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What does it mean to ship a product? A UX perspective

UX design is part of the product development lifecycle, and designers have an important role in shipping products.

What does it mean to ship a product?

When talking about digital product development, shipping a digital product is the execution of the final product that is released to customers. 

The typical product development process includes Discovery, Design, Implementation, Testing, and Execution. And followed by monitoring and iteration.

Why shipping a product is important for UX Designers

Our role as UX Designers is to create an excellent user experience and a design that works for our customers. We should support the execution process as much as possible to deliver the best user experience.

UX design and its role in product development

The design phase is between requirements and development in a typical product development process. Digital and physical products are designed before they are developed.

In organizations that don’t have UX designers or product designers, the design is done by someone, usually an engineer, with some guidance from a product manager or sometimes a product manager. 

When organizations mature and are ready to hire a designer, the first mistake is thinking the designer is to “make things pretty.”

Design does have an aesthetics and visual component but also has a hand in shaping the systems and how the user interacts with them. 

Designers are not solely responsible for shipping products, but as part of the project team, we can significantly impact how something ships and the level of quality.

Design and bad UX

The quality of your design is directly related to how the product works. If you forgot to include important use cases, the design will feel broken and unusable.

The good news is that the project team is responsible for making sure the design has incorporated all the different edge and use cases to make a functional design.

Make sure your design ships every time and with high quality

The product development lifecycle UX entails producing design and documentation for technical teams to build. Building and shipping a product is a team sport; everyone has a role. 

Product managers are responsible for representing the business problem. Designers are responsible for designing the product. Engineers are accountable for implementation. 

The team works to determine customer pain points related to the business problem. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a user researcher to help identify opportunities and gather customer input on the pain points they’re experiencing. 

Consequently, the project team works to define, build, and ship the product to customers. The shipping part refers to the execution process in the product development lifecycle

The role of interaction specs and annotations

Often, but not continually, the product manager defines the product from the business perspective as a requirements document. However, the product definition sometimes falls to designs with light documentation in the organization. 

In these cases, the product definition is in the form of an interaction spec, annotation document, or even a requirements document. This design document is handed off to engineers, and they should have enough information to implement the product using code. As a result, the record must be clear in its instructions for how the design should interact.

Planning for technical constraints

An essential aspect of the annotation document is ensuring technical feasibility. Technical feasibility is whether the design can be implemented in the scoped timeframe. 

For example, you might have a design that pulls data from a source the engineers haven’t yet built. In this case, that part of your design must be reworked to take in this new constraint. Or, the engineers have to agree to build out the functionality for the project. 

These conversations must take place before the design is finalized. If not, the project might run late or not ship at all. These trade-offs are commonplace in UX design. 

As designers, we should be aware of the constraints shaping our experience. Just like architects and industrial designers must work within the constraints of their medium, so must digital designers as part of the product development life cycle.

Design communication approaches

The easiest way to communicate design with engineers is to create a prototype and a design annotation spec or interaction document. Design annotation specs provide contextual notes on expected behavior and expose design assumptions. Once the prototype and doc are created, review them with the engineering team. 

Reviewing the interaction design specs with the engineers gets everyone on the same page on the expected design. 

A written annotation spec opens up the communication lines to ensure you’re delivering a high-quality product. If you don’t have annotations, you might end up disappointed. Engineers will often make decisions about the design in the absence of direction. 

An excellent, precise, documented design results in a shipped product that delights customers and ensures no surprises.

Final thoughts

Designers are crucial to shipping high-quality products. You’ll want to ensure you get all critical use cases and essential details for a great release.

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