Is it time to invest in redesigning my digital product? It is a question that many product leaders need to answer. This is an article to help you make the decisions by giving you contextual information and concrete examples.
Some design activities can be applied as iterative improvements, like changing certain user flows to increase usability, which usually the product designers are being responsible for. Those activities are already put in place in many organizations. And some design activities are bigger, strategic events, and these are usually a top-down decision. The main thing I want to focus on are the factors that feed into these big design overhauls, since they are generally much more ambiguous and generally unclear. What is known is that these big strategic decisions tend to come with lots of frustration in organizations that want to redesign the product, mostly due to that very ambiguity.
You might think that design doesn’t affect the revenues that much, and it is all about the features. Bob Lutz, who served as a top leader of all US big three automobile manufacturers Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler, once said: There Are No Bad Cars, Only Bad Designs. Reliability, braking, steering, handling, ride, and refinement are all largely on par across automakers and segments. That leaves just one chief differentiator: design.
That statement is about cars, but it applies to digital products too. By digital products, I mean SaaS products, desktop applications, a website like an e-commerce product, or a mobile app. In other words, a business relied on software. The servers, the technology stack of each era, the frameworks, the services that have been used are very similar. It is not a common case that a customer prefers another product because they like the fact that it is developed in VueJS rather than React. But the product design and the UX is a deciding factor for sure.
In 1997, when Steve Jobs was criticized for his decision on the technology stack, he said:
One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology.
You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”
Products are redesigned in all industries, no matter what type of product it is. Physical products have a sweet spot on their lifecycle. This spot is usually at the beginning of the trend of decline. Design overhauls or facelifts are done in that sweet spot where one axis is time and the other is unit sales revenue. But in the digital product world, product leaders are dealing with a much more complicated decision map. I’d like to mention a few key factors.
Let’s categorize the reasons into 3:
- strategic factors
- performance factors
- ergonomics (UX) factors
I admit that there are overlaps between these categories, but this categorization will help us determine the real reasons behind it.
1. Strategic Factors
Those are usually the big-bang redesigns, generally with a press release and a lot of buzz. It’s the initiative to show the customers that the product is improved and a new version. It incentivizes their users with no appetite to give it another shot and arouses interest in the market.
The product doesn’t reflect the brand anymore.
A new identity or logo is a usual reason to consider a design update on the product.
It is outdated compared to the new design trends
Let’s think about fashion. Fashion is changing every year, and each decade is noticeable. We had the 70s, 80s, 90s, and now the 20s era. Our environment is changing based on the trends, the same for cars and of course for digital products.
Here is the problem with digital products and trends. There is no evidence that a customer wants to pay for a product with the look and feel of a previous trend. Although that is not true for many other industries. Some people favor old cars or an old outfit, but have you seen organizations favoring Windows95 over Windows10? The reason is simple. It correlates with performance and efficiency. A digital product that follows an outdated trend implies that it performs like it was in the past.
Let’s unpack that problem a bit more and try to understand it with the Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law refers to Moore’s perception that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved.
Moore’s Law states that we can expect our computers’ speed and capability to increase every couple of years, and we will pay less for them. Two things to consider: a) the cycle is much shorter, not decades but just a couple of years, and b) the performance is increasing over time. If the design does not reflect its era, it feels like it doesn’t perform well enough, and you fell behind the competition.
I don’t want to go through the product design trends for each year. There are many articles about movements like skeuomorphism, flat design, and neumorphism. I just want to mention the strategic redesign of MacOS, with the codename Big Sur.
The video is narrated by Alan Dye, the VP of Human Interface Design at Apple. He says:
…We started with the simplest developments, from the shape of a corner radius to refinements in buttons and controls. And we brought our unified language of symbols to the Mac, making them more consistent and easier to recognize. Depth, shading, and translucency are used to create a hierarchy. These new materials are rich and vibrant. They bridge light and dark…
I marked the keywords that matter. Did you notice that none of them are about ergonomics or usability? Vibrant colors, new shades, light and dark modes, rounded corners, translucency. It is about following a trend!
You might ask, “why are companies investing in strategic redesigns?”. Let’s try to explain that with the Buyer’s Journey Stages.
As you can see here, the customer is getting aware of the product through ads or searching for it because of their need. Then they get interested if they got a connection with the brand or they like the product design. Then they go a step further and read more about it and try out the demo. And if the price is within the budget, this customer is likely to buy this product.
What is essential is that the product design is a gate for all the product’s capabilities and the company itself. Customers will never know how awesome your product is if they don’t give it a try. And if the design is not interesting, they won’t do that. That’s the reason why Apple invested heavily into Big Sur and even made a promotional video despite its minimal effect on the UX or performance.
Here we can see that Microsoft is trying to do things right by showing off their design direction on social media. As you can see, the colors are vibrant, corners are rounded, depth and shading are longer. Exactly the points, tweaked with the same approach as it is done at Big Sur.
Those two examples can be interpolated to any successful digital product. Design trends set new standards in the competition, and product leaders need to keep the products in the competition to ensure growth.
Those were just two broad examples, but it is a major workstream in all successful digital products.
2. Technology and Performance Factors
You need to reach out to new platforms like mobile devices
We spend more time on mobile devices than on laptops, and most of the time, the use cases are different. We write articles on the computer and take notes on mobile devices. If so, you require an adaptation for taking quick notes. If a new mobile app is not a case, then an adaptive design for your product is needed.
It’s difficult to add new functionalities
A crucial metric in B2B digital products is “lead time.” If the product itself affects that metric significantly, it is time to think about a redesign and refactoring. You’ll pay off the efforts that have been invested here whenever you are adding new functionalities. Even better, you are able to add new functionalities at all.
Your product is loading slower than the competitors’ and isn’t optimized for speed
47% of users expect a website to load in less than two seconds, and 40% will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. This is the standard in our time and applies to any products that are accessible through a browser. In B2B products, we expect much more clicks per user than a website. They launch the product and have it in a tab open almost all day long and interact with it around 200 times. Being 1 second slower than the standard means 200 times of frustration per day to all of your users.
3. Ergonomics and User Experience Factors
Providing a great user experience means that you’re providing the user with a great overall experience from the first time they visit your digital product.
Providing a great experience involves a couple of methodologies:
Information Architecture (IA) Strategy
Having an excellent information architecture means that the organization of your product interfaces aligns with the expectation of your users.
Usability, Utility, and Accessibility
Having a usable product means that your visual representation across devices is intuitive, consistent, and aligns with your user’s expectations. Depending on the product’s purpose, user experience research provides many approaches for the UX-model’s systematic record and the optimization of frontends.
Getting those two things correct is very much related to user behaviors. That’s one reason why the well-known social media platform Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn look almost the same because they reflect the general users’ actions for similar use cases like sharing images and following some posts.
Your digital product can be beautiful, functional, and pixel-perfect, but if you still aren’t getting the results you want, it’s not doing the job it is intended for. Don’t forget that your product exists to market your business, build your brand, and ultimately increase sales. If you aren’t happy with your results, it’s time to think about a redesign.
Use this guide as a reference when developing your next product design initiative. Getting the right buy-in from upper management doesn’t have to be a struggle. A fully developed, well-rounded strategy backed by statistics and a visible potential for growth is difficult to ignore. Take the time to consider what a product redesign can do for your brand and help your company see the bigger picture.