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Product Design: How To Make It Great and Avoid Top Mistakes, AI, and 2024 Trends

Product Design: How To Make It Great and Avoid Top Mistakes, AI, and 2024 Trends
Nataliya Sambir
Nataliya Sambir
Chief Design Officer

One recent working evening at our Linkup Studio office in Lviv, some of our design experts and the Chief Design Officer (CDO) engaged in an intense and lively discussion about feature implementation strategies and product design development for products of various scales. That topic was highly relevant and important to our clients, and we decided to delve deeply into what is product design and how to design a product with our Chief Design Officer, Nataliya Sambir

Nataliya boasts over 10 years of experience in the field of product design and has been involved in creating 150 projects of various sizes and industries across 25 countries. Notably, at Linkup Studio, she leads a team of designers working on projects for renowned brands such as Bosch, Porsche, Impactive, and Reverso. Under her leadership, the design team has won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award four times in both 2022 and 2023 and has seen an application nominated for App of the Day from the App Store, among other accolades.

Whether you're a startup founder, a product manager at an SME, a marketing manager, a project manager, or even a developer – this article will provide a relevant and insightful summary of Nataliya's thoughts on the essence of product design. It covers its main types, such as UI, UX, Interaction Design, and Service Design, and the approaches Linkup Studio uses to enhance results in these areas. You'll gain up-to-date insights for 2024 on the use of AI technologies in product design. You'll learn about the most common reasons for product design failures in digital product development. You'll discover Nataliya's perspective on design trends in 2024. In the final part of the article, we address popular questions in product design and provide her expert answers. Let's dive in!

What is Product Design? 

The meaning of product design includes the process of deep researching, imagining, creating, and iterating products that solve users’ problems or address specific needs in a given market.

Interestingly, each point in the above-stated definition matters. I’d illustrate this with one interesting case from Google+. Long story short, after Google+ was launched in 2011, it made users struggle with forced integration with existing Google services. Many users found it intrusive and confusing. Additionally, Google+ had complex features and lacked a unique value proposition against the background of the popular Facebook and Twitter at that time. Even after attempts to improve it with new redesigns and feature updates, Google still saw users resisting the platform due to low engagement and usage. They eventually had to close the platform in 2019.

Therefore, a big company name and even impressive budgets for product design and further development are not guarantees of success. Product design is a tool that should solve user issues and serve the more global customer demand. It is not just a matter of aesthetics and work for the sake of work. In our personal experience, we met numerous companies and founders who tried to make their ventures not based on research. Almost each of them failed. Even the most powerful and adhering to all standards design may fail due to neglected high-level issues: customer needs, market demand, and the value of the product.

Here, I would also include in the definition of product design that product stakeholders and managers, along with the design team, need to understand the audience for whom they're making the design. They need to comprehend these customers' lifestyles, what bothers them, and what they expect from this product. The characteristic of a quality product design is that people don't think about it. They just use it on a regular basis, and it helps them to live their life better.

One more thing I heard from some clients is the myth that design is a kind of one-time project. The reality is that after the product is launched, it is the very time for designers and product managers to keep track of its performance, add new things, fix some flaws, and smoothly iterate to make the design better for users.

Why Product Design Is Essential for Your Business?

You've probably seen stats describing the importance of product design for business. I'd like to cite the main points that empower my and other specialists' words concerning the importance of high-quality designs for a product.

  • McKinsey's report highlighted that a slight usability improvement in a company's website led to a 25% increase in sales. Additionally, less than 5% of surveyed leaders could make objective design decisions. It is given there that businesses that embrace design generate 32% more revenue and 56% more shareholder returns, on average.
  • Research from 8ways revealed that it takes only about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) for people to form an opinion about a company's or product's website. Therefore, the design should be appealing and show the product's essence from the very touch with the user.
  • A Lucidpress study found that 68% of businesses report brand consistency has contributed to revenue growths of 10% or more. Brand consistency is significantly supported by the product's brand guidelines and design system, which Linkup Studio’s designer elaborately discussed in this article.

Drawing from the firsthand experience at Linkup Studio, I often find that numerous SMEs from across various industries, such as real estate, finance, and banking, government & public services, approach our team with products that are not optimally designed for the needs of their users. It results in unsatisfactory ROI and challenges in usability. After our work, many clients report an increase in using more features and a higher customer satisfaction rate.

Why is Research Crucial for Product Design?

