May 15, 2024

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Product Design and Development

What is a product?

A product can be anything and everything in the design and development world. It no longer just pertains to a physical product as it now extends to digital commodities like software, courses, and applications.

When we think of design, our minds often focus on aesthetics, how a particular product stands out visually. As consumers, we can connect certain products directly to the brand solely based on their distinct design elements.

For example, people can immediately connect the three-striped lines on athletic wear to sports brand Adidas. This design element was finalised after many other variations were tried and tested an aspect of product design we will come to learn soon.

While beautifully designed products can help a business stand out, the role of a product designer should focus mainly on creating functional products through the use of good design.

It is said that when a product is designed well, users don’t pay too much attention to how something was made they simply just use it. Take websites for instance; you come across a new page that is visually appealing and decide to make a purchase.

In the process, you realize you are unable to find the correct category or filter based on your requirements, there is a frustration that arises regarding the functionality of the website, making you reconsider your purchase.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible,”

— Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

Table of Contents

  1. Product development
  2. Product design
  3. 5 phases of product design and development
  4. Stages of the product design and development process
  5. How is product design different from product development?
  6. Careers in product development
  7. Responsibilities of a product designer and developer
  8. Why businesses should invest in a product development team
  9. Top freelance marketplaces for product design and development
  10. Examples of good product design and development
  11. Key tools used by product designers and developers
  12. Languages to know as a product designer
  13. FAQs

Product development

Product development is the process of bringing a product into the market from ideation to creation. It includes brainstorming, running user tests, sourcing materials, creating prototypes, and ultimately launching a quality product for the target audience.

The aim is to create a user-centric product through continuous research and testing. Product development is an umbrella term with many specialized roles, one of which is product design. ¸

Product design

Product design is the process of ideating products that satisfy user needs while meeting business objectives. For instance, your company is launching a new pair of headphones in the market. Brainstorming about the color choice, features, materials, and functionality are all aspects of product design.

Designers spend months researching different aspects of the process before planning to execute the product. Design is essential when creating a quality product, as designers create functionality through design elements.

If the organization's scale is small, a product designer may execute the entire product creation cycle. At the same time, larger organizations may hire product developers who solely focus on executing the product vision conceived by the designers.

5 phases of product design and development

1. Empathise - Product design is considered a human-first approach to creating products. This is why, before ideating on any product design, you should find out who you are making the product for and understand their needs and pain points.

2. Define - Have a vision for the product and what objectives you would like to meet. This vision should consider your business goals and the user’s needs. Once you have the desired goal, you can begin brainstorming product ideas.

3. Ideate - The ideation stage is where designers let their minds go free and think of all the possible ideas, permutations, and combinations that can be executed. Most likely, the ideas brainstormed in the initial stages won’t replicate the end product. This stage benefits designers because it allows them to harness their creativity without worrying about the final result.

4. Prototype - A prototype is a mock version of the end product. It is created so designers get a rough idea of how the product will look and function. Designers create prototypes based on budget and the needs of the project.

5. Test - Once designers have a prototype, they will return to the users for additional product feedback. This could be anything from features to accessibility, texture, color, pattern, shape, size, etc. The final product will be created based on the users' feedback.

Stages of product design and development

1. Pinpointing the objective

Before working on any task, the design team must create a vision for their product. This is the most important stage of the product creation process. Finding answers to questions such as why you are creating this product, for whom, and what objectives it will serve is important to making good progress in the product creation journey.

Take working out for an example. To consistently work out, you must establish your objective for this task. Is it to lose weight, increase energy levels, or get yourself moving? Having an objective helps you move in the right direction and gives you a goal to look forward to.

2. Brainstorming sessions

Designers will then have brainstorming huddles with their team to spit ideas for new or existing products. Sometimes, members from other teams, like marketing and strategy, will join in to provide insights on current trends and past sales.

