September 7, 2022
March 18, 2020

How we help our clients to build products at The Gradient

Denys Skrypnyk

At The Gradient, we work with different types of customers on products of different sizes and at different stages of the product lifecycle. No two projects are the same, so to maintain our efficiency and keep the quality of our work high we have a set of approaches and processes to help us deliver the best results for everyone we work with.

In this post I’ll dive more into our cooperation models and how we as the product design agency tackle projects depending on the stage of the product lifecycle.

Cooperation models

Our three cooperation models vary depending on business needs and the goals at the different stages of the product lifecycle and they provide the core roadmap to building successful solutions.

Generally, we work with projects at the following stages:

  1. Idea validation — There is an idea that should be validated fast;
  2. Go-to-market — The problem is already validated and we need to build a product that solves this problem;
  3. Transformation and redesign — There is an existing working product, usually first MVP or Legacy product, that needs transformation and redesign;
  4. Growth — There is an existing product or ecosystem of products that enter the growth stage.

When a new client comes to us with a challenge, we evaluate business needs and goals, as well as the stage of the product and propose one of our approaches accordingly.

Cooperation model at The Gradient
Cooperation models at The Gradient

While our approach is flexible and may differ for different types of products, generally we have three main cooperation models with our clients:

1. Rapid prototyping: validate

Rapid prototyping is a helpful tool for a product team that lets them explore what problem we are solving and potential solutions. Prototyping gives us a chance to test ideas and validate the solution before building the full solution.

Usually, we set aside 2–3 weeks for brainstorming, research, and rapid prototyping. We start with a few quick workshops with the client to get an initial understanding of the problem, the market, the customers and the business goals. Then we create a quick prototype that can be tested with the target audience to get feedback and validate the idea. Prototypes help to minimize the amount of time spent going in the wrong direction.

In addition to the prototype, we often help to create a pitch deck and a landing page that would help to either validate the product idea or get investments.

In a nutshell:

  • Focus on testing of the product concept
  • Design investors’ deck and build landing page
  • 2–3 weeks

Approach to rapid prototyping

Case: Swan

The client approached us with an idea of building a Scan & Go mobile application for the UAE market. The grocery scanner app should allow customers to scan their items as they shop and check-out via the app.

We kick-started the project with a discovery stage aimed at understanding the business objectives of the project and answering the following questions:

  1. What problem are we solving?
  2. Who has this problem?
  3. What do we want to achieve?

Before starting to build the product, we had to: 1) formulate a clear hypothesis and 2) identify how to validate it. Designing an app from start to finish would take months and without validating our assumptions and collecting any feedback from potential customers could be very risky. If the project failed, it’d have been an expensive test.

So, how can we validate a new app idea without building the actual product? We proposed the client create a quick prototype of the app and test it with real people at shops and supermarkets.

Our research showed that our biggest target audience was made up of expats from Europe and North America. For us, that meant that the test audience’s shopping behaviors were similar to ours and there was no cultural context. That allowed us to start testing on our local market — to go to supermarkets in Ukraine and get feedback from real people.

To make testing as realistic as possible, we created a version of a Scan&Go prototype in Ukrainian and added product names from one of our local stores. Then we went to the store and asked customers to try using the app to scan their items as they shopped and to check-out via the app.

Testing Swan app prototype

Our goal was to test how intuitive the shopping experience was with real users. After a number of tests, we’ve been able to track the main problems and identify what improvements were necessary.

While we were testing the prototype with B2C users, our client was testing the idea with the B2B side of the project–retailers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Although retailers liked the idea of a self-checkout app, they showed more interest in online delivery which made us think of making a pivot to an online grocery delivery app.

2. MLP: build and launch

We made a transition from the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) because we saw a shift in the market. Years ago, having a ‘workable ‘ product as an entry point used to be enough to ensure some level of success. For example, when Uber had just launched, its app was far from what it looks like today but it was workable and usable enough to solve the problem of a horrible experience with local taxis. These days we have a couple of services like Uber on the market and if we want to launch a new one, our product has to be so good or so useful that people will want to make the switch. Nowadays, if a new product decides to enter the existing market, it must be so good that people would love it and switch to it.

Building MLP requires a better and deeper understanding of the problem, the market, target audience, and business aspects. We start with a deepdive that we call Discovery and Strategy stage, aimed at finding as many insights as possible. As a result of the Discovery stage, we consider our main hypothesis to be validated and define the scope of work.

  • Focus on what the business and the market needs.
  • Have a limited time frame of 3–6 months to build the product.
  • Define product scope focused on ‘lovable’.
Approach at The Gradient

Case: Swan

We pivoted the initial idea of building an on-demand online grocery delivery app, something like Instacart but for the UAE market. In this fast world, we need a fast solution for everything and that’s how delivery apps came into being. 😎

Swan app is working as an intermediary between the stores and the users. It provides stores and supermarkets with a way to reach more customers through their online portal.

For the users, it allows customers to search for their favorite grocery items in the local stores, order them in a few clicks and get them delivered right to their doorstep. From the customer’s perspective, the benefits of using a delivery app are evident: it’s fast, it’s convenient, it allows you to do your grocery shopping in the comfort of your own bed. That is why a product design team, our main goal was to create a fast and convenient grocery shopping experience for our customers.

Generally, the grocery delivery service consists of a number of products:

  • Customer app
  • Picker app, for those who would pick up the order in the supermarket
  • A driver app, for those who would deliver the order from supermarket to the customer
  • Retailer portal
  • NOC dashboard for Swan support team

For the customer app, our scope of work for MLP was a list of the most essential features of an on-demand grocery delivery app that was transferred into our backlog. Our team consisted of an agency Partner, two product designers, a business analyst, and a product marketing manager.

