Why The Best Design and Product Teams Decide What, Then How

Posted on May 2nd 2018 by Zack Naylor, CEO, Co-founder

Creating an awesome design, product and experience is hard work. Making the RIGHT design, product or experience is even harder. The smartest teams first figure out the “What” before they decide the “How”.

Whether you’re designing a new product or experience, or improving an existing one, you have to first figure out What you’re making before you can effectively execute the How.

Defining and agreeing on What you’re doing first gives everyone much better clarity to focus on executing How to get it done.


Separation of Concerns

Separate the What and How of design and product development to make it easier on yourself and create laser focus with your teams.

The easiest way to do this is to get everyone on board with your What first. Get agreement on What you’re designing and building before you discuss How you’ll do it. In short, build a vision for the design/change/product/feature first, get everyone on the same page, and only then tackle the details of How you’ll do that work.


User Research to Inform Your What and How

Solid user research and insights should directly inform both your What and your How. Here’s how to you can use different types of research to figure out both What and How in your design process.

Let’s say you did several customer interviews and learned that people struggle with keeping up with all the changes and new information in your app. You should use that insight to build the case for your What, which may be to design and build a new notifications feature.

Once you’ve got your team on board that making a new notifications feature is the right thing to do, you can start to figure out the details (the How) with focus and clarity.

To do this, you can design a prototype and conduct usability testing to make sure the notification data, timing, channel (email, in-app, mobile/push) are all working in the way customers would expect.

You’ve now created a lovely little product strategy for a new feature and the details, all driven by real customer insights. By creating the clean separation of concerns for What your building and then How, you streamlined thinking and execution in your product development process.

Simple up front effort in building alignment on What before the How will result in smoother projects, less debate and an incredible focus on execution. You’ll also have confidence that you’re meeting customer needs.

In design, if you get the “What” wrong, “How” you designed it won’t matter.


We built Aurelius, the best user research and insights tool for design and product teams to help you build awesome products and features based on what you learned from customer research and feedback. Check us out for a 14 day free trial and let us know what you think.

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