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Process of Product Design from Linkup Studio’s CDO

Process of Product Design from Linkup Studio’s CDO
Nataliya Sambir
Nataliya Sambir
Chief Design Officer

This piece is the second part of an insightful article regarding product design from Linkup Studio's CDO, Nataliya Sambir. Here, Nataliya shares more details about the design process. These insightful thoughts are quite significant for startup founders, startup stakeholders, product managers at SMEs, and other specialists involved in creating digital products, as they reveal the main points to understand how to make the product design process efficient and beneficial for your business. 

In this article, you'll learn about the main stages included in the comprehensive product design creation. We'll discuss the step-by-step process followed by Linkup Studio's product design specialists and other departments involved in this area. You'll read about the top mistakes that usually lead to derailing timelines for executing the designs on time. You'll discover how AI is changing the product design phases, find some of our tips for using it to its fullest value, and understand where it still falls short. At the end of the article, you'll see the most popular design process questions and answers provided by our product design expert, Nataliya Sambir. This may change how you cooperate with the design team and approach the design creation for your digital product.

Who is Nataliya Sambir, and why is she an expert? Nataliya has been working in product design for over 10 years. Throughout her active practice, she has been involved in creating 150 projects across diverse industries for companies of various sizes in 25 countries. Since the Linkup Studio's inception, she has been the chief design officer. Under her direction, our design teams have created digital product designs that serve renowned brands and companies such as Bosch, Porsche, Impactive, and Reverso. To further validate her expertise, the design teams she led won the Red Dot Design Award four times, consecutively in 2022 and 2023, and created a product that was nominated as the App of The Day by the App Store. These are just a few of the accolades that showcase the depth of her and the Linkup Studio design team's expertise. 

What Stages Does the Product Design Process Include?

At Linkup Studio digital product design agency, we follow a comprehensive process for the majority of our clients. Here, you'll briefly see the design process stages required to create truly qualitative designs that can make a difference for product users and business customers.

Sometimes, however, clients may not require undergoing the entire process. Such decisions should be made by an experienced product manager rather than based on immature and unproven expectations. In our team, product management experts are ready to support you in delivering a product that will be truly useful and needed in the market.

1. Defining the Product Vision and Business Goals

Initially, our team of designers, business analysis professionals, and product managers will immerse themselves in your company's environment. The aim is to gain a comprehensive understanding of your business objectives, product vision, your strategy, corporate values, current and future challenges, the intended audience for your product, and competitive solutions already present in the market. Additionally, it is vital to comprehend your business strategies and your approach to generating revenue from your product.

Therefore, my advice here would be to define your vision and product mission, because that is the basis for further success of designing and developing your new system part or product. 

2. Product Research and Analysis

User Analysis

At Linkup Studio, we employ various techniques to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including operators and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), to gain an in-depth understanding of how your business functions. This collaborative process may involve focus groups, observational sessions, workshops, interviews and surveys with your end product users. These methods help in gathering insights directly from those who are deeply involved in the daily operations of your business, ensuring a holistic understanding of the internal and external factors that impact your business and user experience.

What we've found after 10 years in the design field is that design should serve the specific use case in which the customer is currently engaged. 

We help our clients gain deeper insights into their users, the devices they use to solve their problems, and the triggers that lead them to use the solution. Additionally, we consider the time, mood, and even the physical and psychological conditions under which digital customers use the product.

Let's take our Reverso case as an example. It is a major language translation platform ecosystem. Our team identified every use case for each platform – mobile app, desktop app, web application, and application for wearable devices. For instance, people often habitually use mobile apps while learning, watching movies, or commuting on the subway. We found that to enhance the user experience, it was crucial to position voice and text input at the bottom of the screen to make it accessible with one hand and without excessive effort. This redesign of the homepage and search page led to a fourfold increase in voice-input searches. This boost in user engagement provided us with greater opportunities to improve the app's conversation mode.

Competition & Market Research

During the initial product analysis, we dive deep into market and competition research. It's essential to grasp market trends, current dynamics, and customer needs. Our focus extends to evaluating competitors' strategies and identifying market gaps. For products aimed at revenue, we also analyze market potential, entry barriers, and desired market share, keeping an eye on the competition.

After digging into the market analysis, our teams at design and product management don't rush to map out the project's journey. First, we lay the groundwork by analyzing existing products using a SWOT approach, breaking down their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Metrics of Success 

We believe that the true measure of a product's success lies in specific, relevant metrics, not just in general ones. For example, in a language learning app, it's all about how engaged the users are. We look at things like how many people use the app daily (DAU), how many come back every month (MAU), and how long they stay each time they use it.

