06. August 2021
7 min

Digital Design - User-centered Product Development

The digital transformation of our world opens up new possibilities for us every day: Yet many products fall far short of their potential. It is no longer just a matter of digitising existing processes from a technology perspective, but maximizing the user experience. Digital Design supports us as a holistic approach to focus on users, to exploit potential and thus to acquire a relevant competitive advantage.

Digital Design

Successful digitization is closely related to the development of software products that meet the needs and expectations of users. It is accompanied by a digital transformation of our working and living environments and requires the development of software products that are supposed to simplify these environments. Most of the time, digital products tend to be technology-centered without taking into account the users needs and wishes. Although these products would be able to do more than the end user specifies, it is due to the inadequate user orientation that such products remain far behind their possibilities. The main problem here is that we humans can only vaguely express our ideas in order to specify what the digital product must be able to do so we can use it meaningfully. This situation was recognized by the task force “Software Designers” founded by Bitkom e.V. They created an initiative for a new discipline called Digital Design.

As a creative, holistic approach, Digital Design pursues the goal of focusing on the whole human, revealing new possibilities and taking into account and anticipating all aspects such as user-friendliness, aesthetics, longevity or sustainability in product development. In this context, “design” not only refer to the visual design of a product, but also to other creative topics such as the software architecture. (1) It is based on roles, methods and frameworks and combines various disciplines and fields of competence that we are already familiar with from agile product development. Digital Design enables us to recognise and exploit new potentials and opportunities and thus to maximize the user experience.

The IREB e.V. took a lead on the topic and defined terminologies, e.g. for process steps, levels, roles and artifacts, which are based on existing terminologies of the agile world. Additionially they created a certification format suitable for this new initiative. In this blog post Zarin and I present these in a summarized manner and expand them with our own interpretation of the topic.

Digital Design Professional

The new discipline is represented by the Digital Design Professional (“DDP”) or Digital Designer, who acts as an interface and specialist between the stakeholders and the implementation team. (2) In his:her profession the DDP thinks or acts across roles and combines three fields of competence in different forms:

  • Design competences
  • Material competences
  • Cross-cutting competences

In his:her expertise, the DDP is characterized by these competences and is able to unite and support the experts within an implementation team through his:her cross-cutting skills.

Digital Design Competences

As mentioned before, Digital Design combines various agile methods and disciplines and should be considered as a holistic approach to product development. The approach focuses on the DDP profession, which embodies design, material and cross-cutting competences in one person. But what is hidden behind these fields of competence?

According to my interpretation of the topic, some skills, knowledge and competences could be assigned to individual competence fields.

Examples:

  • Design competences: User Experience Design
  • Material competences: Industriy-specific Know-How
  • Cross-cutting competences: Servant Leadership, Management 3.0

However, from my point of view it is also the case that design, material and cross-cutting competencies interlock and build on each another: Some skills or key topics may not be clearly assigned to a single field of competence, but rather have fluid transitions.

Examples:

  • UML knowledge
  • User Story Mapping
  • Requirements Engineering
  • SQL knowledge
  • Programming languages such as Java
  • Cloud
  • IT-Security

Which competences does a DDP require? As described, the DDP should have a mix of design, material and cross-cutting competences. But in my opinion, the answer to how these are distributed in detail and which skills are necessary varies depending on the industry or project environment. Since Digital Design focuses on the user, UX skills seem to be essential from my point of view. It is most important that the DDP has enough Know-How to take an important part in the discussion with the stakeholders and within the implementation team.

Methodical Approach in Digital Design

Digital Design is based on well-known product development procedures. Our agile approach and its artifacts can be recognized here as well. The IREB e.V. further developed well-known agile project methods and proven processes and divides the procedure in Digital Design into superordinate levels (3):

  • Solutions level
  • System level
  • Element level

These levels contain various process steps (3) with an iterative dependency between them:

  • Scoping
  • Conception
  • Implementation & Operations

The framework of the digital solution is defined in the Solution level. Part of this level can be, for example, market analysis and target group definition. It includes the process steps “Scoping” and “Conception”, i. e. the step from a product idea to a first fully formulated and roughly conceived product vision. After that the customer benefit is defined in the System level. Within the System level, the process steps “Conception” and “Implementation & Operations” are combined. In the Element level the technical solution and the design are coordinated. This is purely about the implementation and operation of the digital products.

We are already familiar with this procedure from product development. These three levels defined by the IREB can be understood as the abstraction levels of the different process steps, as they are iteratively interdependent. For each level, both planning and content work takes place, so that depending on the process step, corresponding content and process artifacts are developed by the DDP and his:her implementation team:

Overview of different Digital Design level, the actions taken as well as planning- and content aspects

Graphic adopted and adapted; based on the considerations of IREB e. V. – Sources: (3)(4)

The graphic shows a known procedure of our everyday product management as well as the corresponding planning and content-related activities depending on each Digital Design process step. What is new for us in particular is the use of concrete Digital Design process artifacts, which in the respective step from the activities emerge.

In the following sections Zarin and I will explain the graphic by going into more detail about the individual process steps and highlighting the work in terms of planning and content as well as the resulting artifacts.

Scoping

As described above, the procedure is divided into three process steps. In “Scoping”, the first process step, a Element Canvas can be used to define the setup for the new digital product: It contains the market analysis, the target group definition and the business model. We are already familiar with similar approaches such as the Lean Canvas.