At Linkup Studio, the very basis for creating a robust and quality product design is research. First, we kick off by setting the product owner’s goals and determining the company's pains and needs, and the next step is getting to know the product's customers or end-users. Here, we often deal with the challenge of finding that golden balance between meeting business and customer needs. Unless this stage is reached, the business will go into the red, or users will just leave the platform.

Hence, in some cases, we need to sacrifice some feature's beauty in order to launch the platform sooner or pursue the set marketing goals, such as attracting many customers with an eye-catching landing and nice-looking MVP while creating other features in the background. 

The Process That Works For Us 

We have an established research process for both internal management systems for more efficient business operations and products for a broad audience. We set up a series of calls with the real customer and observe their actions. This helps us obtain comprehension of the platform they use, their perspectives, everyday tasks, and thought flows while working and interacting with the product. In this step, we are not trying to change or suggest something; we simply observe. 

Based on this, we make questionnaires for groups of different user personas and define their pains to make further statistics with results. After combining that information with the figures and heatmap results from the product’s analytics tools, we start testing hypotheses based on the obtained numbers.

There are many articles about conducting a proper research process for design, and I'll mention here the essential points that we use: detailed competitor analysis with a detailed SWOT technique, market trends and dynamics, product feasibility analysis, regulatory compliance, and needs for a product of that kind. We also consider the user's cultural background.

Examples of Research Power From Our Experience

Based on initial research, we can suggest the area that requires the most urgent improvement. Once, we had a client who approached us with the problem of a broken booking flow for his real estate platform, as he described the issue. After our research, we found that the booking flow itself was well-built and didn't need some intrusion into the platform design. However, we found that advertising slogans could somehow mislead the essence of his booking apartments platform, and customers may bounce from the platform because they didn't find the expected services. We advised the client to test our hypothesis to work with marketing aspects and campaign messages instead of doing unnecessary redesign work.

Consider the Reverso mobile app as another example. We had to introduce notifications featuring a 'word of the day' and offered users two ways to interact: they could either research the word by clicking on it to view its translation and detailed context or click on an icon to see a list of the week's most popular words. Our designers observed that the second option was rarely chosen. This feature was not only an extra page in the program that consumed development resources but also required ongoing monitoring. We hypothesized that rebuilding this page and instead sending daily push notifications with popular words would be more effective. The result was a noticeable increase of user retention, contributing positively to the performance of the Reverso app. For the complete story of our Reverso case study, please get in touch with our Linkup Studio client partner.

Another great example is our Landover case study. That game is an improved world-known Catan board game. The client aimed to scale it up and empower users to cooperate to play worldwide. The research of the most successful online mobile app games revealed that they not only had the best players list but also contained the best players dashboard worldwide. After we designed and integrated such a dashboard for Landover, we received a flood of positive feedback from users and saw a few times higher engagement and satisfaction rates than before. That is the result and the power of qualitative research.  

What Types of Product Design Exist? 

There are numerous types of product designs. Our team focuses on the four prominent ones. These are User Interface (UI) Design, User Experience (UX) Design, Interaction Design, and Service Design. I will share my perspective on these.

As I mentioned earlier, our Linkup Studio team can offer guidance on a roadmap for service implementation once we have a thorough understanding of your product, goals, and unique challenges. If your product already exists, it's essential to recognize that there is no singular, correct approach to collaboration and service engagement, as this varies with each business. 

User Interface (UI) Design 

User Interface design involves creating interfaces in digital products with a focus on their appearance, style, and visual interactions. It aims to simplify and streamline the user experience, making it easier for users to achieve their goals.

UI is Better When it is Unique

In my opinion, using ready-made design systems or templates can streamline the product creation process, and that's great for validating and testing the initial version of a product. However, if you aim to maintain your product's individuality and uniqueness, I'd recommend emphasizing your brand voice through unique visual designs. Failing to do so, your product might lack distinctiveness, making it harder for customers to recognize and differentiate you from competitors.

Do Not Reinvent the Wheel: Mental Models

Another key point is the importance of not reinventing the wheel. As highlighted by the Nielsen & Norman Group: "What users believe they know about a UI strongly impacts how they use it. Mismatched mental models are common, especially with designs that try something new." This means that while creativity is important, it shouldn't lead to user confusion. Users possess intuitive mental models of how systems should operate. If the product deviates significantly from these expectations, such as by placing navigation elements or other components in unconventional locations, it can negatively affect the user's experience and interaction with the product.

Similar to the car analogy, even after a complete overhaul and redesign, users must still be able to recognize and understand the fundamental tools and mechanisms required to operate the car, such as the steering wheel, pedals, and gearbox.

