September 6, 2022
March 25, 2019

The business side of product design

Olena Zanichkovska
Founding Partner

Ever wondered how a product design agency works? Take a peek at The Gradient’s processes, from engaging customers to product release.

If you think product design means designing packaging for products, buckle up, we have a lot to tell you. Product design is a combination of user research, market research, UX/UI design, requirements management and user testing. All that with a customer-centered approach, which means diving deep into the topic, starry-eyed and wearing the shoes of your potential users.

Oleg Gasioshyn and Denys Skrypnyk, founding partners @ The Gradient
Oleg Gasioshyn and Denys Skrypnyk, founding partners @ The Gradient

At least this is how we do it at The Gradient. Having designed and launched a bunch of web and mobile digital products, we’ve established a framework that helps us run the process smoothly. Here’s our insight.

1. Find the right client

It all starts with the customer. We got our first one thanks to friends’ recommendations — classic. But since we’ve shown great results, the customer recommended us to their partners and acquaintances. The snowball started rolling.

Fast forward three years, and now we’re among the top user experience agencies worldwide and a top UX/UI consultant in Ukraine with an office in Amsterdam. Not too shabby.

The majority of our customers are startups on various stages of development. The industry has little difference to us: we’ve been working with retail, finance, education, entertainment, business services and more. But we’ve grown enough to let ourselves be picky. Two factors influence our choice of projects:

  • the uniqueness of the idea and if the market is ready for it
  • the customers and their values

The second reason may sound a stretcher, but trust us on this one. It’s almost impossible to work with customers who don’t have a clear vision of their business and the problem they need solving with our help.

A daily meeting with the customer. Simon and Vitaliy, product designers @ The Gradient

So, here’s our advice: don’t be fooled by people who eagerly applaud you on conferences. Take time to study their business values and determine what they expect from your cooperation.

2. Analyze the market

When it comes to customers, there are two cases. The first one is when a customer comes to us with nothing but an idea. Meaning that they have a grasp of the potential market and the problem the business wants to solve, but they don’t quite understand how it all should work. In this case, our task is to form the product itself. To do that, we have to sink into competitor analysis and user needs to:

  • carry out quantitative surveys and detailed interviews with potential users
  • understand their experience and how it can be improved
  • analyze the strong and weak points of competitors
  • think of the competitive benefits for the new product

The second case is when a customer comes with a product that’s ready but doesn’t seem to perform as expected. Usually, the owner cannot see the root of the problem but understands that something’s gone wrong. In this case, we need to single out the product’s critical drawbacks and figure out how to solve them painlessly and cost-effectively.

3. Build a team and assign responsibilities

Now that we’ve understood the task and felt the market, it’s time to gather the team. We work according to the principle “one project, one team.” The team consists of a partner (one of The Gradient’s co-owners), a business analyst, designers, a marketing specialist and a customer. Yes, the customer is a member of the team who’s fully aware of what’s going on.

Discovery phase workshop
Discovery phase workshop

We don’t have any intermediary managers, and this has proven to be an excellent strategy: the fewer managers there are, the quicker the project develops. The efficiency this approach brings is amazing, really. We can have daily calls, make decisions on the spot and quickly adapt to new conditions, our customer’s free time and location.

Here’s how we share responsibilities:

  • a designer creates the user experience. This also includes competitor analysis, studying user needs, functionality and the visual part of the product
  • a business analyst also creates user experience but focuses on the system and functionality logic. Also, the person is responsible for the documentation
  • a marketing specialist works on branding and promotional support, from the general marketing strategy to social media advertising
  • a partner is involved in the daily activities and keeps an eye over the product quality. This helps them shape and develop the team and communicate with the customer to fully understand their needs

Generally speaking, everyone works on product design, but each team member has a particular focus that helps cover all of its aspects.

4. Working on the project

We won’t get into the excruciating details of product development, so let’s just hit the high spots of how it works at The Gradient.

  • The discovery phase

Together with the customer, we examine the product thoroughly, pinpoint the problems and work out their possible solutions. During this one- to two-week phase, we define the general scope of work and the timeframes.

  • Developing user flows and the UX concept

This phase marks the main approaches to product design and the idea of how it will look and function.

  • Design sprints

One sprint equals one week of working out the details of specific functionality. This concerns all significant features, from website logic and the final UI design to describing the requirements to developers. The number of sprints naturally depends on how complex the project is, and the phase usually takes up to 10–12 weeks.

  • Testing

Before the development starts, we test the design on potential users. Because this can go on for a while, we generally test the most complicated and critical features, omitting the less significant parts to save time.

  • Development

After creating the design elements, we pass the project on to the development team. They are usually a partnering company or the customer’s IT team. Our design team integrates with the developers, and the phase generally starts as soon as the first functionality is designed.

Getting started: testing a product before launch
  • Product launching

Promoting a product is no less important than creating it. We help our customers develop a marketing strategy and choose the most effective channels to announce the new product: social media, partnering companies, viral techniques, offline advertising, etc.

And that’s how we do it at The Gradient. First, find a customer you want to work with (that’s important!). Then, take your time to analyze the market thoroughly and assemble a team of professionals you trust. Once these three phases are covered, you’re sure to ace the project.

What about you? Do you have any product design issues you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to tell us! Being enthusiasts and dreamers, we enjoy challenges and look forward to crazy ideas that call for real users.

Interested in launching a product or transforming yours?

About author
Olena Zanichkovska
Olena is a Founding Partner and Director of Product Strategy at The Gradient.

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