Are you building your first digital products? 5 tips that will come in handy

Petr Bilek

September 30, 2022

As soon as you start working with a design tool, you’ll figure a lot of stuff on the go. However, having a comprehensive knowledge base which you can benefit from in the long-term goes a long way. If you’re just starting, I recommend going through a sophisticated course that will lead you through design basics.

Today, let’s talk about what you should never leave out when working on any project. I have gained these insights during many years of my professional practice. Hopefully they will clarify some of the questions you might ask yourself.

1. Research is crucial. Before you start, ask away

When communicating with your client, you should always prepare a set of questions to ask them. These are mostly data-related and if the client doesn’t have them, then it’s your job to obtain them. Being prepared makes all the difference between a vague and highly effective design.

You have to put in the work and start researching the end customers. Who are they? What is their average age? What are their needs? What are their expectations?

Knowing about the most used device is equally important. For example, if the users prefer phones over computers, you know that the design should be highly functional and preferably as minimalistic as possible. User patience on phones is significantly lower than on computers. If they’re not engaged within the first seconds of opening the presentation, you probably lose them.

2. Find your ideal flow

Everybody is different and needs something else in order to stay productive. Some might prefer working from the office, while other individuals prefer working from home. Being surrounded by plants may boost your productivity, while someone else needs more of a sterile environment. 

The same goes for the digital environment. There are many productivity tools and time / team management apps. Browse through the solutions and find the one that is suitable for your needs. Some great apps that I have used include Asana, Trello, ClickUp, Jira and Basecamp. These are great all-around, but all of them have a bit different layout and functions.

For more simple tasks, Todoist is my go-to app. It’s mind blowingly intuitive, functional and reliable. If you want to start using it, click on this link.

There are also tools dedicated to sophisticated team communication only with Slack being the most popular. 

If you want to stay as organized as possible, a sophisticated app for taking notes will come in handy as well. Among other things, I use it to compile product documentation so it’s easier to track the adjustments I have made in the presentation. If you update it as you work, you will have a much better overview about what was and needs to be done. I recommend Notion or Confluence for these purposes.

However, nothing is as important as choosing the right graphic tool. There are professionals that swear by using just one and others who know a bit about many of them and choose the right one based on individual project requirements. If you’re just starting with your journey, remember to try Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD.

What other tools will you need? Well, that depends on you and the client. For example, you may make use of some photo-editing software. If that’s the case, focus on preparing the element library right about now.

3. Preparations in the selected tool

The third tip is related to the preparations right in the tool that you use for your work. I personally work with Figma, because it has cool features like auto-layouts and is the most simple all around.

At the start of a project, I am all about preparing the libraries. First, I set up a color theme, as well as the rules for using colors. Then I move on to typography and the use of it within the design. The third step in my process is building the basic elements of the application like buttons and inputs.

Pro tip: Keep the terminology for individual elements, colors etc. consistent and based on consulting with the development team. This simple tip accelerates the future development as well as team communication.

Now, I usually move on to building the actual design. This process should include all element variants for easy administration, orientation and making of adjustments. The Figma Help Center contains all the information you need about this.

Then I start creating basic blocks that are immutable across the application. We’re talking about menu, headers and footers. Finally I move on to creating dynamic blocks that are dependent on the content viewed. These may include graphs, tables, modals etc.

While building the design, you should think about all the individual elements built into one functional whole.

4. You should consider everybody involved

I realized this after working as a designer for quite a while, which is weird, because now I can’t stress the importance of it enough. 

A good product designer builds a design and prototypes in the way they are easily documented and found within all of the adjustments that have been made.

You should think about each involved party and understand that everybody has different needs. The marketing department focuses on what the customer sees. The development team on the whole presentation with everything that’s needed to develop further. The mentioned auto-layouts in Figma is a really great feature that enables developers to get parameters for development.

The most important party is the customers though. A lot of outcomes go through A/B testing before development in order to provide the best customer experience possible. A thoroughly defined project design and its documentation are essential.

5. This work is all about numbers

You hardly ever work alone – in most cases, you are a part of the development team. Any deviation or change is an intervention in development and means the need to invest more money. 

That’s why it’s crucial to have everything set right in the beginning. Not only because working on the project will get much more smooth, but also because it saves money. And working within the budget without exceeding it is a topic for a whole different discussion.

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