A few years ago, there was a trend towards creating so-called 'outstanding' designs. For example, users typically associate the burger menu icon in the upper corners of a digital platform with the menu section. However, one product replaced this familiar icon with their logo, leading to confusion. Users instinctively expect that clicking a company logo will take them to the homepage, not the menu. Such design choices, while intended to innovate, can actually lead to customer frustration and disappointment.

To learn more, contact our client partner to understand how Linkup Studio's design team can make your product aligned with all design heuristics, meeting your customer expectations.

How to Prove Whether the Result is Good? Test It

Even before the creation of the design, it is very important to set specific quality metrics for the design. The best approach is to know what target action clients should perform on your platform.

To avoid prejudiced conclusions about the quality of the user interface, the best option is to test it with real customers. There are a number of user tests available: eye trackers, mouse trackers, heatmaps, A/B tests, and analytics tools. Pop-ups can also be introduced for users, requesting them to leave a review.

I have seen many times that a product is really dying based on metrics, but the founder and CEO think the design is great, based only on their perception. That mindset is harmful to business.

User Experience (UX) Design

User experience design delivers meaningful experiences to product users. It includes branding, usability, function, and design. To ensure the robust level of such product design, we consider various aspects, including user research, usability, interaction design, visual design, content, and empathy. These aim to understand and meet the user's needs and preferences.

High-quality UX Design helps save users time, which is especially precious in today's world. If the platform is designed in a consistent and intuitive way, customers will not suffer and lose time trying to find the features they need here and now. Good UX forms the right habits and leaves a good impression.

A prominent example of such a great UX solution is the button for E-commerce apps, "Buy in one click," instead of adding the product to the cart and following the longer way to buy the product. Figures speak louder, "New Cornell University research shows that after signing up for an online retailer's 'one-click' checkout service, customers over time increased their spending by an average of 28.5% from previous buying levels."

Make Sure Designers You Hire Know More Than Just Design

When you're going to collaborate with product designers, make sure they know something more than just the bare skills of design.

For instance, at Linkup Studio, each of our designers regularly attends courses to understand business analysis, the basics of the development process, and marketing. When this is combined with robust knowledge of their core spheres – design itself – the result is way more impactful. A designer who understands the background of the products, comprehends customer psychology and their needs, understands development constraints and client's limitations of budget for developing layouts after design creation, and knows what and how it will attract customers to the product after launch, is invaluable.

A Standout Characteristic of Good Designers

Another tip would be to consider whether the product designers you work with understand the basics of human psychology and behavior, and whether they follow the codex of design ethics. I found that the best designers are the ones who can understand other people and be empathetic about what they need and why.

During user interviews, it's crucial for designers to listen attentively and carefully. They should possess the skill of observation, refraining from imposing their own opinions and thoughts on the user. This approach is essential to truly understand the needs and pain points of customers, as it relies on personal characteristics of empathy and patience. You can assess this skill during a live interview before commencing cooperation with your potential design team. You can observe whether the design team leader is able to genuinely understand and respond to your requests and needs. 

UX Can Be Better When You Know When and How the Product Is Used

In addition to the above-stated behavior patterns, designers need to comprehend the use cases when the product is used.

As product designers, we often encourage our clients, product owners or product managers to consider the basic levels A and AA of the WCAG for product accessibility standards. Many clients immediately think of color contrast and users with visual impairments. But we shouldn't overlook situational disabilities, like when the sun's glare makes the screen hard to see or to design for everyday use cases that impact functionality.

Take, for instance, our experience with the Kanzy platform. It featured a bonus accumulation system at store checkouts, which, despite not being the core feature of the project, was highly popular and frequently used by customers. We noticed that many users at the checkout were often handling kids or carrying bags. To make the app more user-friendly in these situations, we repositioned key functionalities on the screen. This allowed for easy and accessible one-thumb navigation, greatly enhancing user satisfaction and engagement, which ultimately boosted the company's revenue.

Looking ahead, we plan to develop a widget that can be placed on phone screens. This will allow even quicker access to the app's bonuses without the need to search through a list of apps.

Interaction Design

Interaction Design refers to the dialogue between a person and a product. Simply put, it focuses on designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services, with an emphasis on interaction: aesthetics, interface motion, sound, space, and graphics. This is necessary to facilitate better usability and improve the overall user experience.

A better illustration may be when you knock on a door, and someone opens it. Just like that, users do something, and the system reacts as customers expect. This type of design usually deepens the experience of people in their working and spending time with the product. For instance, Apple MacBooks add vibrations to the touchpad when the user is creating presentations in Keynote, which enhances their experience. Such interactions involve customers' senses more deeply into the system as well.

