Design Strategy 101: How to Build Lasting Products

Launch better products with a user-centered design strategy. Follow these steps to develop a product design strategy and launch products with confidence.

In product design, having a well-defined strategy is essential. Developing a product design strategy starts with understanding your users and what they need from your product. Once you know this, you can start creating an experience that meets their needs.

Whether you’re working on a brand new product idea, redesigning a feature, or building your product design portfolio, follow the steps in this guide to set your future products up for success.

What is a product design strategy?

Strategic product design is focused on connecting design thinking to business value. It’s about making informed decisions that result in a successful final product—one that’s profitable and appealing to your customers.

Put simply, a product design strategy is a framework that helps you understand your users, define your product goals, and build the right features.

A great product design strategy focuses entirely on the user, and should also do the following:

  • Provide research-backed insights to help the product succeed
  • Guide the design team toward the right solutions
  • Incorporate feedback from other disciplines, departments, and users into the design process

Strong product design strategies guide you toward the overall vision of your product. They’re how you discover what to build and define how to build it.

Why do you need a product design strategy?

It’s important to have a clear product strategy from the start as it will guide every decision you make about the product. Without a strategy, you can easily get caught up in short-term thinking and end up building features that don’t help you achieve your long-term goals.

Without a strategy, you can easily get caught up in short-term thinking and end up building features that don’t help you achieve your long-term goals.

There are many benefits of developing a product design strategy:

  • Improve customer satisfaction: By understanding the needs of your customers and designing a product that meets those needs, you can create a product that they will love. This can lead to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Increase sales: A well-designed product that meets the needs of your target market is more likely to sell than a poorly designed product. Creating a product design strategy can help you make sure that your product is designed for success.
  • Competitive advantage: A great product can give you a competitive edge in the marketplace. If your product is better than the competition, customers will be more likely to choose it over other options. This can lead to increased market share and profitability.

5 steps to a great product design strategy

The biggest design-forward businesses in the world follow design strategies. It’s no coincidence that wildly successful companies like Apple and Tesla champion design thinking and strategies that guide them toward a unified vision.

So, what goes into a solid design strategy? Follow the steps below to create a product design strategy that sets your products up for success.

🔭 1. Define your vision

Before you begin the product design process, it’s important to take some time to think about your goals and objectives. What are you trying to achieve with your product? How does it fit into your overall business strategy? What needs does it address for your customers? Answering these questions will help you develop a clear design brief that will guide your team through the entire product development process.

It’s also important to think about the user experience when defining your goals. What kind of experience do you want your users to have with your product? What kind of emotions do you want them to feel when using it? Keep these factors in mind as you develop your product design goals. By doing so, you’ll be able to build a more focused and effective final product.

🔍 2. Research and discovery

Now that you have defined your product vision, it’s time to figure out what you need to build to reach that vision. Before you ever push a pixel or write a single line of code, you need to understand what your future customers want from the product you intend to build.

All design strategies are informed by research. Known as the discovery phase, the insights gleaned here will help product designers identify user behaviors and habits, the pain points they have with existing products, and common goals they share.

The most common reason for product failures is product-market fit. Countless start-ups have rushed to design, build, and ship products that provided no real value to the users they were intended for. Had the teams started with proper research, they likely would have avoided a lot of wasted time and sunk costs.

Products are for people. Keeping those people at the forefront when developing your product design strategy is essential.

The information collected during discovery helps product teams connect the vision to real user problems. This is where opportunities present themselves, and it’s when problems reveal possible solutions. In many cases, these opportunities come in the form of problems that weren’t even posited in the early stages.

👤 3. Create user personas for target users

Once you’ve identified the problems, needs, and desires of the people, you need to refine what you know. In other words, you need to clarify who your target customers are by refining your user research.

Building user personas is a common approach.

User personas are fictitious representations of your ideal customers. They’re documents you share with the entire design team that represents an amalgamation of your user research. Each persona links back to the same common pain points, problems, and goals shared between the users you interviewed and studied.

On the surface, crafting useful personas seems fairly straightforward. But truly capturing the essence of your customers is challenging. While a persona doesn’t represent a real individual, they do represent real people. Every aspect should point to legitimate user data.

Some characteristics of a great persona are:

  • They demonstrate real user patterns, not roles within a product
  • Each one focuses on an existing product state, not a future one
  • Every persona has a clearly defined context for each use case

These personas represent the target users you’re creating the product for. Having your demographics boiled down into individualized packages helps keep the product team, stakeholders, and everyone involved on the same page. And it helps you remember who you’re advocating and designing for.

✨ 4. Differentiate your product

One of the most important aspects of a design strategy is differentiation. It’s not enough to understand your users — you also need to understand what kind of products you’re going up against. And you need to be honest about how your solution stacks up against competing products.

Some questions you and your team should keep in mind when doing your research are:

  • What products do your target customers currently use?
  • How loyal are they to this product or brand?
  • Are these products attempting to solve the same problems your product intends to solve?
  • Are they doing something you can incorporate into your own product?

Before deciding how to differentiate your product, be diligent. Don’t just read about the competition — dive in and use their products. Try to understand their own design philosophies. Analyze the strategies they implemented and tease out why they did what they did. Doing so will help you come up with strategies that serve your own product.

When it comes time to differentiate your product and implement competitive advantages, you should have a thorough understanding of why your competitors took the approach they did. This is the veritable spotlight that illuminates where to look for opportunities to offer something more valuable to your users.

✅ 5. Validate your strategy

At this stage, it’s time to start ideating solutions. Build prototypes and get them in front of users early and often. Collect valuable feedback from your users, iterate your designs, and repeat the process.

To truly maximize your validation, it’s important to sit down with your users and interview them. And don’t take responses at face value. Instead, channel your inner child and ask “why?” Doing so gets you closer to that person’s true motivations and helps you validate or negate a proposed design solution.

If you do your job well, prepare for multiple iterations. The goal isn’t to find good solutions — it’s to identify the best ones for your users. Use their feedback to tweak individual design solutions and guide the overall design strategy.

Remember that the strategy, by definition, is fluid. Don’t be afraid to pivot and take an entirely new path that feedback reveals.

By following these strategies, you’ll give your product the highest chance of success and reduce the risk of releasing something that’s dead on arrival. Ultimately, you’ll avoid sunk costs and wasted time.

Tailor your design strategy to your product

The strategies outlined above are tried and true. If you’re preparing to build your first product, they’ll serve you well. But it’s important to remember that strategies are unique. They’re specific to organizations, to teams, and to products.

Take Apple, for example, a company that turns product design strategies on its head by creating products first and finding a market for them later. Steve Jobs famously said that customers don’t always know what they want. This strategy works for Apple, at least some of the time. For other companies, it might spell ruin.

If you’re eager to improve your product design strategies and build a career in the field of product design, Dribbble’s Certified 16-Week Product Design Course may be for you. Learn how to apply the product design process to real-world projects and build an interview-ready portfolio alongside a dedicated design mentor.

Bring your product vision to life

Designing a new product is no small feat. When it’s done well, it’s a complex process involving a well-oiled team of project managers, designers, developers, marketers, UX researchers, and other top design talent. A strong product design strategy is essential for any business that wants to succeed.

By taking the time to understand the needs of your target market and focusing your strategy on the user, you can create a successful product that will delight users and give you a competitive advantage. Ready to start building your next best product design team? Start here.