On the other hand, if we're working with a SaaS CRM, we're more interested in how easy and intuitive it is to use. We track how often people ask for help or look up FAQs and tutorials. This tells us a lot about the user experience.

When a product starts growing, our focus changes. We start looking at how well it keeps users coming back and how effectively it turns free users into paying ones.

By relying on concrete metrics, we steer away from subjective opinions, ensuring that our definition of "good" closely mirrors the actual performance and user experience of the product.

3. Ideation Stage

Then, it's all about deep dives and creative brainstorming. We're coming up with solutions, and getting into the nitty-gritty of the project's scope, including the must-haves and the nice-to-haves in terms of functionality, security, and compliance.

As we piece together our strategy for hitting the market and crunching the financials, a clear picture starts to form. Only then do we start sketching out the roadmap, rich with insights and plans, ready to share with our stakeholders. It's a step-by-step process, ensuring we've got all our bases covered before we set the wheels in motion.

4. Design Execution

User Experience (UX) Design Creation

Once we have a clear understanding of your business, its resources, and the people who use your product, our team specializing in design architecture begins crafting the user experience design.

The initial step involves developing a site map diagram. 

This tool is designed to illustrate the organizational structure of your product, how different pages interconnect, and the navigation framework. Utilizing a sitemap is highly effective for mapping out user paths and refining the overall user experience through both internal and external linking strategies.

After this, we focus on creating user flows for your product. These are visual, step-by-step guides that outline the required actions in each website section to fulfill specific objectives. User flows provide a comprehensive overview of the product, which enables our developers to envision the entire process and understand various user interactions. Developers can encompass all potential variables, challenges, and errors.

Depending on what each project needs, this process ends with us creating either low-fidelity or medium-fidelity wireframes. 

These wireframes help stakeholders get a graphical representation of our proposed product. To this deliverable, we include key sections, graphics, assorted blocks, buttons, filters, images, and placements for graphs, tailored to the type of digital product in question. This stage visualizes the solution and helps synchronize the design of the product with the combined perspectives of our team and your organization.

User Interface (UI) Design Creation

This stage is crucial for product design, as the interface often represents the brand's voice and message to the audience. It's essential not only to make the product memorable and appealing but also to emphasize its value to users. However, it's not just about aesthetics because UI design contributes significantly to achieving business goals.

This step involves creating mood boards with examples of similar products or those in the same niche as our clients'. We also include other product interface designs that we find useful and appropriate for this type of product. AI significantly supports this part of our work, offering a vast knowledge base of diverse interfaces that match our specifications for the mood board.

Previously, creating mood boards took about 2 hours. With AI, the blend of our work and AI input takes approximately 30 minutes, freeing up our specialists to deliver more significant services instead of surfing the internet for references.

The next step is to align our vision with the clients' regarding the proposed style options. Current AI tools allow our team to quickly brainstorm and create layouts on the spot during meetings with clients, enabling them to choose and agree on the best option based on layout examples.

Then, our product designers create tailored interface layouts, taking into consideration any special recommendations and guidelines from the client's team.

Once agreed upon, we at Linkup Studio create a clickable prototype for our clients and some product users to test. 

They can see how the system will look and provide feedback and suggestions before the development stage. This step may seem minor, but in our experience, initial prototype testing has saved our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars by preventing post-development system edits.

Another significant component of product design is a design system. I've written a separate article detailing what it is, why it's needed, and debunking popular myths surrounding it.

This document contains a set of rules for the design and development of the company's product, ensuring brand consistency. With this file, various design teams within the company, and even outsourced designers, can maintain a uniform visual appearance as the product scales and grows, introducing new features, system parts, and pages.

Such design systems also include key guidelines, such as icons, spacing elements, a library with navigation rules, overlays, and much more.

Testing and Validation

Examining the prototypes from earlier stages is crucial for verifying that the design concept functions correctly and meets all the initial objectives. However, in fast-paced or disorderly settings, this testing phase can be neglected or not given due importance. Recognizing the significance of thorough testing is vital, as it can reveal unforeseen findings that might prompt alterations to the product or overall strategy.

Once the initial tests are conducted, it's critical to refine the design and implement any needed changes. This cycle of testing and adjusting should continue until the design is fully developed and prepared for the next phase.

Creating Documentation 

To create a pixel-perfect design is crucial, but to code it accurately is not less important. If our clients plan to develop a product with the other team, we agree on convenient collaboration documents and the depth of the needed specification description. If Linkup Studio continues development, a product manager describes the main functionality and explains to the development specialists how it works so that clients do not have burdens regarding collaboration with the development team.  