In banking apps, an interesting example of interaction design is the use of the 'labor illusion,' a concept that is borrowed from behavioral economics and psychology. This principle declares that people tend to appreciate services more when they perceive a significant amount of effort or labor behind them, regardless of whether this effort actually enhances the result.

This is how it works: when users execute transfers or payments through these apps, they often see a visual cue indicating that the payment is 'processing.' This creates the impression of an ongoing effort. In reality, the online banking system doesn't require such extended processing time for transactions.

Designers deliberately incorporate this visible effort into the app's design, often through animations that suggest complex processing, even for tasks that are completed instantaneously. This approach is not just about aesthetics; it serves a psychological purpose. It eases the emotional discomfort associated with parting with money. By providing a visual buffer, it reassures customers, giving them a sense of security until they receive the final notification confirming the successful completion of their transaction. 

Service Design

This service goes beyond the technical and digital side of the business ecosystem. Service design is about the entire story and the way customers interact with the product.

To describe it simply, let’s consider a food delivery service. After clients order a meal from a nearby restaurant digitally, they are expecting the courier. The way the courier is dressed, their manners, and speech script constitute a more general experience. How does the app communicate with users in case of unpredicted failures? How do they ensure the clients are not insulted? All this goes far beyond digital, and our team can conduct on-demand research to find out which steps on the customer journey map work well and at which stages there are problems that customers face. It helps to align the entire process of clients’ interaction with businesses.

Product Design and AI: What Has Changed?

Generative AI has become an integral part of current design projects. As of now, the quality of AI-generated designs and pictures has improved significantly, even compared to their early stages in the beginning of 2023. There are countless products aiming to simplify the life of the design team and the process of creating digital product designs. Let's talk about the basic benefits artificial intelligence can offer to design teams you cooperate with and how it helps solve your product issues and streamline the product design creation process.

Enhanced Creativity and Idea Generation

In our team, we use FigJam AI to brainstorm, collaborate within the team and cooperate with AI to visualize ideas, suggest best practices, automate tedious tasks, and generate session summaries. Given that AI boasts significant knowledge of millions of designs across the globe for the most diverse services, its "observation experience" and background knowledge are likely more extensive than any single designer on this planet could possess.

Therefore, for Linkup Studio, using AI tools helps to explore more relevant creative solutions for products in less time. For instance, manually creating a moodboard takes about 2 hours for a middle UX/UI designer. With AI, it can take as little as 15 minutes to achieve the same and perhaps even greater results. Therefore, our clients experience cost savings for such services, which allows us to allocate more time to the profound creation of a more sophisticated part of the product in the future. 

Better Personalization

In our experience, various AI tools can help us tailor product designs for specific segments. For instance, we can use them to ensure and confirm that our product design for the Middle East market is acceptable or if there's still something to improve and check. Additionally, AI can provide advice on the quality of the interface for specific users of the product.

Such tools are still not perfect. I heard from our colleague's design firm that they had a case where it turned out that they made the product design for a platform that looked a bit modern, although it aimed to be used by elderly researchers at universities. AI helped them iterate the interface to make it more understandable for that group of users.

Additionally, AI is effective for assessing the quality of interface. We use it in the way that gives the AI 2 options of the design interface and add to the prompt the description of user personas, their use cases, needs, and conditions of using that product. AI generates truly insightful feedback on usability, designs accents, and the feasibility of the proposed design options. 

Data-driven Design Decisions

When at Linkup Studio we have complex redesign tasks, we use the data we get from our clients' platforms and employ ChatGPT and Perplexity AI tools to gain the extensive industry insights based on the countless numbers, tables, and graphs we receive from clients. Surely, AI tools cannot substitute the research led by our specialists but
Artificial Intelligence saves us many hours for manual research.

This approach helps us create design decisions that are more than just aesthetically pleasing; they cater to the deep user expectations and their real needs.

Reduced Costs and Time Efficiency

I couldn't help but mention this point: the whole idea of such AI tools for design is to save clients' money on unnecessary routine tasks that could be done by a machine, thus avoiding overpaying human designers. These tools also save designers time and bring the same or even more value to the table at the end of the day.

Make sure the team you're going to collaborate with is not resisting AI. There is a tendency for some teams or individual designer specialists to resist this trend because "custom things are the best" and "if you want quality, make it with your hands." Ensure the team you collaborate with has the relevant skills to leverage AI wisely, have the knowledge of efficient prompt engineering, as AI generated tools are all about the right wording of the exact task. Consider making a small project with them to understand their approach before committing to a full-house contract.