Our work was planned in sprints, with each sprint focused on a particular feature or solution for a business goal. Our designer worked on several concepts for each solution, keeping in mind that ease and utility are the key factors when it comes to delivery apps today. To design an ordering app, it’s vital to think over the variety of steps and clear navigation that will enable users to quickly put an order and get it delivered under diverse circumstances. At the same time, our business analyst worked on requirements, documenting numerous use cases, user stories and edge cases.

Another part of the scope of work was Picker and Rider apps. We watched a number of Youtube videos of how shoppers at Postmates, Instacart, and Shipt process their orders to better understand the process. However, in case with Swan, we needed to make two separate applications for the pickers and drivers. Unlike Postmates and Instacart, picking up the products and order assembly is done by different people.

Swan picker app
Picker app for Android

In parallel with the design process, we were working on the branding and marketing activities for the Swan app (you can read about how our design and marketing teams work together here). We conducted research with the target audience to find insights with the in-store shopping experience, to distill the positive experience that we would then transfer into online shopping. Our next steps were defining the main value propositions and creating a landing page that communicated them to our target audience.

Additionally, we’ve built a creative platform for the Swan app and a brand consistency guide that helped to keep the product design and marketing assets aligned. We created sets of illustrations and marketing assets for social media, the App Store and Google Play; email marketing templates; and all the materials necessary for launch and marketing communications.

Swan app visuals for Appstore
Visuals for App Store and Google Play

Offline advertising was important for the promotion of the app as we aimed to integrate offline and online experiences. As a result, we created marketing assets such as flyers, shopping bags, T-shirts for drivers, and banners that were placed at the stores and invited shoppers to download the app.

Swan app offline branding
Swan offline branding

3. Integrated team: Growth

Just because a product officially launches doesn’t mean the product design is over. In fact, product design is an ongoing process that continues for as long as a product’s in use.

When the product is built and launched, the next stage of the product life-cycle is growth where we help our clients as an integrated team and work closely with the client’s development, business and marketing teams. Our backlog of tasks is formed based on the client’s permanent needs, with the range of tasks going from the development of new functionality to small improvements, like changing text on the button.

Our integrated team usually consists of one of a few product designers (depending on the project size), business analyst, and product marketing manager with the strategic involvement of an agency partner.

How we work at the growth stage
How we work at the growth stage

How we work at the growth stage

The growth stage of product development is about continuous improvement. We closely work with analytics, optimization tools and user feedback to gather insight and identify opportunities.

During this phase, our marketing team also works together with a product team and provides ongoing marketing support. The focus of the marketing campaigns at this stage shifts to establishing a brand presence through email and social media marketing channels and increasing the product’s market share.

Case: Swan

We launched the Swan app as an MLP, based on the defined minimum scope of most critical features. The next stage for us was going through the long backlog of shelved features and improvements.

When the product is launched, usually the adventure is just beginning 😅. Some of our assumptions were not confirmed, but now we had an opportunity to look at analytics and make decisions based on data and real user behavior.

For example, we designed cool onboarding screens with beautiful illustrations. But numbers from analytics showed that they did not really work well and most users just skipped onboarding. We redesigned it, created several options and did an A/B test to see what would work better.

Another problem we discovered was the whopping 35% drop off that we saw during the stage when users have to enter the delivery address, which pushed us to simplify the flow. That is, in the post-launch phase, we dig deeper into analytics to see how users are *actually* using our product and to understand what we did wrong.

Swan delivery app
Swan delivery app

It is important to mention that we work both with quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative feedback is good in providing information about how users feel about using your product, if they have any frustrations or complaints. For example, we reviewed the support dashboard and found out that the most common complaint from customers was products being out-of-stock very often. Customers sometimes had to cancel the order because 3 out of 5 products were missing. It turned out that the problem was in not-up-to-date inventory lists, as some supermarkets didn’t update their lists of available products every day. So what happened was that very often the most popular products were out-of-stock in the shop, but were listed as available in our app. To address that problem, we came up with an idea to always show the user substitute options for items that are often low in stock or essentials. Now, when a user adds a hot item to the cart, Swan’s recommendation engine would provide a selection of substitutes.

Swan delivery app
Substitute options propositions in the Swan app
Qualitative data is great for discovering problems or opportunities, for exploring potential new directions, and for uncovering patterns or trends that might otherwise go overlooked.

From the marketing side, after the launch of the app our team continued to work on email and social media marketing, and AppStore optimization.

For social media, we worked on the communication strategy, created visual assets as well as themed campaigns. Our focus was to provide useful content for our users around food and nutrition. We created shopping lists and healthy recipes, provided tips on how to save money when doing grocery shopping and shared them with our users on our social media.

Templates for Instagram stories

For themed campaigns, we created fun animated videos for specific holidays or occasions, for example, for Diwali holiday, Halloween and Christmas. All videos feature our brand hero Swan and follow our brand guidelines and tone of voice.

Finding the right way

Our cooperation models vary depending on our client’s business goals and unique business challenges. We select work approaches that we believe would help to achieve the best outcomes, taking into consideration both business goals and the specifics of a particular stage of the product life cycle.

We are all about solving business problems and creating products that people would love.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about our work at The Gradient, we’ll be happy to answer them.

Interested in launching a product or transforming yours?

About author
Denys Skrypnyk
Denys is a Founding Partner & CEO at The Gradient.

More from The Gradient