As a rule, development specification documents include descriptions of the design, along with a link to the created design system. They also contain information about the underlying product logic, specific rules, restrictions, validations, and performance specifications for certain UI patterns under these conditions.

This can be compared to a simple, everyday example. Product design might resemble just a picture of a microwave.

Certainly, we include all details like buttons and their states, as well as the turning of switches and elements. However, it’s equally important to explain additional operational details post-interaction. For instance, there are crucial specifics such as the speed of the rotating turntable in the middle, whether it spins clockwise or counterclockwise, among others.

Documentation for the development is necessary for the efficient creation of products. Such documentation saved our clients dozens of hours in their collaboration with other development teams after getting the design.

5. Post-launch

Market behavior of the product we create can sometimes be unpredictable. It makes adjustments over time from the design team simply necessary. Utilizing analysis of marketing metrics and input from stakeholders provides our designers with fresh perspectives that aid us in your product enhancement.

Top 8 Mistakes in the Product Design Process that Derail Project Timelines

Actually, the popular mistakes that I explain in this part of the article are not only harmful in terms of the date of launch or upgrade, but overlooking such crucial points may totally sink the business and its product at all. I’d advise to be concerned about taking those points into account in their process of creating digital product designs and collaborating with diverse design teams. 

Consider hiring product designers at Linkup Studio to get the partners that deliver. 

Neglecting User Research

This is a fundamental step that should be undertaken right after conceptualizing the product idea. Knowing your product's customers is essential: who they are, why they need the product, what expectations they have, and why existing solutions may frustrate them. It's also important to understand when and how these people would use the product. Only with this data can you reasonably proceed with application creation.

I have seen many products fail because they overlooked the user research stage. They might have designed and even developed an app that was technically sound and robust, but it failed to appeal to or resonate with the target audience. Users are likely to find such a product irrelevant to their lives, resulting in a low adoption rate or complete absence thereof.

Even if a product is up and running, it's still important to continually learn about your customers. User behaviors, needs, and pain points may evolve and change over time. Based on our experience, regular surveys, client interviews, and market analysis will help your product remain in demand and introduce relevant changes in a timely manner.

Overlooking User Feedback in the Development Cycle

Sometimes, design teams with significant and proven experience may overestimate the quality of their deliverables. Although rare, it can lead to ignoring user feedback after launching a new product or updating a functional part.

In our team, we've adopted a product mindset that emphasizes the value we bring to businesses and customers with each action. Our designers are trained to receive critical feedback positively, viewing their designs not as precious personal creations but as tools to enhance user experiences.

Therefore, your product will win if you establish a regular feedback loop in which customers can share their thoughts and suggestions for improvement. The responsibility of the design and product management teams is then to wisely iterate on these changes.

Lack of Clear Objectives and Scope

Before initiating the design and subsequent creation of a digital product, setting well-defined goals is crucial. These goals provide a clear understanding for both the client team from the business side and the product management, design, and development teams. To ensure the alignment of all the parties involved, it's most suitable to establish defined goals and a mutual arrangement of the desired outcomes. This facilitates more effective collaboration and enables tracking and measuring processes based on the same metrics.

When this stage is overlooked, it can lead to designs that are perceived as "wrong" or "not meeting all needs." Consequently, it would require further time, resources, and efforts to establish a clear understanding.

To avoid such situations, our team sets specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals with clients from the project's inception before the design stage. We may use other techniques as appropriate to the client and situation. 

Feature Creep

In our experience, we've encountered issues with feature creep in some projects. Some clients envisioned comprehensive solutions with a vast array of functionalities to be included in the first version of the product. We learned that advising clients about the potential for an oversaturated project scope is crucial, as it requires more time to bring all plans to life. Additionally, products with excessive functionality can become overly complicated. It would make it difficult for users to navigate them intuitively.

At Linkup Studio, we found a solution by creating a team of internal product managers and system architects. They talk with clients based on their experience and coordinate project development and scope intelligently. Their primary focus is on current priorities and the impact each system part will have on business and customer value.

Underestimating Resources and Timelines

Allocating the right resources and setting realistic timelines are crucial for the successful creation of digital products. In the past, we set time estimations for some client projects that proved unfeasible during the creation process.

When resources and timelines are not adequately considered, projects can exceed budgets and miss deadlines. Unfortunately, we've seen that it leads to client stress and potentially inferior product quality.

However, with experienced product managers, we have learned to set more realistic timelines for the products we create. Even when unexpected work and delays arise during digital solution development, we have planned time to deal with them in the planning stage.