Enhanced Collaboration

In our team, we're gradually embracing AI for collaboration between our designers when working on specific projects for our clients. Additionally, we use such tools for sharing ideas with product stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page.

In practice, we also use AI tools for joint brainstorming sessions. A great feature is that AI tools can make voice transcripts of the meeting and give a summary of the workshop or meeting results. 

Market Responsiveness

After the most prominent AI tools claimed they could utilize the power of the internet, it became a true revolution for the ability to make products more flexible in terms of market responsiveness.

For some of our projects, we conduct sessions to gather current trends for the type of product and, occasionally, industry trends for our clients. This helps us to suggest predictions on how to create even better value propositions or make the service more useful and convenient for product customers.

For example, for the Reverso translation applications, we analyze trends in translation apps and their usage of AI. This helped us understand where to differentiate and which areas are not essential, as competitive companies have already presented solutions and what is worth prioritizing.

In summary, generative AI is not a new thing in design, and it becomes stronger day by day. My advice to you would be to cooperate with a team that uses AI wisely and has firsthand proven experience on when it performs well and when it's still better to be done by humans, as AI is not a magic bullet for all issues

TOP Product Design Mistakes

These mistakes and oversights relate to both clients who hire product designers as well as to the design team. Some of these mistakes I took from our lessons learned from collaborating with clients in creating their products, some are taken from knowledge-sharing in our design industry, and our clients shared their previous experiences working with other teams.

Insufficient Research and User Understanding

That's the whole business fundamentals. Without a comprehensive research phase, the product is very likely not to meet the real needs of customers. If you have the capacity to do this on your own, then it's better to approach the design team with this information even before the kick-off call.

At Linkup Studio, we have this service covered with our business analysis and product management services, which include user interviews, conducting surveys, and comprehensive competitive analysis, along with other deliverables.

Even if the company you cooperate with provides such services, it's better to evaluate the depth and breadth of the undertaken research. You want to make sure you see the insights that show the surveys as it may impact your other services or even value proposition.

Poor Communication and Collaboration

This mistake is common, especially when the design team is outsourced. Sometimes, clients view the team they work with not as a reliable design partner, but merely as hired hands. However, when clients entrust the design team with a certain level of responsibility, the resulting design is generally better. At Linkup Studio, we have statistics proving that this approach is more effective than simply executing tasks.

As a rule, there is not much problem in establishing a workflow, such as communication channels, and regular check-ins, presentation sessions, etc. But the real problem is aligning the strict balance between customer needs and business needs.

As I explained before, if only customers' needs are taken into account, then the product will not pay off. If stressing only the business needs, it will lack users. Therefore, it is important to agree with our design partner on that very balance and specific metrics by which the quality of the result will be measured. Otherwise, troubles are unavoidable.

Other advice would be to have clear documentation for the product, and the collaboration flows. Additionally, make sure the design team is responsive to customer feedback.

Lack of Clear Objectives and Features Scope

As partially mentioned in the previous mistake, when a client and design team do not have clear and agreed-upon objectives and an estimated scope, or when the hired team does not understand their clients’ pains and needs, it ends up with clients having to pay extra costs for services to get designs that are not relevant and not appealing to their needs.

At Linkup Studio, we first understand your product’s scope of work and then find the most suitable model of collaboration and team composition. We also explain and showcase our deliverables from previous projects and align the vision of both clients and our vision for this work. We also set KPIs. The advice for product stakeholders would be to track the progress of the project against its initial objectives and scope of work. Rarely is the work on a project smooth and seamless. Therefore, the characteristic of a reliable team with which you will collaborate is when these changes are documented and understood by all parties.

Ignoring User Feedback in the Design Process

At Linkup Studio, we’ve experienced this firsthand. We worked on a product that was doing okay sales-wise, but we started noticing a tendency for customers wanting to cancel their subscriptions. Some of them weren’t happy with their experience. Our designers, along with the client’s product management team, wanted to work on it a bit deeper. However, the CEO was set on the current design and didn’t want to consider other ideas. In the end, we had to step back from that project. For Linkup Studio, it’s really important to find that sweet spot between what’s good for the business and what’s good for the customers.

It's an obvious thing, but very important. Our team looks for evidence of our hypotheses in user testing sessions, gathering and analyzing feedback from customers, and then making iterative design improvements.

Not Aligning Design with Brand Identity

When the design is not unique and does not represent the product's brand and voice, then customers have more difficulty comprehending its real value and feel confused. Therefore, businesses may lose more potential customers.