This is an ongoing process as designers are juggling multiple projects simultaneously, figuring out tweaks for existing products or creating new versions of the same product. For instance, if a company specializes in travel mugs and realizes customers are experiencing difficulty with the handle. Their next task will be to figure out how to fix the handle. Building quality products for users creates trust and loyalty for the brand.

3. Extensive market and user research

Once you have shortlisted a few ideas with your team on moving forward, the real challenge begins: Figuring out what the market and users have to say. You might not always create products that your users want, but you still need to be able to create products that they are willing to use and return. It is equally important to know the competition and where the product can be placed in the market.

The research process is usually divided into primary and secondary research. Primary research tends to be more cost-heavy for organizations as they must conduct surveys, focus groups, or studies to gauge what users think of the potential product. Not all organizations spend large amounts on this process, but it can be very beneficial in the later stages of product creation.

Secondary research involves researching market trends, doing competitor research, and making use of existing data to decipher whether the organization should go ahead with creating the product

4. Creating a prototype

Once enough information has been collected; a budget will be created to determine what resources the team will need to bring this product to life. Designers will get their product ideas in place, start sketching, figure out what materials they need, what the look and feel of the product, its features, what potential issues they might face, and add any feedback they receive from the user testing process.

This stage is long and tedious and requires a lot of trial and error to get to the final product. Often designers face problems regarding implementing a design and must return to the drawing board to figure out a better solution.

5. Testing it with users

Now’s the time to test the prototype with real users. Designers will try to understand which features users find useful, their pain points, and whether they easily understand how to use the product.

Getting user feedback is an important step in product creation that should not be overlooked. It gives you real insights into how a product will received when it becomes available in the marketplace.

6. Collaborating with other teams

Depending on the organization's size, you will constantly communicate with various teams on the project's progress. Products aren’t usually built by a single person. It takes a team effort and different perspectives to create a quality product.

Many minds go into figuring out budgeting, project planning, positioning, marketing, and executing the final product. During the final stages, designers try to use user and team feedback to improve the product and start preparing for the launch deadline.

7. Launching the product

Some organizations tend to send out a press release or begin marketing in the early stages of the product creation to build a sense of anticipation for the product. This might not be feasible if you are a smaller company.

The launch stage is the most nerve-wracking for designers because it is when they finally know if their efforts have led to good results. Once the product is launched, the designer’s job does not end there.

They will begin collecting data based on customer responses to determine ways to improve the existing product or create a different one altogether. The designer’s journey never really ends. It is a continuous learning process.

How is product design different from product development?

There tends to be confusion in differentiating between product design and development. Product design is part of the product development process. It refers to the conception of a product while product development refers to the entire product creation cycle from ideation to completion. Many organizations have specialized roles where there are product designers and product developers.

Designers tend to focus on the design aesthetic of the product while developers focus on the functionality and accessibility of the product. In smaller organizations, a developer will be tasked with the complete life cycle of the product and must be equipped to wear multiple hats at any given time.

Careers in product development

1. Product designer

A product designer is the mind behind the product's vision. They focus on a user’s needs to create a functional and well-designed product. The designers are involved in the entire process of creating a product from start to finish. It is a creative and intuitive role that requires designers to be empathetic and have a good eye for design.

2. User Interface (UI) designer

UI designers create well-designed user interfaces for their customers. They use interactive components, color, and design elements to create a visually pleasing interface that is also easy to use. UI design includes everything from how the page appears to the color palette, visual content, buttons, and voice automation, to name a few.

3. User experience (UX) designer

A UX designer focuses on the usability of the interface. When customers use a website, can they navigate to the page they are searching for? Are the buttons functional? Is the page easy to load? These are some of the elements that the UX designer focuses on.

4. Project manager

Like any manager in an organization, a project manager ensures that the project proceeds according to the established deadlines. They plan the tasks and deadlines, streamline the documentation, and communicate the project's progress to the necessary stakeholders. They also have to resolve conflicts when there are differences in the team or problems concerning the budget.

