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In the Details We Trust: A Blueprint for Product Design Mastery

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Laura Ang
Product Designer at Expedock, Healthdex
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In the design industry, especially in product design, success often hinges on more than creativity and a good eye

— it involves mastering the small details that are usually overlooked.

Here are some of the areas I concentrated on that significantly elevated the quality of my work and allowed me to win freelance deals.

1. Unlock key insights through discovery work.

Behind an effective design is a well-informed designer. When starting a design project, you have to spend time learning about your users, their current experience, what are the top frustrations they have, and how are they solving for it now. At the core of this discovery, you have to identify what role the user has, and what job the user is trying to accomplish with the product or service. To map this for your product, it is helpful to use the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework.

JTBD template:

As a [type of user/persona], when I’m [specific situation], I want to [action], So that [benefit].

Some examples:

As a curious shopper, when I'm unsure about which skincare products suit my skin type, I want to receive personalized product recommendations and expert advice so that I can make informed purchasing decisions and take care of my skin effectively.
As a busy professional, when I struggle to find time to work out, I want to access short, effective workout programs I can do at home or during breaks so that I can incorporate exercise into my schedule and stay healthy despite a hectic lifestyle.

These jobs allow you to identify the most important things to build, understand which users you’re serving, and align with stakeholders on what problems you’re trying to solve for your users. Without these insights from users, your designs will be heavily based on assumptions, and it might even be harder to create an effective design solution.

If you have limited access to users, showing your designs to people in the same industry or those who have some knowledge about what problem your product is trying to solve is a good alternative. Your primary goal is to validate your assumptions and get feedback as fast as possible so you can go back and iterate on your work.

2. Do studies and explorations.

The Crazy 8s activity is a popular design workshop for ideation. This method fosters divergent thinking and explores innovative possibilities.

(Photo courtesy of the Figma Community. Get the Crazy 8s template here)

Once a design solution is determined (from ideation), it is also prudent to create different variants and studies during execution. Challenge yourself to try different layouts, visual styles and IA (Information Architecture). Having varied studies not only helps widen your perspective as a designer, but it also makes your stakeholders more likely to trust your design recommendation because they have seen how you’ve explored multiple executions. 

3. Be an expert on consistency and space.

Consistency in design elements, such as typography, color schemes, or design components, provides a sense of unity and clarity. It establishes predictability for users, enabling them to anticipate how the product behaves. For example, placing buttons on the same location across different pages empowers users to navigate and learn how to use your product. 

Another thing that makes a design polished is the effective use of spacing. Space can direct the user's attention, create hierarchy, and prevent overwhelming visuals. I use an 8-pt grid framework to instill balance into my designs.

Here is an example of how spacing makes a difference in creating well-structured designs. Guess which one looks easier to digest?

(Photo courtesy of Viktorija Bachvarova from "The power of empty space in UI design")

I won’t delve into UI tips but here are some good reads:

Learn how to create and use vertical rhythm in UI design

The effective utilization of white space in UI design

10 Common UI Design Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

4. Validate your ideas by asking the right questions.

Acknowledging the unknown is a critical aspect of growth. Testing designs, be it through usability testing or concept testing, is crucial in uncovering the unforeseen flaws in your designs. These insights will give you the opportunity to improve the quality of your design work. 

The key to getting to these insights is to:

  • Listen to what they say, and observe what they don’t say.
  • Repeat to the user what they said to make sure you understood them correctly. 
  • Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics to evaluate usability and effectiveness of your designs.

Bad practices of testing:

  • Asking leading questions (ex. “Do you like X?”, “Which is better?”).
  • Overemphasizing questions around aesthetics/visual design.
  • Directing the user towards performing a certain action.
  • Relying on a single round of testing.

5. Think through a cohesive, end-to-end experience.

Freelance projects are hard because they’re usually a one-off type of engagement. As a designer, you want to act not as a contractor but also aspire to be a strategic partner for the companies you work with. Therefore, to elevate your status and value as a designer, it's crucial to envision the complete journey your customers will take with your product.

The product is the entire experience that the user goes through, so spend time thinking about:

  1. What does the first touchpoint look like? What are they doing when they first interact with your design?
  2. What specific elements will make the first touchpoint memorable for users?
  3. How can the design immediately communicate the core value proposition of the product?
  4. Are there elements in the design that may encourage users to explore more features or spend additional time on the platform?
  5. How will the new designs change or impact user behavior?
  6. How will you collect feedback for these new designs?

Some of these questions are usually answered at the tail end of the design process. I recommend proactively addressing them early on. By preparing for these considerations, you refine your design vision for the client's product and position yourself as a thoughtful and forward-thinking designer.

Conclusion

Becoming a top-notch product designer isn't just about talent; it's about being curious, testing ideas, thinking through every detail, and learning from the process. It's an ongoing journey of improvement and adaptation, where every little tweak and every user insight counts. Master tiny, overlooked aspects and refine your design process. These improvements can make the biggest impact. 

Thanks for reading!

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Interested to read more? Consider subscribing here (it’s free): https://lauraang.substack.com/

Connect with me!

Email: laura.ang@expedock.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-ang/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Ang
Product Designer at Expedock, Healthdex
Laura Ang is a Product Designer for Expedock and current co-founder of Healthdex. Previously, she was the founding designer and acting head of design at SariSuki. She’s was also part of the design team at the first YC startup in Southeast Asia, Kalibrr. She’s a passionate writer on design workflows, design career, and problem solving strategies. She’s committed to helping empower fractional designers navigate the gig economy.
Product Design
Design Management
No-Code Dev
Webflow
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