For instance, for Alleo.ai, our Linkup Studio created a brand identity and design for busy freelance workers who needed to sort all their life projects out and make strict plans for their days. The brand identity was inspired by Mother Nature. In some sense, there are parallels between the constantly changing weather and moods, just like the lifestyle of freelance workers. Despite that, there is strong stability and perfect balance. You can read more about that project in the UX Planed article on Medium.

To mitigate the problem of having the product design in alignment with the brand identity, make sure the design team precisely understands your business's values, tone, and style. The product design should “speak to your customers” and bring out the emotions that your brand positions. 

Ignoring Technical Feasibility and Constraints

Usually, inexperienced designers create a product without understanding the technical constraints of the technology or the product, or they don’t understand the efforts required to develop an “overly creative” and sophisticated interface. This can lead to unjustifiably high prices and useless outcomes. Moreover, it may even harm the product if the complex design and its programming lead to slower digital product performance.

To navigate this problem, at Linkup Studio, each designer regularly takes courses about basic development to understand how their design layouts will be worked on after their involvement. This helps them create designs already considering their further usage and outcomes for business. Or, if they don’t know some technical aspects, they know when to ask developers to join and assess our creative design idea from a development point of view.

In our team, we first determine the main pains we encounter and goals we need to achieve as the priority, and then find the most efficient way to reach them based on the current situation. 

If you’re considering collaboration, ask the team about their design processes and the way of managing the balance between creativity and development feasibility for further product performance.

Failure to Iterate and Evolve

Sometimes, clients think of their product design as a one-time project. This doesn’t work like that. In recent years, at Linkup Studio, we adopted a product mindset that allowed us to consider the work that we do not as a time-limited project but as a constantly evolving product, with the need to develop and change for the better over time.

As time goes on, market trends and user demands change, which leads to the necessity of changing product design. In my practice, I’ve seen companies make their changes incorrectly. They made those changes too drastically without enough research, A/B tests, focus groups, and other components of the correct flow for changing the product functionality, and such companies lost some of their audience due to confusion and frustration in their expectations.

Another point I saw was when the design team was not ready to face the fact that their first version or iteration was not the best. At Linkup Studio, we take care to explain and set up a culture for designers so they don’t see the need to change something as a “failure.” We want to achieve and provide clients with the best result possible for them as soon and efficiently as possible. However, perfection sometimes is not as close as we would like to, and that’s OK.

That is the tip for you – if your design team is resistant to change when statistics report that problems may be due to poor product designs, it is not a proficient team.

Design Trends in 2024

Before talking about ongoing trends in 2024, I would stress that rather than creating products based on trends, it is more important to clearly understand the product essence, namely the value proposition for the particular group of people who really need the services your product provides to them.

In this section, I listed not only the trends related to the visual design parts, but also applicable to the approach to design creation. 

Sometimes, making trendy designs can help attract more customers, but that is not always the case. If the trend is booming rapidly, it may fall down quickly as well. Therefore, in my opinion, it is important to make a balance between the trend and the basic functionality of design and its visuals to make sure it reflects the brand values and is appealing to the target audience.

Minimalistic Designs

We all heard that popular phrase, “Less is more,” which was popularized by the German minimalist architect long ago in the 20th century. However, that is relevant today, and this year would not be an exception. In our practice, we strive to accentuate the essential functional elements in the design and make sure it looks elegant and intuitively understandable.

That includes making designs consistent, with a limited color palette, and a defined style of icons and all media content there to keep the same mood across all the products and make it easier for clients to get the essence of each product in a second without the burden of getting to know what the design elements are and how they work. Another technical part of that trend is that digital products with such an appearance usually load faster, which improves their performance as well.

But the point for your design team is to make sure that the most important part of your product is not reduced due to minimalistic designs and that the brand identity is not lost.

AI in the Design Process

Especially after 2022, many design agencies and product designers started incorporating AI into their workflow. Linkup Studio also did so.

Make sure the design team you want to collaborate with uses progressive, modern tools wisely. When we do our research, we provide an on-demand list of the AI tools with which we generate some research information and content.

Our product designers use numerous AI tools. ChatGPT offers us streamlined and clear communication for efficient brainstorming and research into market tendencies and user personas. Based on this information, we can project our solutions. Additionally, we can provide this tool with design screens to receive a high-level audit or a comparison between our two proposed options.

