How is Design-led Development Transforming Traditional Product Development

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The image depicted above is of a very innovative product, honoured with the Red Dot Design Award 2013. Designed by Yoon Taesik of Cheongju University, this L-Burner has been intelligently created to solve the problem of carrying heavy stoves and cylinders on picnics or treks. It is simple, easy to use and most importantly a problem-solver and result of designing with intelligence.

Wondering why we are discussing this on a tech-blog?

Because design leads the path to creating products which are problem-solvers.

Apple decided to keep it simple and it has worked wonderfully for them.

So did many other companies like Amazon and Google who, have maintained User Experience (UX) as their priority and won the confidence of customers.

Your favourite cuisine stays the most desired in your list for two major reasons, its taste is attuned with your taste buds and the other important factors being its aroma and presentation, including the garnishing.

Like a chef knows how to give those special finishing touches to any dish to make it mouth-watering, yet he requires the aid of all the members of the team, including the apprentice whose job is to chops onions; because a flawless meal requires perfection even to the minutest details.

It is same with design-led innovation where collective execution is required. This sounds challenging for the fear that the broth may be spoiled. However, in this case too it is not a single cuisine, you are preparing an entire meal. So, feel free to invite participants and be generous in your contributions!

Design-led development model revolutionizes the whole work ecosystem. Newer opportunities add value and you are able to rework better. Your user-insights are transformed into entirely new solutions.

I have been the chef in the designing field for a considerable time now and it is with experience that I have learnt what my customers will accept with a smile and what they detest. And the best part of my job is my customers change with every new application I am meant to create.

Although Design-led development model asks for a designer to fly the plane, he always needs the aid of navigators to tell him the directions and where to make a turn. In order to get a proper understanding of the design-led innovation technique, you first need to understand the model the latter is transforming.

The Longstanding Product Development Model

Recounting the scenario when there is an enquiry for product development.

This is how it happens.

The sales guy wants to close the deal on a profitable estimation and so he involves a project lead in order to acquire technical inputs. However, these estimations are more inclined towards the different functionalities that will make the application more dynamic, than understanding the desirability of the end-users.

The only input given to the designer are the requisites mentioned in the proposal; at the most he gets to interact with the client where he is only meant to grasp the ambitions and expectations of the product owner. Not to forget the designer too limits himself to creating an operational frontend, more than focusing on the user-pain points. Finally he is more likely to concentrate his skills on inventiveness and best practices than user-friendliness.

To summarise, the users of the product who will pass the final verdict are hardly given a thought amidst this practical and creativity hustle.

What’s Lacking in this Model

This example will highlight my viewpoint more clearly,for instance there is an app which gives you all the information about a product viz. product description, dimensions, price etc. as soon as you scan it through the camera lens of your smartphone; similar to the one on Amazon’s smartphone, Fire.

Now, when designing an application of this sort, what will the product development team concentrate on?

The functionalities to be used in the backend development will be given prominence, because the database will be huge. The UI needs to be highly interactive etcetera….

Yet the most important questions from an expert development team will be:

  • Who are the different personas who will benefit from this product, the interested buyers as well as retailers (and more)?
  • How to add a localization effect so that the audience finds the application useful?
  • Will adding a wishlist or shopping cart ease or complicate the matter for the users?
  • How to collect user feedbacks to further improve the user experience?

During all these years of working as a designer and then a design lead I have observed and learnt one important fact: the user is only interested in how useful and convenient a product is for him.

a) Is it solving a problem for him and giving the desired response; or

b) Is it complicated and he is unable to drive it to meet his requirements

c) And the most important factor, is it innovative? If there are already similar products in the market then there are fewer chances of your product’s survival

And it is for these very reasons the concept of design-led development has come into existence.

An In-depth Understanding of Design-led Development

The word to instantly strike my mind when I think of design-led development is ‘user-centric’.

In most of the products we design, usability stays at the focal point. Design-led development is all about bringing fundamental changes in our design perspectives such that innovation meets strategy; and strategy meets usability seamlessly. Since, the term innovation is a part of this process it is also termed as design-led innovation.

I always believe that an example always brings out the definition more clearly, so here is one of our experiences to help you get a clearer notion of design-led development. ISAIX Technologies, our client a reputed proprietor of corporate technological training and education tools wanted to rebuild his application, to give it multi-device compatibility and make it more accessible and usable.

Our UX designers were the ones who steered this ship for us. The client needed integration of new multimedia features in his app, so that the ever-changing technological requirements of the corporate learning community could be met. The designers who were involved since the beginning of the project had only one goal, making the app device-friendly and equally user-friendly.

The backend of the website was built using Microsoft Silverlight to make the app prompt and ensure perfect content display, which was critical during the training for the learners.

The refurbished rather newly built application was HTML5 based while .Net, SQL, JavaScript, jQuery, Ajax were blended for a compatible and sturdy solution. SCORM compliance and multilingual functionality were integrated to enhance its user-friendliness and receptivity across a wider audience.

Since, we used the Agile Development methodology, it saved the clients’ time and helped him market the app more effectively. In short, it was all about applying simple technologies but with a planned and intuitive approach.

[Tweet “A product’s effectiveness lies in its ability to solve the user’s problem and stay interactive.”]


With the expansion of the knowledge-based economy the roles of a designer have amplified; and it has become important for him to participate from the beginning in the product strategizing, analysis and development process.

