By David F. | 1.11.2022

Product Design: What designers need to know before they start working

Design – 8 min read

Designing digital products such as websites, web apps, or mobile apps can be challenging. Designing successful products that serve the market needs and survive is even more so. How do you reduce the risk of failure and wasted money? Start by defining a target group, business model, and visual requirements. This helps you get clear on the core aspects of your product. Provide a detailed brief to the designers, and you will get the best starting line to begin design work. 

With this many different things to watch out for, it’s easy to jump the gun and skip a few steps. If you are not sure how to keep track of everything, have no fear, our product team can do a workshop with you to fill in all the missing parts. Not sure what specific questions to ask? No worries. This is something we have a lot of experience with at Applifting, and we're happy to share it with you. Whether it’s research, deciding on the best options for your needs, or helping you shape your visual identity, we’ve got you covered. And as a bonus, we have prepared a brief for you to download for free.

One sentence description

This initial exercise will help you articulate the problem your product tries to solve and the people it helps. This battle-tested approach helped us many times to get clear on the product. Try to structure your sentence as follows:


Choosing the right platform to design for is key to creating a functional prototype. Each platform has specific rules, guidelines, and limitations. For example, on iOS, people are generally more willing to pay for an app or subscription, which isn’t the case with Android. The latter does, however, have a larger user base, which can make up for it. There are a lot of things to consider when selecting the right platforms. Are we building a website, web app, or a mobile app? All of the above, or perhaps something completely different?

What are your business goals? 

In order to design features that will help the product and design team achieve your goals, they first need to know what those goals are. How does your product make money? Is it through subscriptions or one-time payments? Does it support or extend your existing product? Or maybe the goal isn't to make money directly but to expand to other markets or to allow people to do something they couldn't do before. There are countless business models and goals to consider. 

What makes it different or unique?

The market is already full of solutions. Find your niche. You don't have to be 100% unique, but do make sure you at least differentiate yourself in some way. Otherwise, you run the risk of not having anything original to say with your product and thus failing to address the needs of the market. Ask yourself what makes you stand out compared to the competition. It could be your tech, quality of the product, or the speed of the service and availability. Whatever it is, it’s the thing that will help you attract your customers. 

Who are your customers?

Before the product gets designed, it is necessary to know who you are designing it for. It is essential to have a clear idea of who your users are and what makes them tick—only then can the product be tailored to their actual needs.  

And how do they solve the problem today? 

You can work on solving the problem with a digital product. Sometimes, however, users may be satisfied with an existing solution, even an offline one. So be sure to ask how people are dealing with the problem today, lest you waste money developing something that isn’t really needed. Discover how they tackle the issue with the resources they have now—what apps or products they use, and what alternatives there are. Sometimes, a regular old pen and paper or a phone call do the trick. Figuring out what you’re up against will give the designers some much-needed insight, helping them to think outside the box.

Benchmarking current solutions

Knowing who your direct and indirect competitors are is imperative for the design of a product that fits the industry standards but also differentiates you from your competitors. Do you think you're creating an entirely new product for which there is no competition? Okay, be sure to do your due diligence (as mentioned above), and don’t hesitate to reach out for help with the research.

Branding, look, and feel

When creating a product, consistent visual identity is absolutely vital. Following the brand guidelines and working with existing assets—such as your logo, colors, typography, tone of voice—helps people connect the brand and the product. If you don't have any of these just yet, don't worry. Do you have any specific style and visual requirements in mind? Basic shapes and colors, or even a general direction you would like to take things in, both will do just fine. Maybe you fancy a rounded, colorful, and soft look; or possibly something dark, minimalist, and sharp. If you have no preferences, that's perfectly fine too. The design team can find the right style for your brand, business, and market.  


Finding inspiration from within and outside your industry is an important part of product design. Any and all brands or products you look up to—or even just features you have fallen in love with—come in handy. Throw it all at the designers. Don't forget to tell them what you like about the particular website, app, or product so that they can curate the styles, patterns, and features that work well in the context of your product.

Roadmap and scope

What’s the most critical feature of your product? For the best utilization of your budget, it’s necessary to outline what kind of features are to be delivered and what their priorities are. Defining a roadmap and scope right at the beginning allows you to move faster towards your goal and saves you such precious resources as money and time. Developing the whole functionality at once is overwhelming, and it often backfires. It is also good to prioritize features based on their business value, ensuring milestones and deadlines are known and well thought out. This supports the efficiency of execution and helps you to monitor value creation over time. 


These are some of the common high-level topics that need to be covered in order to build a working design solution for your product. As you can see, there is a lot of brainwork (product discovery) to be done before the design work can really begin. This lowers the risk of your product failing while ensuring the designers have good material to work with. But don't despair if you are unable to complete some of the items now. Get in touch with our team, and we will help you gather all the necessary info and figure out the best course of action for your particular situation. It is, after all, a long journey beset with many pitfalls, but having a partner to keep you from falling always makes for a more pleasant experience. If you are confident enough, however, feel free to download the full product design brief and work it out on your own. We can go through it together and use it as a jumping-off point. 

Download the ⬇ or, if you feel like you could use some help, simply reach out. We'll be happy to assist you not just with the product design, but also with validating the product-market fit of your app—or its development.

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