Reflections on Product Design
This past week marks my first week as a full-time student in Designlab’s UX Academy. While I’m new to the field, my past life as a hardware test engineer laid a foundation of research and test methodologies that I think will help me become a well-rounded UX Designer.
This week, I’m reflecting on product design — how I got here, what makes a product “good” vs “great”, and doing a deeper dive on some of the products I use daily and why I use them.
What personally attracts you to product design?
I’m a problem solver at heart — an avid crossword puzzler, a lover of games and puzzles, a pattern-recognizer and a solution-oriented woman. I went to school for engineering, where I spent four years learning how to tackle complex problems with mathematical and scientific solutions. Since school, I’ve spent 4 years working full-time as a hardware test engineer, developing text methods for validating designed-hardware.
While I loved the rigorous problems and the satisfaction of coming to a solution that I encountered in engineering, I found the field to be lacking a human element. Sure, we could design a vehicle that could go faster, a battery that could last longer, tires that would never go flat — but would the user know how to use it? Would the user enjoy using it? Would the user even be able to use it on their own, or would they need additional instruction?
The lack of focus on the user in engineering lead me to UX and Product design. I’m more interested in the psychology behind how a person innately interacts with something and how they get to know and use a product over time. I want to get into product design to learn how I can help to design things that will make my user’s lives easier in tangible, ever-day kinds of way.
What’s the difference between what makes a product good vs. great?
A good product solves a problem for a user. It allows the user to accomplish something tangible in a reasonable amount of time without much difficulty.
A great product does the same, but does it so elegantly and seamlessly that it takes almost no effort from the user at all.
As summarized by this article on Lean Labs:
“Good design you can spot, break down, and document both what you like and how it was done. Great design is almost invisible.”
Every product we design should be at the bare minimum a good product. It should work. It should accomplish something. But I’m hoping throughout UXA and into my career, I will learn to develop great products that are aesthetically pleasing, seamlessly functional and innovative.
What digital products do use that are good or great?
Two products that I use extensively on my iPhone are iCal and Slack.
I can’t live without my iPhone calendar. I’m a busy woman with a lot of events to attend and appointments to uphold on top of completing my UXA work and staying healthy and sane. iCal allows me to keep my time organized and my calendar accessible to me at all times (assuming I’m carrying my phone, which I am pretty much all the time). iCal took a simple and time-tested idea — the calendar — and made it mobile and easy-to-edit, with alerts and reminders and a whole host of other features to help users stay organized and on time. I would consider the calendar app a good app.
Another productivity app that I use, which I consider a great product is Slack. Slack is one of the most innovative digital products I’ve encountered in the last 5 years. It has completely changed the way people communicate at work, for the better in many ways. Prior to the advent of slack, workplaces primarily used email and some sort of instant messaging platform for contacting coworkers. Email is great, and still has a place, but it doesn’t facilitate real-time conversations in groups. Instant messaging on its own allows for real-time communication, but often one conversation could contain many subjects and would be difficult to search.
Slack developed a platform to allow instant messaging with automatic archiving and the ability to add as many members as needed to topic-designated chat channels. In these channels you could post links and images and documents, which was a huge improvement in organizing workplace communication. And slack has grown way beyond just workplaces. Right now, I’m in a school-focused slack, two friend-group slacks and a slack for design professionals. It allows people from all over the world to come together in topic-focused communication.
Slack is very easy to use. It solved problems I didn’t even know that I had. Their app works flawlessly, as does their website and desktop application. The organization of information is intuitive and every time they add a feature I know it will work as expected.