Perplexity aids our team in a profound understanding of clients' domain industries and their specifics. It is helpful to understand users and their expectations better so that our designs meet their needs. FigJam AI enhances collaborative efforts with its interactive whiteboard that fosters clear idea organization and creativity. Relume helps to build sitemaps and wireframes with Webflow integration for easy creation of information sites, brand card sites, or marketplaces in minutes.. Midjourney and Dall-E are helpful in visualizing concepts and creating unique content pictures for clients’ products, e.g., not branded yachts for YachtWay.

The point is that AI saves our design team dozens of hours daily for manual work that is now streamlined. It helps us devote more time to essential things that can be done only by human and proficient designers and to think about clients’ business and how to improve it.

AI in UX/UI Design

AI tools that help algorithms gauge user behavior, preferences, and visualize data, giving companies insights to tailor interfaces and make the user experience more appealing, are already in use. This capability was available even before the AI boom, but such tools allow for much faster decision-making.

However, when the product has AI at its core, designers must ensure that the platform operates according to ethical guidelines and that processes are transparent and understandable to users. For instance, in a social media application, AI might suggest relevant contacts or friends to the user. The product designer's task is to ensure transparent communications with customers and communicate that the product uses their data to make their experience better and even more convenient. Privacy should not be overlooked under any circumstances.

When incorporating system parts where users can directly interact with AI, there is a recent trend to organize the interface around AI-based functionality. Product designers must understand that integrating AI functionality goes beyond just adding another design block. It's about creating interactions and system feedback that meet customer expectations.

For the Reverso ecosystem, for example, we created specially designed icons and integrated blocks to visually discriminate where the AI-powered features are. For the Wholesum Food Calculator, we designed and developed special functionality for AI-powered recipe creation.

Massive and Bold UI Elements

This trend, evolving in recent years, is also represented in more of our digital product designs for our clients. What's behind this trend? As of February 2024, mobile device users contribute to 59.43% of all website traffic, which is more than half.

Larger buttons and text make designs more user-friendly, particularly for people using small smartphones and tablets. This approach accommodates inclusive design, as it is more accessible to users with visual impairments.

Finally, it is more appealing to the audience, as such UI elements allow the use of bold typography, bright colors, and non-trivial layouts. We had such a product design for our project, Toto, a tool for social activists in Canada, which helps create AI-generated lists for the government for change. It was designed to be bright and provocative, encouraging thoughtful and determined action.

Top 10 Questions and Answers for Design Expert, Nataliya Sambir 

How to Balance Innovation and Usability in Product Design?

Talking about innovations, businesses are rarely eager to implement something that will not directly impact their performance and lead to achieving specific KPIs, even if those innovations are really useful for product users. Good product managers, in cooperation with the design team, are able to find those innovations that would benefit both customers and the business. 

Innovations for the sake of innovation might place your product at the forefront during a hype period. However, a product can only remain viable for years if it addresses real user demands. Otherwise, there's a risk that the product will become unprofitable and fade away once the current trend passes. 

Regarding the process of adding new features, it is important to ensure that innovations added do not make the product too complex and overwhelming for customers. The platform should remain simple to understand and intuitive in its flows. To find out the exact balance, various types of user tests will come in handy in this case.

However, sometimes, innovative ideas for some old pages are not the first priority for implementation. For instance, at Reverso, there was one old-fashioned-looking system part, and we at Linkup Studio were going to improve it and create a new UI for it. However, after we checked the analytics, we found out that the page and that feature were not frequently used. In cooperation with the client’s product manager, we came up with the decision to prioritize working with another system part that would be more relevant in a short time. Then, we’re planning to revisit and work on that page when we have more free time and resources.

What Are the Most Common Pitfalls in Product Design for Startups?

Startup founders may face numerous pitfalls when creating or improving their product design. Some of the most common ones include ignoring user needs. This is the case when founders often believe in their ideas only and do not search for proof from the real world and real customers.

A common mistake, particularly for relatively new startups, is underestimating competitors when launching or scaling their products. These companies may be aware of some rival organizations but don't see them as competitors because they believe their idea is unique (often it is not).

This includes the common error of prioritizing aesthetics over core functionality, a trap for many new design companies. The success of a product is not solely determined by how 'cool' its design appears. While a great and aesthetic interface is crucial for attracting users, achieving a high retention rate demands functionality that addresses specific problems for all user personas.

Another common problem is failing to properly test and smartly iterate the product based on obtained real user data. I sometimes see even big companies fail due to the lack of surveying customers and then with too aggressive an approach to implementing redesign. That means the product's new version should be tested by a group of testers who agreed to collaborate and give feedback to the company concerning their new customer experience. Then, the new product design should be implemented step-by-step.

