The 10 Commandments of Digital Product Design

Recently I was invited to a newspaper publisher to talk about digital product design. In this conversation I noticed that I always repeat the same things when talking about this subject. This is why I thought I should start write these personal commandments down.

1.  Your product solves a problem.
2.  Your product works.
3.  Your product is released.
4.  Your product is friendly.
5.  Your product is consistent.
6.  Your product is honest.
7.  Your product has focus.
8.  Your product is aligned with the business model.
9.  Your product learns from its users.
10. Your product is never done.

1. Your product solves a problem.

The very first commandment and also the base of the hierarchy of user experience needs: it solves a problem. Without this, there would be no point to check the other nine commandments.

2. Your product works.

It might sound silly, but all too often products simply don't work: they're not tested well enough or are just way too buggy.

3. Your product is released.

Another one that might sound silly, but a product that isn’t released is not a product at all. Too often founders spend ages on building a product without learning if their product solves the problem in the first place. In the past we were definitely guilty as charged. We spent too much time on non-critical things because we were afraid that what we would ship was not good enough. The lesson we learned is that a releasing your product is the only way to find out what your users really want.

4. Your product is friendly.

A good thing to realize is that your product will deal with real people—with emotions. Everyone likes to be treated kindly, whether it's by a person or a product. By a friendly product, I mean a product that shows empathy in kind copy, clear error messages and a forgiving attitude.

5. You product is consistent.

Consistency in design is one of the key factors in keeping the cognitive load of your product low. This is something that might sound easy when you start designing a new product but as many of you know, once a product evolves and changes, it gets harder to be consistent in every screen. Inconsistent design makes your product chaotic. The user has to continually assess elements and determine if it is something new to them or something they already know but with a different appearance. As you might imagine, this gets frustrating very quickly.

6. Your product is honest.

Your product should be honest to its users and the purpose of the product is to bring value to people’s lives. Malware could be a perfectly designed piece of software, but when stealing your bank details it is not honest.

7. Your product has focus.

Do one thing and do it well. Every part of the product’s functionality should be serving this one thing. Don't try to solve too many problems with your product or it will get unclear for your users. Focus.

8. Your product is aligned with the business model.

In my opinion, every product needs a business model and the product should make that business model work. E.g. if your business model is based on upgrading free accounts to paid accounts, the product should make this process as easy, clear and —most importantly— inviting as possible. If not, the product actually hinders your business.

9. Your product —and so, by extension, you— learns from its users.

You are not the user, your user is. Listen to what they say and watch what they are doing. By carefully monitoring what your users do and want, you're more likely to match your entire product with the user's wishes.

10. Your product is never done.

It is as comforting as it is scary to realize that the product you are building will never be finished. A good product evolves and changes over time because of new needs, design fashion or changing markets. Learn and adapt is the motto here.

Let me know on twitter (@WdeB) if you think other commandments should be in this list.

If you want to learn more about product development, you should follow my playlist The Hard Road to Simple Products on Gibbon. Special thanks to Max Steenbergen for helping me out with my English grammar and spelling in this post.

Thank you for making it to the bottom of this post. If you want to hear more of my ramblings, or read my previous post 守 破 離 Is How You Learn Design.

Wouter de Bres

Wouter de Bres@WdeB
Psychologist turned Designer & Co-founder gibbon.co