The innovative concept of design-led development involves the integration of the different angles of user pain points, their needs; business strategies and requirements; and the technological suitability and benefits. With the aid of design-led development the final product is a blend of product-service model.

The calling of a designer should not merely be about the aesthetic appeal of the product but he should make an equal contribution in enhancing its functionalities.

Participants of Design-led Innovation

Users or Target Audience

They are the ones who create the demand for a product and it is these very users who will accept or reject the same, if it does not pass the test of their convenience and usability.

Product Manager

As it happens in most cases that your marketing guy has suggestions based on some study or survey, which might not resonate with your product specifications and thus lead to formation of misleading perspectives. Working with a product manager is a more suitable solution, he is an experienced developer, has a clear idea about what an effective design should embrace and knows what a meaningful product should be like.

Project Leads

If you are thinking of switching to a design-led process, the first step is towards building the right team and ensuring the right amount of participation from the team-members. What counts more than experience, is the ability of the project lead to create a fitting team and involve all the team members such that the brainstorming, conceptualization and initial acceptance along with scraping of ideas happen together.


Design-led innovation brings forward the expanded responsibilities and skills of a UX designer and gives him a pivotal role in transforming an idea into an innovative product. In order to create a product with human-centered design it is important that dissemination of information takes place at the ground level for better inputs of ideas. Moreover, prototypes should be introduced when there is some time in hand, but not before the product concept has taken shape.


To make your concept meaningful and well-architected you need the aid of a developer with some sense of design. Moreover, in order to create the proposed product you need to bring together the two big contributors. Taking into account the user-behaviour, their emotions and problems with the system, only a developer can ensure the creation of problem solving product.

The Marketing Team

Studying the demand for the product, the user-pain points and gathering feedback on the prototypes; all these critical jobs are carried out by the marketing team, hence their role remains important in the process.

Working with a Design-led Development Strategy

Let me first clarify that by ‘strategy’ I do not mean simply planning or scheduling of the various stages of the project. Your design-led UX strategy will take into account the biggest factor, different user personas in your user-base. Asking critical questions, highlighting the factors which might come-up as hurdles are important parts of strategizing.

For instance, in above mentioned example we needed to make the application compatible with different OS at the same time there was the requirement of an organized backend for the product. We put our heads together and came out with a solution that was functional, high on user experience and worked on different platforms and the best part it did not require anything special, just the right blend of technologies.

The Outline of Your Design-led Strategy should also aim to prevent over or under-designing as well as over or under-development. Like mentioned earlier design-led development is not merely focused on designers, it is about working identifying and resolving the major challenges in the development of a particular product such that you design something which is impactful and develop it accordingly to make it meaningful and user-responsive.



Involve everyone and start from scratch, it is best to go to the basics like drawing the graphics on a piece of paper. Everyone should participate and come up with ideas which can surely fit in as critical contributions. You will also be able to jot down the important user-pain points, which is difficult to be covered under one perspective. When you put heads together you are easily able to put the puzzle in place.

Mobilizing Different User Viewpoints

The knowledge gathered by surveys, reports or studies carried out earlier, to depict the demand and popularity of similar products; prove valuable in gauging the desirability as well as drawbacks of the product. Your marketing team’s observation report will help the designers and developers form a new perspective, other than what the client’s requirements state.

Creating a Prototype

Free-association of designers, developers, sales person as well as marketer will help in covering all the aspects to create a user-centered product. A designer in this case will be able to come up with the best UX solutions which will engender a more practical appeal to the product. However, providing equally valuable inputs for the back-end development will be challenging for him; and this is best handled by the expert developer.

Similarly, analysing the current market trends and the acceptance level amongst the audience for the particular product is the job of the marketing team. Hence we say design-led innovation is a collaborative process and everyone has to make an effective contribution in creating the prototype.

Iteration for Innovativeness

It is time to put at trial the projected solutions and come up with better possibilities. There were certainly drawbacks in your prototype, but chiselling those shrapnel will give you smooth edges. You have worked on the feedback that came from the various stakeholders and research groups and now you are ready to make the best from the finalized options.

Finalizing the Best Solution Collaboratively

Now, when you have different versions of the solution at your disposal, you need to pick the best from amongst it. The perspective of the stakeholders has been taken into account; you have worked on a UX which is a problem-solver for the users and the most plausible functionalities are to be applied. However, in this case you also need to focus again on the most innovative option which is not only reasonable but also marketable for the client. And once you have made your selection, the road ahead is a smooth highway!


However, it is never the same for everyone. Design is not an easy job, you have to know the user-insights and select not the plausible but the only best solution. In case of design-led development there is a team, all the standpoints are covered and then a decision is taken which certainly does not fail. In order to create a product that integrates user-interaction, ergonomics, innovativeness and most important of all emotional satisfaction to the user; there is the need to adopt an approach where instead of an individual, a team works right from the beginning.

Design of the product is given the centre stage and everything else works in collaboration with it. However, the design-led development approach is different not because a designer plays the key role; rather it is the total methodology which transmutes an idea into a pioneering and user-friendly product.

Anand Bhusari

About the Author

Anand Bhusari heads creative group at Net Solutions and has been in this field from past 15 years possessing vast experience in print, web and mobile. Anand thinks simplicity is the key to design. He is apple fanboy and loves spending time with his family.

Leave a Comment


10:38 PM, Sep 09, 2014

Very informative blog. Keep up your good work.


12:22 PM, Sep 05, 2014

Nice blog !! Thanks for sharing the information on design-led development approach.

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