There is a common misconception that a product’s user experience is owned solely by designers, especially by those whose titles have the words ‘UX’, ‘Interaction’ or “Product” prefixed to “Designer”. A product’s user experience can be influenced by many factors, some of them controlled by non-designers. These factors, intentionally or unintentionally influence the product design, and hence how users experience the product.
Designers and Design Researchers need to be aware of what these factors are, and how they will impact the product design.
They need to inform and work with the concerned stakeholders to enable them to take decisions that are positive for the user experience.
A product’s design and development process is not unlike film-making. Just like film-making involves people with multiple skills and capabilities, product design also involves multiple roles and skills, some design-related and others that are not directly related to design.
In any case, most products are not ‘designed’ by a single person, armed with the tools and methods of design. It is a complex and highly collaborative process.
Stakeholders, like business analysts, product managers, marketing managers, software architects, coders, content writers, and quality tester are, intentionally or unintentionally, involved in the design process.
They make many big and small design decisions that influence a product’s design and impact how users experience the product.
Here are five ways in which product design gets impacted by decisions not taken by designers and what designers can do to influence these decisions.
1. Deciding and Prioritizing Product Features
A product’s design is hugely influenced by activities that are part of the product planning stage.
These activities include decisions, like prioritization of features, what features should be a part of which release, and when a product gets released.
These decisions, typical of a product planning stage, are all important factors for the design of a product because features included or not included in the product directly influence the design and hence the product’s user experience.
In a purely user-centered design (UCD) process, deciding the features of the product is informed through a process of user research.
However, it is often the case that features are not decided purely based on a consideration of user needs as informed by user research.
Product owners or product managers drive some of these decisions mainly on business considerations like time, budget, skills, and availability of resources.
This is especially the case in Agile teams, where product owners have the final say in prioritizing and deciding the features of a release.
Every decision that’s taken at this stage, big or small, whether taken in consultation with designers or not, can have a big impact on the final design and experience of the product.
Designers need to work with product owners and inform them about user needs to enable them to make decisions that impact the user experience positively.
2. Product Positioning and Channels
A user’s experience of a product begins before they actually start using it. It begins when the user discovers, considers, and buys the product.
In most organizations, marketing teams own the channels the product is discovered by the user.
Marketing teams are in charge of important decisions, like selecting the channels to market, and how to brand and position the product.
These decisions are important from the user experience perspective as they can influence the user to form impressions that guide their subsequent use of the product.
Because these decisions can impact the user experience in positive and negative ways, designers should collaborate with marketing people in doing user research that informs them about what channels the users frequently use, and what kind of product positioning would align with user needs that motivates them to acquire the product.
3. Choice of Front-End Programming Frameworks
The choice of programming languages and frameworks can have a major impact on the design and hence the user’s experience of a product.
Each framework comes with its own set of tools and APIs that control the rendering and behavior of the front-end of a web app.
The choice of the framework also has “a direct bearing on the project’s durability and ability to fit in deadlines, further code maintainability, and scalability of your future app.” These factors are important considerations especially if you are developing an MVP.
Since the user is interacting with the front-end, small variations in its behavior can have an impact on the user’s experience of the product.
As these decisions, related to the choice of programming frameworks, are typically taken by technical architects, they become important contributors to product design.
Designers need to be aware of the capabilities and limitations of the front-end frameworks that are being used in the implementation of their designs.
Designers also need to research and inform architects about the types of devices and browsers used by target users so the architects can make informed decisions.
4. Back-End Architecture
The way a product is architected at the back-end impacts latency and load times of the front-end app, especially in the case of data-intensive applications.
If the user has to wait more than a few seconds for a screen or data to load, it will surely have a negative impact on the user experience.
The architecture of a software product is defined by technical decision, like how data is fetched, the caching mechanisms used, and the choice of database technology (SQL vs NoSQL).
These decisions have a direct bearing on latency and load times and hence on the user experience.
Software architects who design the architecture of a software product have a major role to play in the design of a product.
Designers need to gather and communicate the information on the contexts that surround the usage of a product so that software architects can make informed decisions on product architecture.
5. Product Notifications and Messages
Product notifications and error messages from an important but overlooked part of the user experience of a product.
These are often written by content writers or sometimes even the quality testers, who while testing the product notice that communication is lacking and suggest that it be included.
Many a time, the designers, who designed the overall product, may not be aware of these messages as they are included typically late in the development process.
As these messages can influence the user’s perception and hence the experience, it is important that designers involve themselves in this process.
The Way forward for Designers
Product design is a highly complex process. Designers and design researchers may be responsible for the design of a product but there are many factors not under their direct purview, that can influence the user experience of a product.
Designers need to be aware of what these factors, collaborate with concerned stakeholders and provide them with data about users, that enables the stakeholders to take decisions in ways that are good for the user experience.