Product Design — The Missing Link

Merai S. Syed
5 min readMay 18, 2021


Design is at the core of curating lasting human experiences. When we think about creating products, we tend to forget the human element that ties us to it. COVID-19 fortunately has helped most of us to become technology adopters. During this time, teachers in schools have faced their technology fears and gone beyond their line of duty to help students learn through online platforms. Organizations have invested in remote team management tools to help teams work productivity and seamlessly. Everyone nowadays is using technology products in one way or the other. But the most pressing question is, do we really need a designer in the product creation process?

Designers solve problems by connecting different pieces of the puzzle together creatively. When they think about problems, they start with the why.

Asking The Right Questions

Simon Sinek , in his book ‘ Start With The Why’ explains how you can use the golden circle model to understand the why behind the product.

Tim Brown , CEO and Founder of IDEO in his book ‘ Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation explains how learning design thinking can help you in designing your life as well. According to Tim, it all starts with studying people.

“ Never start with the problem you are given, always start with the question.”

More often Tim has found that the most interesting solution come from asking the most interesting questions.

Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman , is a must read for all designers. The book was published in 1988 and Don Norman with Jacob Neilson went on to found the Neilson Norman group in 1998. The basics of good design is based on three concepts

  • Affordances
  • Signifiers
  • Conceptual Models

Now to understand this better, look at the object below and spend 5 mins trying to understand what the object would be used for.

When a person looks at a product for the first time, signifiers and affordances help him understand how use it the right way. The image above is of a Tyg, a three-handled cup, that was used in England in the late 1700s to allow easy passing of a cup from person to person.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the “three different persons, drinking out of it, and each using a separate handle, bring their mouths to different parts of the rim.”

Affordance is the relationship between an object and a person. They provide an opportunity for actions; in simple words they tell you how to perform an action. For instance, space under the car door so the hand can slip under it to pull it up. At times, Governments or companies create false anti affordances, to permit authorized people to act but prevent unauthorized personnel to pass.

Signifiers are communication devices that tell people what to do and when to do it. A common example is an Exit sign in a mall or in an app they play button tells you to play the video or music. Therefore, affordances tell a person about possible actions and signifiers are possible signals.

We understand from the role of affordances and signifiers that product design is crucial to help us use the product without a manual, however this leads us to another question of how our business KPIs are then tied to the product design?

How is product design is linked to business KPIs ?

Let us explore this through a case study., an ed-tech startup working to provide study tools for intermediate and matric classes went through a product redesign phase at the National Incubation Center that helped them attain immense improvement in KPI’s measured over a time period of one month. They registered an

  • Increase in the number of sign-ups by 37%
  • Increase in the purchase of t-cards from 3 to 63 via website.
  • Increase in engagement through search tripled on a daily level.

Product sneak peak before redesign

Using the Pareto Principle , the team worked to remove 20% of the gaps that would lead to 80% of the results, namely

  • Information Architecture
  • 10 Heuristics of UI
  • User Journey re-evaluation of the critical paths.

Product sneak peak after redesign

The unique value proposition was explained with a dotted slider, each slider focusing on the business objectives.

If you wish to review the product in detail , please visit the website or download the app from the Google play store.

Products can not remain stagnant. In fact, products evolve continuously with the changing needs of the customers that in turn impact the entire business. As business managers, we need to make sure we measure the product success through KPIs.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” —W. Edwards Deming

Helping startups through continuous product reviews and evaluations in order to help them reduce time to market is a support the National Incubation Center offers to all startups. Not only do they learn to improve the product design through UX audit and product reviews but they are taught how to build lasting experiences through their products.