5. Quality assurance tester

A QA tester is in charge of ensuring all products are well-made and meet industry standards. Certain organizations have testers doing quality checks at every stage of the product creation process. For instance, if a new app is being built, checking for bugs or anticipating any issues early on can help the business save money in the long run.

6. Business analyst

While the focus of product design tends to be on user needs, an organization must also consider its business objectives. Here’s where the business analyst comes in. They look to see if the product can be created within the given budget, and they communicate the perspectives of other stakeholders. Analyzing the value and use of each decision in the product development team.

7. Growth Marketer

A growth marketer takes care of the strategy and customer retention of the product journey. They strategize on positioning the product in the market and attracting more users. Creating a great product will only be beneficial if those products can sell in the market.

Responsibilities of a product designer and developer

Product designers are responsible for making a product come to life. They use their intuitive design knowledge to create products that meet the users' needs for which they are designing. Depending on the role and the project, the responsibilities of a product designer may differ each time.

Certain organizations may have segregated roles where a designer is focused on the brainstorming and designing stage while a developer executes the product idea and focuses on the product's functionality.

The main responsibilities of a designer pertain to brainstorming on new products, improving upon existing products, and conducting user research to figure out what problems the users are facing with the current products.

This is then followed by market research of trends, researching similar products in the market, and testing for the product's viability. Depending on the budget, designers will start making prototypes or wireframes to understand what the final product should look like.

Throughout this process, designers must collaborate and communicate with other teams to help them understand their vision for the product. Continuous feedback and discussion can improve the quality of the product. A designer’s journey consists of constant trial and error, as they must constantly channel their creativity and create multiple versions of the same product until a quality product has been created.

Why businesses should invest in a product development team

1. Increased customer loyalty

when a business consistently delivers quality products with the user’s needs in mind, they will find that people will return to purchase their products. By spending additional resources on design teams, organizations gain top designers who are specialized in their field and have a keen understanding of customer behavior, which proves extremely useful when creating products for any target audience.

2. Stand out from your competition

by creating products that take months to research and test and undergo a rigorous trial-and-error process, you are bound to create high-quality and innovative products. This acts as a great tactic to stand out from the competitors in the market. Extensive competitive research helps designers gain insights into brands in their industry and how they can create more high-quality products.

3. Directly target user needs

if you create products without considering the problems a user might face you are simply creating more problems for the future that will need additional resources to be solved. Instead of creating products on the fly, by using market trends, past data, and research, designers can create products that users are more likely to buy, thus creating more revenue for the organization.

4. Cut costs in the long run

Designers spend long hours creating the best product for their users. Making sketches and multiple prototypes can help them identify bugs or non-functional product features that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. While creating multiple mockups and variations can be cost-heavy, it can also be financially beneficial in the long run and help maintain trust in the brand.

Top freelance marketplaces for product design and development

  1. Versatile
  2. Dribbble
  3. Toptal
  4. Behance
  5. Upwork
  6. Fiverr
  7. Peopleperhour
  8. Freelancer
  9. 99Designs

Examples of good product design and developmet

1. Spotify's Personalized Playlists

Spotify’s entire business model is geared towards providing the most personalized experience to its music listeners. The company provides users with tailored playlists and discovery recommendations daily. The company uses machine learning to meet the ever-changing tastes of its users.

Designers at Spotify work tirelessly to understand how their users think. They found that there were two categories of music listeners: people who know exactly what they want to listen to and people who want to discover new music.

They also realized that people use their playlists for activities like working out, cleaning, dancing, etc. Over the years, designers at Spotify have tried to dig deep to understand customer behavior, which is why they have become global leaders.

2. Slack for Workspace Management

Slack was created as a workspace management tool for organizations to reduce the time spent drafting emails and attending meetings, which could otherwise be conveyed in a short message.

With organized channels and teams, employees can easily keep track of their communication and even collaborate with their teams seamlessly through huddles.

3. Apple’s iPhone

When the iPhone first launched in 2007, it created a stir worldwide. Its minimalist design and touchscreen features were unheard of by users before. Not only was it sleeker than most phones on the market, but it also had the capacity to load websites and use Google search.

