Avoiding diminishing returns in the product design process

An actionable guide for the design generalist

David Portelli


There’s no doubt that us product design generalists have a lot on our plate. We’re researchers and analysts on some days, experience designers on other days, and pull off anything in between that ultimately effects the customer.

With so many aspects to cater for, it’s easy for us to begin at the wrong place and jump over several steps that would’ve set a solid foundation for better outcomes. Even though the design process is circular and going back and forth is inevitable, I’ve learnt that there are three particular phases that when cycled in a specific order, yield better outcomes. These three phases are:

1. Value creation phase (VC)
2. Experience design phase (XD)
3. Sensory design phase (SD)

When followed in this specific order, each phase will allow product design generalists to set up a robust scaffolding to support the next phase.

Outcomes can only turn out as great as the foundation set in previous stages, if there is little substance to leverage then that will pose limitations down the line. You may have heard the phrase “Garbage in, garbage out” before.

This is why it’s important to set ourselves up for success one step at a time and avoid the inevitable diminishing returns that come along with the limitations posed by each phase.

It’s normal for us to feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of things that need to happen before a product is ready for shipping. This sense of overwhelm may leave us wanting to cut to the chase, however here’s what happens each time we rush:

• Jumping over the value creation phase (VC) will likely leave us with a product or service that doesn’t deliver anything deeply valuable to the customer, business or team. We’d have to ask if it was worth building at all by the end of it.

• Jumping over the experience design phase (XD) will likely leave us with a product or service that works for some in a few…