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  • Writer's pictureJesca Leibbrandt

The User Journey to a Dream Product

Updated: May 29

Image conceptualised in Midjourney, digitally re-painted in Photoshop

Investing time in upfront collaboration and creating user personas and journeys is not outdated; it is essential. It's not about fancy tools or processes but creating a shared understanding and open communication.

Have you ever been part of a visionary project so inspiring it felt like it could solve world hunger, house everyone, and cure writer's block? But then, somewhere along the line, things went pear-shaped, and the beautiful product vision morphs into a dumpster fire of features, leaving users confused and clicking away from the app in frustration. The business stakeholders wonder why the product resembles a meme of expectation versus reality while the design team cries into their coffee. Does this sound familiar? If so, please let me buy you a drink. Or two. There's no judgment here. 

The good news is, it doesn't have to be that way. The key to unlocking a genuinely successful product design lies in a few potent ingredients: collaboration, trust in the design process, and a keen insight into the community of users you are designing for.

Does that sound too basic? Like showing someone how to boil water?

As with all the simple and good things in life (like warm buttered toast), the truth about creating a product that works is pretty basic. It all comes down to patience and not skipping crucial preparation and design steps before building your product.

The importance of the design process:

Let's compare two scenarios between hypothetical team A and team B. 

Team A is our big-budget team; they have bundles of money to throw at the project. They spent the last two years pouring blood, sweat and caffeinated tears into a proof of concept. The team is passionate about the mission, and their eyes sparkle as they imagine a banquet of features to add to the product. However, time is ticking, and they must wave a magic wand to turn the concept into an actual product and get it in front of users. 

Since this product has been caught in the concept phase for years instead of a quick couple of months, the product scope has grown organically, and there are more feature ideas than what could comfortably fit into one interface. To speed up delivery, the initial proof of concept team has been replaced by a fresh batch of product managers, designers, and developers tasked with building the alpha release. There needs to be a consensus on the core users and their goals. The documentation needs to be improved, and there needs to be a clear vision of the user journey, information architecture or prioritised key features.

Instead of revisiting and consolidating all past decisions, product requirements, user personas, and journeys, everyone gets a hoodie and a cap with the product logo. Creating user journeys is seen as a waste of precious time. They bypass the design phase and immediately dive into Agile development sprints.

What happened next...

The team manages to get the product out the door, and everyone is relieved, but it is hard for users to navigate and find the features they need. Because decisions were made without looking at the product holistically while taking the time to user test, the product team have painted themselves into a corner, and it becomes harder to climb the growing mountain of technical and design debt. 

The customer journey is disconnected, and users need constant hand-holding to learn about the product. It becomes hard to justify the time it will take to unite the design while under pressure to continue delivering new features and functionality.  

In a market saturated with well-funded competitors, attracting and retaining users becomes more challenging, and a year after release, this product is in danger of being shelved.

Let's turn our attention to Team B...

Team B is leaner, and the budget is humble. They have to be clever and stick to their timeline and budget. They spent most of the budget on discovery, research, and analysis, and the findings were insightful. They completed a design sprint to create a lean UX prototype. They want to move to the next step and start designing and building, but since there are a few divergent ideas about the product, they need to pause and communicate to get everyone on the same page. 

This team is aware that the stakes are high. They must get this right. 

Before diving into building the product, Team B takes a step back and collaborates. They create clear personas representing distinct user groups, ensuring everyone has a shared understanding of who they're designing for. They limit themselves to two main user types or personas that best describe their most important audiences.

They map out user journeys with the aid of a few senior designers, visualising how users will interact with the product and achieve their goals. They commandeer an office wall, and together, the team adds sticky notes with their ideas to a larger-than-life user journey map. It's a bit old school, but it works. Open communication and discussions are encouraged, and everyone's voice is heard, creating a sense of shared ownership and responsibility. 

The features are prioritised, and everything is linked to the users' needs. The team understands their priorities and what they need to build first and last. The UX team is instrumental in designing the user journeys. They help define the problems to be solved, create seamless flows through the product, and test core pieces with users to refine the design into something that fits user needs without extraneous clutter.

What happened next...

The product launch was successful; users got value from the product and gave positive feedback and suggestions for more features. There are still a few bugs to squash, but this team will have the space to keep improving their product as they have taken the time to plan and align with a customer journey.

The Final Takeaway Coffee:

Working with an experienced design team with a few successful digital products under their belt is always best, but you can get by with a healthy dose of common sense. Be brave, respect the design process and have the patience to move through each crucial step of designing personas, user journeys, and user flows. It may seem like extra effort, but in the end, it will save time. 

Good design practice is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Step out of the way and trust your designers because we have our ears to the ground, and we are your empathetic canaries in the product coal mine. However, don't leave us in isolation. Provide collaborative spaces and encourage discussion.

Create centralised document hubs and a shared resource (like an -online- sticky note wall! ) where everyone can see and contribute to the user journey maps and personas.

Embrace simplicity. Don't get hung up on complex methods. Even basic approaches can be highly effective when done collaboratively.

Remember, a product is only as good as the team that builds it. By prioritising communication and collaboration and not bypassing the design and analysis process, you will sidestep Agile chaos, turn your vision into a reality, and create a dream product that resonates with users.



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