While many of the features we see today were missing back then, through rigorous testing and research, the designers at Apple began to release versions of the iPhone, each better than the previous one.

4. Dyson Airwrap

Until the creation of the Dyson airwrap, there hadn’t been many innovative hair styling tools reimagined how straighteners and curlers were made.

However, Dyson changed that with air pressure technology in the curler attachments, which helped create curls with reduced heat damage unlike most styling tools on the market. Despite the product's high price, it has garnered much user interest.

Key tools used by product designers and developers

Project Management

Tools to schedule tasks and track product journeys effectively

1. Asana

  • Collaborate on multiple projects with your team simultaneously
  • See each team member’s workload and duties
  • Track the time spent working on each task
  • Get automated project updates

2. Trello

  • Organise product road maps, specs and code all in one place
  • Sync your workspace with your other channels to save time and resources
  • Create automated commands to move completed tasks
  • Well-designed templates to help teams with project planning


  • Creating a workspace based on scheduling processes like Kanban and Gantt
  • Organize data visually using charts and graphs
  • Allocate resources in an effective way

4. Hive

  • Use cards to communicate with your team members on current projects
  • Create a visual hierarchy of various projects to prioritize immediate deadlines
  • Send updates and get approvals from departments in an efficient manner

Brainstorming and ideation

Discuss ideas with your team members and create brainstorming maps

1. Stormboard

  • Digital whiteboard to brainstorm with your team
  • Uses AI to help brainstorm and execute tasks in a short period
  • Visually brainstorm ideas using sticky notes and tabs

2. Miro

  • Anonymous feedback feature in discussions to get honest responses
  • Use AI generation to build mind maps, templates and summaries of team meetings
  • Sync all your data and user research in one place

3. Lucidchart

  • Team collaboration on one workspace
  • Create mock designs of products
  • Brainstorms easily on improvements to the customer journey through visual maps

4. Coggle

  • Create visually appealing mind maps
  • Make multiple flow charts and diagrams in a single space
  • Create unlimited personal diagrams

User research

Research to understand the target audience and get more information on the needs and wants of the user

1. Dovetail

  • Get insights from real customers on user interface, accessibility, and more
  • Collect large data sets in one place to find similarities and patterns in user behavior
  • Get audio and video feedback from users

2. Maze

  • Easy to share user surveys that emphasize data-driven results
  • Gauge users’ interests in market trends
  • Eliminate biases in user surveys with AI

3. Hotjar

  • Heatmaps to identify areas of low and high interest on websites
  • Get detailed recordings of real users navigating the website
  • Instantly share and discuss recordings with your team

4. Survey monkey

  • Ranking system for users to prioritize features
  • Test initial stage ideas and concepts with your target audience
  • Visual reports on customer feedback and patterns

Market research

Secondary research on current products in the market, competitor research, past studies and past internal data

1. Statista

  • Tailored statistics on market trends for your industry
  • Get insightful metrics on competitors like KPIs, profitability, and stock performance
  • Check statistics for organizations worldwide

2. SEM rush

  • Track competitors’ strategies by analyzing their online presence
  • Compare your positioning in the market with top organizations in the industry industry
  • Monitor your competition's social media footprint

3. Qualtrics

  • Monitor new trends in the market to get ahead of the competition
  • Segment your market into sections based on user behavior
  • Easily identify gaps in the market through competitor analysis

4. Think with Google

  • Check Google Market trends
  • Get the latest information on new tools and strategies in your industry
  • See what the experts in your field have to say


Create design and drawings of your ideas using digital software

1. Figma

  • Multi-player design file to visualize product ideas as a team
  • Built-in design systems that adhere to the standards of the industry
  • Automatic layouts that minimize time spent on formatting

2. Sketchbook

  • Recreating the experience of manual sketching in a digital space
  • Simple interface to eliminate clutter and help improve focus
  • Tools that focus on precision and symmetry to help you design better

