Product Design (when done correctly) requires alot of thinking. Thinking about the past, present and future of your product, customers and roadmap.
Thinking about the Past
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
– George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense
The most common form of this thinking is related to patterns. You should not introduce new patterns willy-nilly in your product. Consistency is important. This is especially important when you take over design of a product that is already built. Learn the patterns of your predecessors if you want to avoid inconsistency in UI patterns.
Another form is about “lessons learned”. You should constantly be evaluating the past to learn what to do and what to avoid. My experience at Remend taught me a tremendous amount about design and business. Forgetting those lessons would diminish my abilities and hurt the company I work for. There is a reason that “experience” is the most important word on a resume.
Thinking about the Present
It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
– Steve Jobs, 1998
Figuring out what people want takes alot of thinking. You have to understand where people’s heads/hearts are in today’s context. What is “new and exciting” changes with the seasons. What is the right feature depends on what is available elsewhere at that moment. It’s critical to understand the competitive environment, the customers existing ideas and the overall economic conditions before delivering product to customers. If you are head of your time, you may still fail.
Don’t misunderstand my meaning here. User-Driven Design is awful, nasty stuff. In that mode, you do exactly what the customer asks for, regardless of what it is. Please, do not do this. User-Centered Design is better. This is the overall method of putting the users needs front and center in your design thinking.
Thinking about the Future
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. – Ben Franklin
This may be the most important part of your thinking. Tomorrow may be a mystery, but if you don’t think about it, you are going to get caught with your pants down. For example, I just recently was designing a feature for later this year and realized that it would require using some special words in the application. I raced over to an engineer to make sure no one used those words for other purposes. Think ahead.
Another version of this has to do with volumes. When designing an application, you have to consider volumes of usage. How many widgets will someone create? A dozen? A thousand? The UI will be radically different based on the answers. Think about your growth. Leave room in the application to add more features. It’s like moving into a new office. If you are going to grow, you need space to add people. Applications are the same way.
Think. Think more. Think about the past, the present and the future and your colleagues and customers will thank you for it.