Building a digital product that stands out and gains traction is challenging in today's overcrowded market. How do you capture the attention of consumers who are bombarded with new offers every day? What is the fool-proof way to design a new product?
One of the most effective approaches is iterative design. Read this article to learn what iterative design is all about, what stages it consists of, and why you should start using it in any product development endeavor.
Table of contents:
- What is the iterative design process?
- Stages of the iterative design process
- Why should you start using iterative design? 6 reasons
- Iteration in design – summary
What is the iterative design process?
Iterative design is based on a cycle of prototyping, testing, and refining your project in line with feedback.
When you start out with a product idea in iterative design, your primary goal is to solve a particular problem. The process helps you create and refine ideas quickly at any phase of the design process. The first question you need to ask is: "What is the problem that this product solves?" To answer this question, you need to research users and find out their habits and needs.
Next, you formulate an idea that's unique enough to draw attention but not so unique as to confuse users into rejecting it outright. You then develop that concept into a prototype that can be tested on the market, analyzed, and refined until it works properly and meets your goals.
But your job isn't over if you're looking to truly benefit from iterative design. You need to repeat this process over and over again until you get it right. Any feedback or reactions from the people you show your previous iteration to will help you fine-tune this list. If they like it, build on it; if they hate it, go back to square one.
Iterative model in product development - a short history
The iterative model was created as an alternative to the waterfall approach for building digital products. They both rely on a sequence of steps that flow toward a result. Unlike the waterfall approach which adjusts slowly to changes in a project, the iterative model offers teams more flexibility, allowing designers and developers to incorporate changes faster.
NASA implemented the iterative model in the 1960s with Project Mercury and continued its use through the Space Shuttle project and for working with the Air Force to develop X-15 hypersonic aircraft. The iterative design approach has also spread to other industries.
In the 1970s, IBM began using an iterative model in computer system design and continues to do so today. Over time, the method has spread to other industries. Software applications and engineering, design, marketing, education – businesses across all industries now rely on an iterative approach for developing products and meeting marketplace demands.
Stages of the iterative design process
Step 1: Research your customers
What is the problem your product will solve? Will it help customers achieve a goal or ease pain? You need to understand users and analyze their habits to know what exactly you're going to design and develop. User research in the form of focus groups or interviews offers insight into customer requirements, habits, and needs. It provides you with the user context you need to start brainstorming solutions.
Step 2: Ideation phase – developing your product idea
The goal of the ideation phase is to generate many different solutions and be creative. In this step, you can start generating ideas that address the problem you identified in your research. You can use information about users, their emotional approaches to your product, and the context in which they'd use the product to generate ideas.
Try brainstorming to come up with new solutions that will delight your users. When developing ideas, make sure you are thinking about the "why" behind your product. What will resonate with users? What will make them happy and solve their problems? You want to articulate the core of your product using thoughtful, strategic design.
Step 3: Build your product
In the build phase, you create an early example of your product using the concepts or systems that you've chosen for the final design. The prototype needs to outline how the product will be used, whether it's basic software functionality, wireframes, or even paper mockups of your visual design.
You can test these early materials with users to ensure that the product is usable. This is also a great opportunity for gathering feedback on how well it meets user needs. This step is time-consuming and often costly; the goal is to have a working version of the product to show people so you can get their valuable feedback.
Step 4: Analyze user feedback
In the analysis phase, you'll gather feedback about what works and doesn't work in your prototype design. This helps to validate your assumptions about the design and guides improvements in subsequent iterations.
Step 5: And repeat the process
Iterative design is based on repeating the cycle of “build, measure, learn” to constantly adjust the product. After analyzing users feedback, the team implements it - and then starts ideation and building again.
Why should you start using iterative design? 6 reasons
Reason 1: Accelerate your process
The iterative process allows you to refine and revise a product quickly. It's efficient because you can build your product step-by-step, rather than having to rework an entire plan as changes occur. Moreover, the workload of the development team is spread out more effectively throughout the project's development lifecycle.
Reason 2: Stay flexible
The incremental development approach assumes that you don't have all the answers or that the environment for your product and your customers' needs may change during the development timeline.
It takes this changing landscape into account, allowing you to plan for changes as you create your product and produce deliverables that are tailored to your market.
Reason 3: Collect feedback efficiently
A phased approach to software development can be effective. The incremental, iterative development process enables you to continuously collect feedback and incorporate changes quickly.
Empirical user testing lets you identify inconsistencies or flaws in requirements, design, code, and other implementations with each iteration. It also helps to avoid misunderstandings and identify what works by trial and error.
Reason 4: Avoid over-engineering
You can design and build a minimum viable product (MVP) that allows you to meet the project requirements and provide value early in iterative processes.
Reason 5: Improve stakeholder engagement
An iterative approach enables stakeholders to see how the project is progressing and ensure that their requirements are being met with every new iteration.
Reason 6: Manage risk
Since you tackle the high-risk portions of a project first, every iteration helps you identify and resolve risks. Moreover, empirical testing offers continual improvement. Each iteration allows the team to easily incorporate lessons learned from previous runs and continually improve the development process to reduce risk.
Bonus: Research proves that the iterative process works
Researchers have found that the iterative design process leads to positive outcomes. While many people believe that creative problem solving is a matter of using inspiration, research studies show that it's actually a process of doing something simple and then improving upon it.
The Marshmallow Challenge is an exercise that demonstrates this concept in action. It was originally created as a team-building exercise to offer lessons in collaboration and creativity. In the challenge, teams are given 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and one marshmallow. Participants have 18 minutes to build a tower that will hold the marshmallow on top. The team that manages to build the tallest tower wins.
In the original challenge, a group of kindergarteners and business school graduates faced off in the first challenge. The kindergarteners won. Time after time, numerous teams have repeated this challenge, and the kindergarteners continued to win.
Why is that? They are more likely to start with a simple design, test the prototype, and iterate until they find a solution that works. Meanwhile, adults tend to spend their time competing for leadership of the project and arguing about the right plan. :)
Iteration in design – summary
Iterative design is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. You can consistently improve upon your app by approaching it as a living, evolving project rather than something static.
The cycle of prototyping, testing, and refining that forms the core of iterative design offers numerous benefits to teams building new products. Testing gives you access to valuable user feedback you can use to improve your product and to understand what works and what doesn't. The iterative design process also helps you catch problems before they spiral out of control, improving stability across the key metrics and saving you plenty of time in the long run.
Have you already used iterative design in product development? Share your thoughts in the comments section and share your story to help others see the value of iterative design. And if you're on the lookout for a helping hand in design and development of your app, don't hesitate to contact us.