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The only way to build digital products

Rahul Gonsalves
2 min read

A digital product starts with an idea. But it takes a lot more than that to get it to real users. You need to run experiments, speak to users at different stages, build a product and market it. The typical journey looks like this:

Right in the middle of this sits product design. It is often confused with visual design or UX design, but that’s only one part of it. Product design is a combination of:

  1. Product strategy and GTM
  2. UX design
  3. Visual Design
  4. Generative research
  5. Evaluative research

In recent years, each step of this product building process has come to be “owned” by different teams–

  1. product managers decide what to build and how to take it to market,
  2. UX designers and visual designers own the digital experience and design screens,
  3. and researchers speak to users to find opportunities, pain points and test prototypes

A by-product of this is hard boundaries between these roles. I hate it. I believe one team should work on all five stages of product building, from product strategy to evaluative research, because they’re all in service of creating a product that people actually want to use.

I am convinced that this is the only way to build great digital products. As this understanding has permeated the company, we’ve moved to explicitly building products this way.

In 2018, we worked with Flipkart to launch 2Gud, a platform for selling refurbished electronics. The insights we gathered from generative research fed into designing the product flows. And we collaborated closely with the Flipkart team in deciding what 2Gud’s value proposition should be and how to position it. This turned out to be very powerful: in 6 months, 2Gud’s app had more than a million downloads and was responsible for driving roughly a billion (with a B) dollars in revenue.

What’s so terrible about one team being responsible for product strategy and another for say, visual design? So much gets lost in translation. Different teams chase different goals and in the process, the product suffers.

I remember this was the case for a fintech product we were working on a few years back. When design requirements came from product managers who “owned” product strategy, it took a long time to reconcile what the business needed with what the user needed. The design team didn’t have the business context they needed to design a great user experience. Product building was so fragmented and in the end, this was visible in the user’s mobile app.

This is so common, that it’s even got its own law! Conway’s Law states that the products organizations build are a reflection of how the org communicates internally. Left to their own devices, organizations will ship their own org structure rather than a solution that works for their end-customers.

Organizations that fragment the product building process will inevitably ship poor products. The only way to build great digital products is to dissolve the boundaries between product strategy, UX design, visual design and research and bring it all together and put the humans you’re designing for back at the center.


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