Poor Communication Among Teams

I recall a story from colleagues at another firm who outstaffed designers to clients. These designers were tasked with creating designs for one product within an ecosystem of other products. However, due to various reasons, they were not fully informed about the essence and expected value of the product they were designing. The result was misaligned designs and redundancies, leading to more time spent than initially planned. Yet, these designers were experts in their field.

The key takeaway is the importance of a culture of open communication and regular cross-functional meetings and collaboration. Such an environment helps teams stay aligned, delivering expected and necessary results without the need for major fixes.

Insufficient Testing and Validation

Sometimes, founders or product stakeholders, anxious about missing their product launch date, rush the design and development teams to launch faster. What often suffers in this scenario is testing. The product undergoes minimal tests and fails to uncover all potential problems. This approach is not advisable because the post-launch period is then plagued with bugs and usability issues, ultimately damaging the brand’s reputation.

At Linkuo Studio, we emphasize to our customers the need for thorough testing. Even if meeting the deadline seems challenging, we strive to explain, with examples and facts, that testing is crucial for good product performance and business results. We also implement testing phases throughout the development cycle, which helps us ensure the quality of our solution before the launch date.

Resistance to Iterative Changes

Introducing changes in a way that does not confuse product customers is an art. Steven Krug, in one of our “Building Digital Product” podcast episodes, mentioned that users dislike changes that don’t improve or simplify their lives.

One major reason I’ve observed for the failure of some product redesign campaigns is the design and development team's reluctance to iteratively improve the new version. New designs should not be aggressively forced onto clients, as users may not be ready for such changes, and they typically dislike alterations made without their consent. Instead, interim beta tests should be introduced for active users who agree to assist the design and development team in making the solution more useful and appealing.

Additionally, when introducing a new product design, it should be explained to customers so they understand its value and the reason for the changes. 

How AI has Changed the Product Design Process in Terms of Speed and Quality

AI has revolutionized the way our design team handles product design processes. For some stages, it has made the process more streamlined, faster, and even more cost-effective for our clients. I’ll briefly explain some of the ways we now use AI to assist us in creating better designs for our clients.

Quicker Design Experiments

We utilize AI tools that help us generate a greater variety of prototype options in less time. It allows our clients to view these options and choose the ones that resonate most with them.

Comprehending User Behavior

AI-enhanced analytics aid our designers in understanding how people interact with the created product. These tools enable designers to determine user tendencies, identify which features are most important, and pinpoint where in the user flow confusion arises. AI can help determine the reasons for this confusion and assist designers in addressing it in subsequent iterations.

Automated Repetitive Tasks 

Before the widespread adoption of AI, designers had to manually perform repetitive, albeit important, tasks, which I refer to as the “monkey job.” Now, with advanced tools, our Linkup Studio designers can resize images and generate various design variations in seconds. This frees up time for them to tackle more high-level and creative tasks.

Preliminary Testing and Feedback 

After completing a design, we use tools like ChatGPT for testing. This provides additional insights, especially when we include prompts about how the product’s target audience would interact with the designs. This approach is particularly useful for landing pages, marketing campaign designs, and other similar tasks. However, it is not as effective for more complex systems, like CRM systems.

Top AI Tools for the Product Design Process

There are numerous AI tools designed to enhance the work of designers. In this list of top tools, I’ve included those we actually use in our day-to-day practice. These tools are valuable for understanding where to rely on AI and where to double-check the generated output, as AI is not infallible and should be used judiciously.

  1. FigJam

FigJam is helpful because it incorporates AI to assist our team in brainstorming sessions, both internally and with clients. We use it in some of our meetings and workshops. It's proven to be a reliable tool for generating new ideas and gathering data on specific themes, making our creation of innovative designs faster and easier.

  1. Relume.io

We use Relume.io to make mind maps and sitemaps for products. It's also handy for structuring landing pages and simpler projects, such as basic marketplaces. Relume streamlines our creation of medium-fidelity wireframes, which can later be refined with detailed messaging and calls-to-action. We found that this app is not optimal for branding or visual design. However, it still provides a strong foundation for website structure and flow.

  1. ChatGPT

ChatGPT has been a game-changer for the Linkup Studio design team. This tool allows us to input screenshots for a basic design audit of our client's products. Sometimes, it offers unexpected insights. It is especially useful for focusing on CTA placements and the overall layout. ChatGPT helps our product designers fine-tune the user interface and ensures the key elements we developed are effectively presented.

  1. Perplexity.ai

We use Perplexity.ai similarly to ChatGPT in many respects. However, we use this tool more when conducting industry-specific research for our projects. Linkup Studio's product managers collaborate closely with the design team, and they report that Relume provides more focused analyses for market research and design. 

