WTF is ‘Digital Product’?

Explaining what digital product and digital product work is, in language that even your parents will understand.

Jules Ehrhardt
Jul 5, 2016 · 3 min read
Terminator robot in post-apocalyptic landscape

This little ditty is an extract from a wider piece on the state of the digital industry originally published on the Marvel Blog, now available here. Below is a slightly edited extract attempting to bring some definition to Digital Product and Digital Product Work? Why you ask? Well pretty much everyone is talking about digital products these days so… because.

What is ‘Digital Product’? In as human speak as possible — in the style of trying to explain to my mother what I do — here goes…

A Digital Product is a software enabled product or service that offers some form of utility to a human being.

Real world examples: Your favourite car service app such as Uber or Lyft, your mobile banking app with Chase or Barclays, your shoppable H&M or Nike app, the digital dashboard in your Tesla car (lucky you), the interface of your consumer electronics devices such as your phone or smart watch, the controller app for your Sonos speakers, or an investment bank broker’s trading platform. Some products and services are made up mostly or entirely of software such as your Facebook messaging or Tinder ‘dating’ app. This is the software that is eating the world as almost all businesses come to be digitised and run on software.

The digital touchpoint through which a human interfaces with said product or service can sit on many types of platforms and devices. Those can include web, mobile, auto, wearables, VR and beyond. Things are slowly moving beyond the visual interface towards the more natural form of conversational interface. Such examples are speaking with your Amazon Echo or accessing services in written conversation in your messaging app. As you are interacting with the product it does more than simply display information, as say a marketing website does. Complex interactions take place between the part you use (the front-end) which is connected (integrated) into the wider system that runs the service in its entirety (the back-end). This means software is core to it all.

‘Digital product’ or ‘product’ work is the delivery of the digital touchpoints of a product or service.

Delivery can involve end-to-end concept, design, and engineering of the digital product, bringing it through to market launch and beyond. Delivery can draw on multiple disciplines of not only design and engineering but also business strategy, product management, data science, and marketing.

There are multiple players involved as well as not inconsiderable cost. So the aim is to make the process as holistic as possible in order to get the product to market efficiently. So the method by which you deliver the product becomes as important as the product itself. Well-established best practices of product development include integrated teams, Agile (not waterfall), SCRUM, Lean, and Continuous Delivery methodologies. All of this makes digital product delivery an expensive investment. Engagements can run over many quarters and even years, commanding a high premium and margin. The budget for this kind of work usually comes from places other than the marketing department, which usually makes shorter-term, campaign-based investments.

The point is this... All client’s businesses are becoming heavily software driven. So client demand has shifted towards the actual delivery of digital products and services into market, rather than just the strategy behind or marketing of them. In addition Design has become recognised as a critical factor in creating successful products and services. All of this has placed a premium on those skills and the relatively few companies that can offer it. Thus the red hot M&A market for studios who can offer those capabilities and a whole lot of posturing by those who can’t.

For those who wish to nerd out on the topic, here’s pretty great stab at What is Digital Product Design by Paul Devay.

If you want to read the piece where this came from, check out ‘State of the Digital Nation 2016’. Grab yourself a flask of coffee and a few packets of smokes as it’s a good old fashioned ‘long read’. Peace.


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Jules Ehrhardt

Written by

First Human @fktry / former owner @ustwo / founder @pledgepl . Design / tech / startup / crypto / life. |


A publication accelerating knowledge and insights for the creative tribe’s journey through tech, startup, and venture. Follow to join our community.