Design Well, Develop Fast: The Impact of Product Design on Software Development

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It seems intuitive that a well-laid plan leads to streamlined development, yet many development teams are hesitant to invest in design.

Design is an afterthought for many technology-focused organizations: A product's appearance is secondary to its functions. 

However, design encompasses far more than aesthetics, and a dated mindset could cost businesses in the long run. According to a five-year study by McKinsey, companies that seriously invested in design saw 32% higher revenue growth than their peers.

Product designers create prototypes, conduct user research, and help development teams get more out of their resources. Leveraging product design early in the software development process accelerates progress, reduces cyclical reviews—and, yes, contributes to better-looking products and improved user experiences. 

Product designers are invaluable for teams seeking rapid and successful product development.

What Is Product Design? 

Product design is a strategic approach to solving user problems and elevating experiences across every touchpoint—often before those problems arise. It leverages deep user research and interactive testing to build functionality, usability, and desirability into products.

“Design is not just about making things look pretty; it's about solving real user problems and enhancing their experiences,” says Julian Castillo, a FullStack product designer with over a decade of experience helping development teams build more effective software. Recently, Castillo led a project to unify disparate platforms for a transportation and logistics client. Leveraging thorough testing and user research, he worked closely with the product team, stakeholders, and technical experts to develop a single, streamlined solution.

Product designers like Castillo help teams build everything from aesthetic websites and user interfaces to prototypes. Quality product design is critical for developing successful products that resonate with users, drive customer satisfaction, and differentiate brands.

Product Design in Software Development 

When it comes to software, product designers bring value to every stage of development. More than creating aesthetically pleasing products, designers help development teams by building rapid prototypes and scalable user flows and assisting in iterative testing.

Often, leaders approach product design and development as separate and distinct processes. However, Castillo says, “In software development, design is the bridge between vision and execution in software development. It's the roadmap guiding the creation of functional and compelling user experiences.” Involving your design team early and often in development dissolves silos and ensures optimal cross-functional collaboration. 

Early Agility

Software developers can take weeks or even months to create working technical prototypes. If the prototyped software lacks a specific functionality or doesn’t function as expected, teams are back at square one—and out in terms of their time and investment.

In contrast, product designers can lay out prototypes in days or, in some cases, hours. Design prototypes are significantly more straightforward to iterate upon rapidly, lowering the sunk cost risks of early development. Leveraging this rapid approach allows project leaders and clients to understand better how a project looks and functions before coding begins, accelerating product timelines and reducing budgets. 

“Rapid prototyping isn't just about speed. It's about minimizing risks and maximizing learning opportunities,” says Castillo. This approach has several advantages, particularly concerning speed and agility. Delivering a similar number of iterations with a traditional development approach could take weeks and cost thousands of dollars, depending on your team and the project's complexity. 

On a recent transportation software project designed to streamline trip creation, Castillo’s team delivered eight prototype iterations in just one two-week sprint. “This rapid iteration was crucial … ensuring each iteration was fine-tuned to meet the stringent requirements and tight lead time,” says Castillo. Thanks to Castillo’s design expertise, the client met its strict deadline and launched in time for a critical industry show. Without the ability to expedite iterations through design, the deadline would have been impossible. 

Easy Scalability 

When building a product that stands the test of time, scalability is top-of-mind for lead developers and product managers. Gauging the scalability of your software early in the development process poses significant challenges for engineering-only teams. 

Design-driven development eliminates these challenges by fostering a clear and early understanding of product architecture and user requirements. Product design allows teams to anticipate future growth and scalability challenges by informing development in the context of user needs. This means improved agility and flexibility to pivot according to business needs without compromising usability or performance. 

“In most projects I've tackled, scalability has consistently been critical for long-term viability,” says Castillo. “This was especially critical in a recent project where we collaborated closely with developers to ensure fluid scalability from the project's MVP onwards. Specifically, we proactively anticipated scalability needs during development, staying ahead in design and diligently maintaining all components and workflows alongside the development team.” 

By establishing scalable design patterns and modular components early on, software development teams can reduce development overhead and minimize disruptions to the user experience. This proactive approach to scalability future-proofs the software and enhances its maintainability and extensibility over time.

Improved User Experiences 

Since 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience, investing in product design has significant financial implications. According to Forrester, well-designed websites with positive user impressions can have a 400% higher visit-to-lead conversion rate than peers. 

“The quality of user experience directly correlates with the success of a product,” says Castillo. Design-driven development takes a user-centric approach informed by deep user research. By accurately predicting user behavior and developing user-friendly experiences, developers reduce the need for post-launch course corrections in response to unexpected user behavior. 

How Can Development Teams Include Design in Their Process?

Multiple approaches exist to engaging design in development, though all prioritize collaboration between design and development teams. Two common development methodologies that can incorporate design are Agile and Waterfall. 

For teams following Agile development principles, design thinking occurs concurrently with development at all stages. This method works well for projects that benefit from ongoing user feedback. Continuous development and integration allow for fluid, cross-functional iteration. 

Waterfall development, in contrast, takes a sequential approach. Design occurs up front rather than concurrently. Designers create comprehensive design documents, such as wireframes, prototypes, and specifications, which are then handed off to developers to implement.

Hiring Product Designers for Software

Development teams benefit from design-first approaches by reducing risk, iterating more quickly, and creating products built to scale. But how can developers know they’re bringing the right product designer for their project? “In today’s development landscape, software-focused product designers bring a unique blend of technical expertise and creative vision to the table,” says Castillo. “They prioritize not only the acceleration of development but also the enhancement of end-user experiences, accessibility, and sustainability.”

FullStack has over a decade of experience providing industry-leading product design solutions powered by proven designers like Julian. We’ve helped hundreds of clients accelerate progress and exceed expectations, and we’re confident we can do the same for your project. 

Contact us today and enhance your development projects with expert designers like Julian.

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