Based on the knowledge gained and summarized in the Element Canvas, a roadmap can be designed, as in usual our product management approach. This roadmap can be interpreted as a first release plan from a planning point of view. The release plan forms a basis for our backlog. The Digital Design process artifacts are new in this context: From a content perspective, this step creates the Digital Design Brief, which summarizes context, vision and scope according to the IREB e.V. (5)

From my point of view, in addition to the Element or Lean Canvas, methods and frameworks such as impact mapping can also be used in this step to determine context, vision and scope.

Conception

The “Scoping” goes over the second process step “Conception” and deals with the determination and clustering of individual stories and epics. This approach has also already proven itself in agile product management. The prioritization of tasks according to user value is still in our focus. From a planning perspective, an Epic board or a User Story Map, a very well known approach in the agile community, is created. Since every product and every user can be individual, from my point of view other methods are also useful to achieve goals, such as the Value Proposition Canvas, depending on the context and product. In this context, the IREB e.V. provides for the creation of two artifacts from a content perspective: the Solution concept and the System concept. (6) It is important that the overall process is iterative, so that the individual process steps repeatedly influence each other: the more knowledge is gained, the more feedback flows into the “Scoping” and “Conception”.

Implementation & Operations

After the “Conception”, the third process step “Implementation & Operation” follows. In this step, it is still relevant that continuous user feedback based on short feedback cycles is still integrated into the project. We already know this procedure from, e.g. the Scrum Framework, which I like to fall back on out of personal preference. From a planning point of view, the System board is a necessary artifact to visualize tasks on the Element level. In terms of content, the IREB e.V. provides the process artifacts “Element design concept, Element realization concept and element Evaluation concept” (7).

Process Artifacts

The following graphic summarizes the various artifacts described above that are created in the respective process steps:

Overview of different Digital Design artifacts

Graphic adopted and adapted; based on the considerations of IREB e. V. – Sources: (5)(6)(7)

Differentiation between Digital Design Professional and Product Owner

Similar to the Product Owner, the DDP, as a technical expert, also combines various (design, material and cross-sectional) competencies and thus represents an interface function in the company. In addition, many methods and artifacts are already familiar to us. So is there a difference between the two professions? Or is the DDP an “extension” of the product owner role?

From a Scrum point of view, the Product Owner already has a value-oriented focus. His:Her aim is to focus on the user and to create added product value for a target group. I also recognize this in the profession of the DDP. However, from my point of view, the Product Owner role is understood and lived differently depending on the company, because different competences are required depending on the product and market. Some Product Owners have a pronounced marketing focus, others predominantly have a certain IT affinity; some may already have design skills or UX skills. From this point of view, the interpretation of both professions is probably left to everyone. For me personally, the DDP represents the “future” of the Product Owner: In addition to the existing market and IT expertise, additional design and UX knowledge are combined in one person, which in turn flow into needs-based product development.

Digital Design – How to proceed?

As a new discipline, Digital Design brings together many of the topics and methods known to us under a new title, considers them a holistic approach and thus gives an outlook on the direction in which innovative, needs-based product development can move in the future. I hope to have summarized the topic in my blog post well enough and therefore brought it closer to some of you. For those who want to learn more or want to support this topic, I recommend the Digital Design Manifesto. If you are looking for support on the subject of Digital Design or Product Ownership, you will find further information on our Digital Design website and on our Product Owner website. Please do not hesitate to contact us!

Conclusion

  • Digital Design is a new approach by the IREB to reopen the subject of user-centered product development.
  • Digital Design helps us to focus on people in order to maximize the user experience.
  • Digital Design is based on known methods, frameworks and tools and supplements them with new approaches and artifacts to give us a guide.
  • The Digital Design Professional profession represents an interface function that thinks and acts across roles and combines various design, material and cross-sectional competencies.
  • The Digital Design Professional profession combines various well-known disciplines and competencies and approaches the subject of product development as a holistic approach.
  • The Digital Design Professional profession could therefore be interpreted as an expanded form of the agile product manager or Product Owner.

Sources and References

(1) cf. Rollenideal “Digital Design”: Erfolgreiche Digitalisierung und Digitale Transformation erfordern ein Umdenken in der Softwareentwicklung. Bitkom e.V. Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien e. V., Berlin, 2017, p. 5 – 8.
(2) cf. The Digital Design Professional: Syllabus for the Foundation Level. Version 1.0.0, IREB e.V., 18.02.2021, p. 14 – 19.
(3) cf. ibid., S. 58 – 69.
(4) cf. Stan Bühne, Dr. Kim Lauenroth: Digital Design Professional – Ein Bausatz für die Gestaltung digitaler Produkte. 23.03.2021. Bitkom akademie, p. 11 – 13.
(5) cf. The Digital Design Professional: Syllabus for the Foundation Level. Version 1.0.0, IREB e.V., 18.02.2021, p. 19.
(6) cf. ibid., p. 19 – 20.
(7) cf. ibid., p. 20 – 21.

Further information regarding Digital Design

  • Digital Design Manifesto: BitKom e.V., digital-design-manifest.de/
  • Digital Design Professional: In a Nutshell DE[03]. V1, IREB GmbH.

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