  1. Dall-E-2 & Midjourney

Dall-E-2 excels in creating detailed visual content based on text and examples, while Midjourney is more effective for generating abstract and creative imagery. These platforms are needed when our designers have a task to add unique and eye-catching visual content or elements to our product designs or client content.

For example, we recently used Dall-E-2 to create a mascot for our Toto project. In Midjourney, we generated non-branded images of yachts for our YachtWay project.

Product Design Process: TOP 4 Questions And Their Answers by Product Design Expert

Can you Describe Your Approach to the Product Design Process and How It Has Evolved over Your Career?

Since the beginning of my work in the Linkup Studio design department, we initially followed a more linear approach, including ideation, design stages, prototypes, and tests. Over time, as our experience and qualifications grew, our process evolved, incorporating new stages that allowed us to understand product users more deeply and tailor our designs to their needs more effectively.

In the past two years, we adopted a product design mindset, marking a cultural transformation that fosters each team member's commitment to delivering better results and ongoing improvement to provide more value to users. This shift resulted in a 192.5% growth of our team between 2021 and 2022, and our company was even recognized in Clutch's list of 'Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the World.'

Practically, this means we stopped viewing our work as time-limited projects. Instead, we focus on strengthening businesses and delivering more value to customers. With this in mind, our process now involves a more in-depth study of users, thorough market research, and more comprehensive and intelligent design creation. We also focus on implementation and iterative changes based on user feedback.

What Role does Market Research Play in Your Design Process, and How Do You Ensure that Your Product Meets Market Demands?

Creating a good product without market research is impossible. Without it, you might end up with a beautiful toy for the founder but something completely useless for people. At Linkup Studio, we first understand the target audience or the people who will use the digital product, their needs, goals, and pains. We conduct surveys, focus groups, and user interviews to gain insights and create understanding.

The next stage involves detailed competitor analysis, encompassing direct and indirect rivals within the same industry or those addressing adjacent needs. We usually create tables with a SWOT analysis for each competitor and then compare the results for a comprehensive summary. This helps us understand the offerings of other companies, the pains they address, and identify areas still uncovered or needing improvement. That's where our client's product can stand out.

A great example of this approach is our application developed for a client, Landover, an enhanced version of the world-known Catan board game. The client wanted to enable users worldwide to play with each other. Market research revealed that online game players enjoy seeing their names among the top players globally. Therefore, we designed a page for this feature and integrated it into the product. The result was overwhelmingly positive, leading to many complimentary feedbacks, a higher app rating, and overall increased customer satisfaction.

Can You Walk Us Through How You Utilize Prototyping in Your Design Process? What Types of Prototyping Do You Find Most Effective?

Prototyping is a crucial part of Linkup Studio's design process. We begin by creating medium-fidelity prototypes or wireframes from the initial information gathered during the research stage, evaluating basic digital product concepts and layouts. Once these receive client approval, we proceed to more detailed high-fidelity prototypes, providing a more accurate representation of the final product's appearance.

Next, we develop interactive prototypes using Adobe XD. That helps beta testers and stakeholders visualize how the product will function and gives us valuable feedback on design functionality and user flow.

This prototyping method saves time and cost for our clients, as it helps prevent the need for design changes after the development stage. At Linkup Studio, we have found this approach to be highly cost-effective. 

How has the Integration of AI Tools Impacted Your Design Process, Particularly in Terms of Efficiency and Innovation?

After we integrated some AI tools, it totally transformed some of our design processes. Platforms like FigJam AI and ChatGPT changed our team collaboration in the team and with clients, our process for idea generation, and data-driven decision-making in design.

A significant benefit is the enhancement of creativity and faster exploration of design options, leading to cost savings and allowing us to focus on more complex product creation aspects.

AI also enables better personalization because it helps to tailor designs for specific user segments and provides feedback on interface quality. Additionally, it assists in analyzing complex data from client platforms. It saves our product designers time and gives them more time to discover market trends and customer demands.

Nevertheless, in my view, it is crucial to balance AI's capabilities with human expertise. Yes, AI excels at manual and repetitive tasks, but human designers are crucial for creative and innovative design ideas.


In this article, Nataliya Sambir, Chief Design Officer at Linkup Studio, elaborately described the product design process from its stages to mistakes in collaboration with design companies. She also gave some tips to avoid them.

Then we discussed how AI tools have changed Linkup Studio's approach to digital product design, highlighting specific tools and their particular usefulness.

In the concluding part, Nataliya answered popular questions on how to design a product, further showcasing her expertise in different aspects of the product design process. 

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Nataliya Sambir
Nataliya Sambir
Chief Design Officer
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