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New theory of product design

Design has become a patchwork of theories that is barely holding itself together. Can we do better?

Editor's note

My writing is a work in progress and this post will be updated as I learn more about this subject.

Today’s approach to product design is a patchwork of theories, frameworks and processes that is barely holding itself together. Many of these approaches hail from the software era of the 90s. 

Now they are outdated and fail to address the varying and complex needs of the people who use the product and the needs of practitioners who produce the product. 

A simple but elegant approach is needed to help designers think freely, critically and sometimes algorithmically about how a product should work, look and behave. 

Especially as the complexity of devices, internet connections, languages and many other factors begin to compound we can no longer use singular, linear approaches like “human-centred design” or “lean UX” to think thoroughly about products. 

How could design benefit from a simple and elegant approach to thinking about products? I think if done well it can help designers easily:

  • Acquire a deeper understanding of the objectives of the product 
  • Predict complex states, scenarios and behaviours of the product 
  • Instill principled POV’s on what a great product works and feels like 

Many designers have been able to achieve what’s been mentioned above, but oftentimes it’s inefficient given what tools we have at our disposal. There has to be a better way. Here’s how we could approach product design: 

  • Principles: Fundamental beliefs on what design should create
  • Primitives: Building blocks to create components 
  • Components: Reusable elements to create features 
  • Features: A selection of features to create a product
  • Product: A packaging of features to create value

Additionally, we would need to consider the following at the same time:

  • Data: What information is being submitted and what information is being received
  • Performance: How fast the product should be
  • Devices, language, internet speed: Considering how these factors will impact how your product is used

This is a simple proposition that’s open to iteration. I’m still thinking through these ideas, so feel free to chime in and let me know what you think.

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Ahmed Al-Ismaily

Writing about progress. Designing products. Aspiring investor. Learning Arabic and full-stack development.