Product Management

10 min read

4 Product Design Principles for a Customer-Centric Product

Good product design exists at the intersection of UX, aesthetics, interactions, and psychology. Product teams take behavioral patterns from users and combine them with understanding of the product’s strategy to solve users’ needs in the most effortless way possible. From collaborating with  marketing on branding to working with communications to keep things simple and readable, design is involved in everything that touches the product from beginning to end. 

Product design molds the experience that your customers get within your product. That’s why it’s crucial to take a structured, principled approach to design—and that’s why, as a product manager, you’re in a unique position to collaborate with and support your design team so you can deliver the best product and best customer experience possible. Using research will enable you and your design team to create a well-structured, easy-to-navigate product.

As Director of Product Design, I follow these four principles to keep the product customer-focused.

1. Embrace Strategic Subtraction

If an aspect of your product’s design isn’t needed for it to function, remove it. This will prevent product bloat and provide a cleaner user experience. Subtraction keeps things simple for your customers and saves them from feeling lost or overwhelmed within your product. 

To practice subtraction as part of the design process:

  • Design for simplicity while also supporting complexity. Support what the most common thing you’d expect your user to do next while also supporting secondary options as well. 
  • Use progressive disclosure to make complex task feels manageable and help users stay focused on the task in front of them.
  • Consolidate steps into clear processes so as to not overwhelm users.
  • Incorporate elements of branding to act as signposts guiding the user’s journey.

Ultimately, the best way to subtract nonessentials is for your design team to know what people are trying to do within your app or product. Once they understand that, they can optimize for that function and trim others that aren’t related.

Don’t Overwhelm Your Users

Customers need a clear, understandable path within a SaaS product. If they have to make a lot of complicated decisions to navigate your product, they’re more likely to feel frustrated and exit than they are to figure things out on their own. 

That phenomenon is known as Hick’s law: overwhelming users with too many options actually hinders their decision-making process and negatively impacts your product’s usability. Customers who feel lost in your product aren’t likely to stick with it, which could ultimately lead to churn and harm your customer retention rate (CRR)

Instead, great products are designed to guide users in a specific direction. Designers need to make conscious choices on hierarchy, user interface (UI), typography, and other visual design elements so that your end-users don’t feel lost. 

2. Make Sure Users Can Find Their Way

Users need an easy way to understand where they are in your digital product, where they can head next, and where they were previously. Without clear wayfinding, users may not be able to navigate or complete their in-product goals. In fact, without a clear path, users may not even know what their goals are in the first place.

One of the ways to create a product roadmap is to use product analytics to understand how users currently wayfind. Metrics like page views, clicks, and scroll depth can uncover the most common paths toward each possible destination. With that information, interface design and UX design choices become much easier to make. 

Help Customers Achieve Their Goals 

Similar to subtraction, implementing successful wayfinding tactics requires product designers to understand what customers’ goals are with the product. However, that knowledge can be tough to come by if your design team isn’t in communication with your customers. 

As product designers, we need to talk with our customers directly, so we can hear about any apprehension or confusion they feel while navigating through our product. New users are especially helpful in spotting the weak points in wayfinding or onboarding. 

Startups that have launched new products, in particular, have a lot to gain by connecting their product designers with their customer base. It’s natural for a company that’s operating with a lot of unknowns to make missteps in product design. By understanding where those missteps occurred, the product team can fix them and iterate much more successfully with the next product update.  

Ultimately, whether a product is new or established, designers who are deeply involved in customer feedback know what end-users want and can deliver that outcome.

3. Talk to Your Users 

Product designers need to understand customers as thoroughly as product managers do. That’s the only way to be sure our design choices are meeting customers’ needs. It’s for that reason that I believe product designers should get involved with user research and take part directly in customer conversations. 

To fully engage with customers, product designers will need to know how to listen, ask the right questions, and feel comfortable even when they don’t know what customers are going to say. I’ve found that it helps to be okay with silence since that gives customers time to think during a conversation.

At UserVoice, I’m involved in research along with the rest of the product team. We conduct research asynchronously through surveys and moderated testing and synchronously through meetings with customers. I also get a chance to examine product usage stats, with analytics tools like FullStory or Heap, so I can figure out data-backed ways to enhance user flows.

Keep Your Product Customer-focused

In the end, your users are your stakeholders. Their needs, opinions, and feedback define your product. The only way to know if you’re pleasing your stakeholders is to ask them—and your product designers need that chance to ask them, too. 

If you’re committed to delivering a customer-centric product, your entire company has to be focused on delivering value to your users. That level of organizational buy-in may sound tough to get, but just imagine the product you’ll deliver once every member of your team is devoted to improving customer experience. 

4. Continually Test and Validate Your Design Ideas

Even after taking part in user research, you may not know how your design decisions will ultimately perform for users. That’s when it’s best to test your choices using a prototype. 

Prototypes should be informed by research. We can think of them as hypotheses—educated guesses on what users want and need. A prototype can be quite simple; you really just need enough functionality to gather feedback. Any time your designers can create a workable prototype, you’ll get a quick, easy, and cheap way to test whether or not you’re on the right track.

Avoid Designing Based on Guesswork

Without prototyping, design decisions could be based more on personal assumptions rather than facts. Prototyping lets you validate your hypotheses before you actually iterate. You’re able to refine your product solution even within time constraints. Prototypes get you feedback before the development team starts coding your newest product design.

Involve Your Top Product Design Principles at Every Step in Your Strategy

Designers who are fully embedded in the product management team can advocate for their chosen principles of product design at each step in the product development process. I’ve found that my design process is best served when I know the “why” behind product decisions. When I fully understand our business goals and am involved in strategy setting, I’m able to deliver my best work. Similarly, when I’m able to communicate with our users, I can ensure I’m always answering customer needs with my design decisions. 

UserVoice Discovery manages the ins and outs of the customer feedback process. We use our own product internally to keep track of customer requests, follow up on feedback, and communicate product changes. If you’d like to give it a try for yourself, sign up for a free trial of our product.

Shaade Oliveros-Tavares

Director of Product Design