, brainstorming without a clear goal can be unpredictable but for professional designers that’s not the case. Design tools and activities are organized in a well-defined process.

In general, there are 4-5 stages, each with different objectives, inputs, activities, and outcomes. They can vary between different approaches, frameworks and methodologies (Service Design, Design Thinking, Design Sprint, ect.), but generally, the rules or framework are very similar.

3. Design with all those post-its doesn’t look professional.

From a distance, it may look that way. But once you’re fully immersed in the project you’ll see that you are tackling really important questions and critical issues. Businesses want innovation but real innovation doesn’t look like innovation, it looks like an inside joke that nobody gets. “Electric supercar? Yeah, right”. “Phone for $599? Yeah, sure”.

So what’s Design really about?

Let’s keep it simple- design is…

  • about profitability, feasibility, and usability
  • manageable and measurable
  • bout the effects on the users and the business

But let’s go deeper into the topic because I think there’s much more to understand about design and it has nothing to do with beautiful and aesthetic deliverables. Keep reading!

Unknown risks and opportunities

Most products fail because we try to invent the wheel. (Here, wheel = the framework for problem-solving, design and development that design is a big part of) Instead, we can use tools, an approach and a mindset that was defined and tested out over the last few decades.

Without this framework and guides, design in product development (especially in the IT . industry) is blind and based on guessing and invalidated assumptions.

If you would like to learn more about Design Sprints – a known and tested Design Framework – head over to our introduction of this 5-day framework. You’ll learn all about the benefits of running a Design Sprint Workshop at your company.

The main benefits of design in product development

Design could be called a mindset rather than an activity or any specific approach, toolbox or methodology. This mindset arranges different tools, processes, and frameworks to solve product development challenges. Here are a few benefits that this mindset can bring to your project:

1) Clear vision: 

It helps to set a clear vision in the presence of a dozen stakeholders with different agendas. Design and collaboration go hand in hand. Design workshops are an opportunity for a team to untangle a problem together by going through a series of exercises designed to get to a specific outcome.

2) Clear roadmap:

It helps to define a clear roadmap in the presence of hundreds of requirements and assumptions. Design is a neat framework that organizes requirements and solves complex business/technology/market problems. When you consider the determinants of a successful product, you can divide them into dozens of categories:

It’s almost impossible to take into consideration all of the dimensions of information without a proper framework!

3) Manageable risk: 

It helps to test assumptions, manage what’s known or defined and helps to uncover unknown risks and challengesWhen the product domain is explored it’s much easier to identify key factors that can impact your product. These risks are turned into assumptions and tested.

Also, design reduces risks of exceeding the budget or creating something that nobody wants. I can’t tell you the exact number but from my experience working at several software houses, I have never seen a project over $25k that went well without any design process at all.

In case you’re already familiar with the Design Sprint Framework, read our article about what you can expect during a Design Sprint, where you’ll get a glimpse at the 5 Design Phases + handy tips to run the workshop yourself.

Key takeaways

Less waste 

Many times design is as underestimated as a backup file. You understand the value of backups once you lose all your precious data. And you will value design once you lose 3+ months of work and still have a useless product that nobody wants to buy. This is no exaggeration 😀

Buyable products

Design is very important because otherwise, you’ll end up building something nobody wants and your product will fail.  Remember that there is a huge gap between what we think people want and what they really want. That’s why design emphasizes on the customer so much and starts with the discovery phase.

Less risky journey

When the product scope is explored, it’s much easier to spot risks that can impact your product. These risks are turned into assumptions and tested. Design reduces risks of exceeding the budget or creating something that nobody wants. From my experience working at several software houses, I have never seen a project over $25k that went well without any design process.

Mindset for growth

As I wrote earlier, design is more of a kind of a mindset so the purpose of this article is not to convince you to use some specific tools or processes but to give you the taste of how this mindset works and how it can help not only your products but your entire business.

I hope this article shed some light on some mistaken notions about design and why design in product development is critical. If you are struggling about how to implement design in your software development process or you simply want to discuss which frameworks would suit your company better, send us a message – we would be happy to help you!

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