Sometimes, clients unfortunately lose sight of what their customers need, focusing instead on realizing their own ambitions in the product. Instead of prioritizing the creation, upgrading, and testing of core functionality, they tend to add new features that may be unnecessary and add little value at that particular moment. Therefore, our product management and design teams advise clients to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to deliver maximum value with minimal resource expenditure.

Another challenge I see is the lack of a proper branding and design system. Sometimes, potential customers at Linkup Studio say they don't need a design system. In this article, Linkup Studio’s designer elaborately explained and busted all the myths around the design system. Long story short, when scaling up, companies usually spend far more money on design and development in attempts to keep the designs consistent in new functional parts.

How Important is it to Have a Mobile-responsive Design?

It is crucial to understand the use cases for the usage of digital products. If some products are aimed for usage on the desktop version, then there is no need to make the same responsive version for mobile, as it will likely not be used.

For instance, Jira's mobile version has less functionality compared to the desktop one. Mobile applications are often used on the go, and it is okay to only review and look at something essential. In contrast, editing functions are more convenient in other versions for other platforms.

Despite that, recent research reveals that web traffic from mobile devices is almost 60%. Therefore, mobile responsive design is a must-have for business card sites and landing pages.

What is the Most Efficient Way to Identify and Fix Design Issues Early?

The best approach to identify and fix possible design problems is prototyping. Our team frequently uses this approach when designing and redesigning digital products.

It helps us identify usability issues and find technical constraints early in the development process, which saves time and resources as we will not need to overhaul the entire system later.

How to Measure the Success of a Product Design?

At the beginning of a collaboration, it is crucial to set specific goals and metrics for the product and then measure success based on these parameters.

Some of these metrics include user engagement, conversion rates, user retention, and product satisfaction score received from client feedback.

For instance, before we collaborated with Reverso, we set a goal to increase the company’s revenue from their services by a certain percent. In less than 2 years of our work, with our product design services, we contributed Reverso’s revenue growth by up to two times more than planned.

Is Branding in Product Design Important?

Branding is much more than the aesthetics of a product. It includes the tone of voice by which your product communicates with the audience. It involves the whole ecosystem of providing specific services.

Ensure the branding is appropriate for your audience. For example, if the target audience for crypto investments is creative youngsters, then the brand tone of voice may be sharp and bright, with distinctive contrasts. However, for a comprehensive management system for middle-aged people managing real estate, the approach would be significantly different.

Define what your product is all about and build its brand voice around it in accordance with its essence and audience.

How Can Startups Make Their Product Design Scalable for Growth?

It is better for each venture to create its digital product with the expectation that the product will grow and evolve. Talking about design, it's practical to adopt a flexible and modular approach that enables changes in areas of work over time as needs and focuses shift.

From a development side, building the system with a robust technical infrastructure is crucial. At Linkup Studio, our technical architect creates an infrastructure competent for handling increased loads and complex systems with various modules. That may be relevant after a startup gets more users and becomes more popular.

What Role Does Data Play in Product Design Decisions?

Data is quite an important factor to consider when making decisions for any business. It helps create designs that are functionally relevant to the audience.

However, there should be a blend of data-proven actions and gut feeling. In our work with Reverso, experienced professionals sometimes have ideas that aren't yet backed up by customer survey results or statistics. These ideas can still be successful, often due to extensive background rather than luck.

I recommend finding a balance between these two approaches, as relying solely on data may lead to a lack of innovation and differentiation while relying only on intuition could risk the business.

How Can Startups Incorporate User Feedback into the Design Process?

After collecting user feedback from beta testing, interviews, surveys, and usability studies, this data should be transformed into a flow of changes to implement. My experience at Linkup Studio reveals that the best approach is to introduce these changes iteratively, step-by-step, to avoid confusing customers and their frustration.

It also depends on the type of planned change. If it's a fix for a bug in critical functionality, then it should be implemented immediately. However, when considering the addition of new features or system parts, it's advisable to implement a process for gathering more feedback. This helps in validating whether a significant portion of the product's audience actually needs those enhancements.

What is the Importance of Design Consistency Across Different Platforms and Devices?

The key point is to provide seamless user experiences so customers understand and recognize the product, regardless of the platform or device they use. This consistency boosts brand recognition and trust. Having an adaptable design system greatly assists in this.

Moreover, it helps create intelligent customer flows, understand the tasks and challenges users face on different platforms, and develop solutions and brand accents to help them more efficiently complete their tasks.

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Nataliya Sambir
Nataliya Sambir
Chief Design Officer
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