Product thinking is all about looking at specific problems that might be faced by users and why people would use a specific product. When people are thinking about user experience design, they can spend more time thinking about developing features than why people would buy a product in the first place. No matter how useful features are, they aren’t worth anything without the product itself. To illustrate this, it’s helpful to think about smartphones. Although apps can greatly enhance the experience of using a phone, it’s important not to forget that the main purpose of buying a phone is to communicate. This means the apps are of very little value alone. This means product designers are being urged to think about products before they become bogged down in features.

What are you trying to solve?

An important first step of product thinking is to identify the main problem your users want to solve. If you identify a problem that does not exist, or the solution you design isn’t capable of solving the problem, the product won’t offer a great deal of value. If a product doesn’t attract users – or at least doesn’t win over a sufficient number of them, it can seem worthless. With so many companies investing in research and development and so many problem-solving products available, it can be hard to identify needs that haven’t already been solved. It’s even possible you might only be able to identify problems that don’t truly exist even after months of research. This is why it’s so important to consult the public and ask them about problems they would like to see addressed by game-changing products. Not all users can explain their problems effectively, so it’s important to be patient and carry out real-life observations as well as talking to users.

The stages of product thinking

It’s wise to try and split product thinking into stages. The first step to take is to think about the problem that needs to be solved, and what kind of user is experiencing the problem. You then need to think about the reason for the project and how the end result will be achieved. Consider your specific goals, what your achievements will be and what features you will be offering. It really is important that the solution results in a problem-solving process. No matter how great the features are, the product is not a worthwhile endeavour if it fails to solve the problem. If your product is not useful, chances are it will quickly be consigned to history, no matter how great it looks.

Create products of genuine value

Product thinking allows you to come up with features that your users will genuinely be interested in. It enables you to see how the product will work in the context of the market rather than simply a fusion of features and design, helping you solve problems that actually need to be solved. Product thinking reduces the chances of your product failing and a great deal of time and money being wasted. It also enables designers to confidently decline features that don’t help solve the problem and makes products simpler and more effective.

A better user experience

When you embrace product thinking, you get the chance to build simpler, more effective products that solve a problem and aren’t overloaded with superfluous features your audience doesn’t need. Product thinking improves the relationship between user experience and product management. It’s very important to think about what a great user experience consists of. For most people, this would include simplicity, pleasing aesthetics and ease-of-use. A great user experience doesn’t equate to a mere list of features. Features do not work without products themselves and should be used to expand experiences rather than defining them. Product thinking is all about designing with the product itself in mind rather than its features. Although it’s possible to amend incorrect solutions, it is not possible to adjust non-existent problems. Many designers have come unstuck until they have spent time talking to the people who are likely to purchase their products.

What are your users looking for?

Once you have identified the problems that you want your product to tackle, you can identify the reason for creating the product. Defining the target audience by the people who have the problems in question and defining a solution by explaining how you will solve the problem will help you create the right product. You can then set up goals to see how successful your product will be. Features should be used to extend the user experience rather than replace it. No matter how great the visual design of your product is, it is meaningless unless it solves a problem. When you use product thinking, you can avoid building products that nobody or few people are interested in. When a new feature is suggested, designers can use product thinking to decide whether to go ahead and include it.

Uber: product thinking at work

When people talk about product thinking, they often use the example of Uber to illustrate its value. One of the most talked-about features in Uber is the countdown, which tells you when your vehicle will arrive at your location. However, the most beneficial aspect of Uber is that it allows you to source transport at any time. This means the app would remain useful even if this feature was not part of it. Uber was designed with the main purpose of the product in mind, with the features being useful but not as important as the primary function. When you take your product from the concept to creation stage, you should always keep the problems that you wish to solve at the forefront of your mind.

Prioritise the purpose

Although features can be incredibly convenient and fun to use, you should never lose sight of the main aim when designing your products. Make sure the actual purpose of the app remains a priority to create a solution that is of genuine value to your target audience.