3. Adobe Illustrator

  • Create designs for any product in a seamless manner
  • Build new shapes and designs
  • Work on freeform sketches of product ideas


Create mock-ups first to find out what the end product would look like

1. Axure

  • Build prototypes of websites and applications with endless interactive combinations
  • Helps create commands for prototype to follow
  • Adaptable to all devices (mobile, desktop, and PC)


  • customizable templates to create wireframes and prototypes
  • A wide range of interactive elements like touch keyboard, drag and down, mouse click
  • View user hotspots to see how users are interacting with the prototype during the testing phase

3. Origami Studio

  • Document and record parts of your prototype journey to discuss with the team
  • Easily import visual and audio content
  • Integrate design elements from Figma into your prototype


Software to learn wireframes and interactive design for websites and applications

1. Balsamiq

  • The interface is black and white and concise to get rid of any distractions and focus on building good UX
  • Create customizable templates to reuse in the future
  • Good for working on the initial skeleton of the website

2. Marvel

  • Choose from hundreds of wireframe templates to fast-track the design process
  • Use any device to turn ideas into wireframes
  • Easy link sharing to allow team members to collaborate from any location

3. Whimsical

  • Easy to use drag and drop features
  • Shortcuts to automate actions
  • Feedback sharing in real-time

Languages to know as a product designer

1. Javascript

Javascript is an essential language for anyone starting a career in product development. It is used to create good interaction in web development. With Java script, designers can add pop-ups, cool animations, buttons, widgets, and drop-down menus to their website or application. It has a multitude of uses and is a must-know for every designer.

2. Python

Python is relatively easy to use and diverse in its functions compared to other languages. Using the right commands, you can build websites and applications without prior technical knowledge, and it is often used by many people outside of the tech field. The code is straightforward, which makes it easy for beginners to use. In web development, it can handle bugs, maintain many visitors, and allow businesses to integrate their data easily.

3. PHP

PHP is another language used by developers for web development. It stores data and integrates with HTML to create interactive websites. It can also be used as a content management system. Before the creation of PHP, websites could not provide the same ease and interactive qualities we see now in many social media sites.

4. Java

Java is one of the most challenging languages for designers to learn. It follows an object-oriented programming approach that organizes data into segments like objects for future use. Any process or task can easily be learned and produced for later use on different platforms. Java is beneficial in creating high-functioning websites with a bigger bandwidth for large-scale organizations.

5. CSS

It is a design language that gives HTML instructions on presenting certain stylistic components. You can use it to design and format your web page. It helps enhance the appearance of a website through the use of color, layout, font size, and other design elements. These stylistic components have helped improve the user experience on websites.


It is one of the most commonly recognized languages. HTML is a markup language that assists in creating a website's format and structure using tags. Words enclosed inside the tags act as commands on the page to change format, layout, and design.


1. What is product specification?

It is a documentation of the product creation process. It consists of the goals, objectives, and actions taken while designing and developing the product. Each task is clearly stated so that all the team members are on the same page. It helps teams follow certain processes and ensures that the project is moving as per the timelines stated in the product spec. The more concise and simple the documentation process, the better.

2. Does a product designer require coding?

Short answer: Yes. As discussed earlier, the role of a product designer can be specific or generalized depending on the organization you work for. While a designer's role focuses on ideating well-designed products, many organizations expect designers to know how to wear multiple hats. Having a strong hand in coding will ensure you don’t have to rely on developers and can easily navigate various product development roles.

3. Is product design and development a good career path?

Product design and development is a growing field that has gained recognition in the last few years. It is a diverse field with many specialized roles that are worth exploring. Each stage of the product process is different. For many, the creativity and challenges of the role can be exciting and fulfilling. Every day will bring new opportunities and challenges. There are many product design courses that can help new designers gauge their interest in the field.

4. What skills do I need for product design?

  • Being able to conduct user research
  • Possess creative thinking skills
  • Understanding of basic design principles
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Proficiency in design software
  • Good Communication skills