4 ways to create a great product without visual design skills

As a designer with more than 7 years of experience, I am attracted to visual effects. I vote blindly for ProductHunt projects with beautiful landing pages. I spend hours saving Dribbble shots that have no practical value.

But, if you ask me if it is possible to create attractive products without having visual design skills, I will be reluctant to give in. As much as I would like to say that good visual design important, this is not true.

Take a look at these two tweets:

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You don’t need good visual design skills to create a useful product. You can get a great product just by being extremely useful

Remember not only Zoom, CraigsList and Hacker News, but also the early days of Google …

4 ways to create a great product without visual design skills
Google, first official homepage (September 1998)

The Google home page is just incredibly useful. She does her job well.

Costco’s simple decor has nothing to do with visual appeal. What Costco cares most about is that customers know where things are and how much they cost. Anything else is extraneous – it just adds to the value of their deliberately lowered price.

Amazon Fulfillment Centers are similar. At first they seem to be the epitome of chaos and disorder. Tediously bright lights, flashing sirens, buzzing conveyor belts, and absurd 100-foot ceiling fans. But thirty seconds later, you realize that each of these stimuli serves a specific purpose: to direct goods from sellers to buyers with ruthless efficiency (more on this). Not pretty, but extremely useful.

4 ways to create a great product without visual design skills

So what does this mean for your own products? Below are 4 suggestions for when you don’t have a designer.

1. Talk to customers

What’s better than any designer is direct feedback from clients. Not testimonials about whether they think the design is “good,” but whether they immediately understand what the product does and how it works. Ask them if they are willing to pay for it. Ask how you can add value to the product. Listen carefully and ask questions thoughtfully.

It is so simple. And you don’t need many users. Test 5 users and iterate.

Customer testimonials not only help identify product improvements, but more importantly, develop your user experience and design thinking skills. And this feedback loop is worth maintaining, even if you have a designer or a design team. It stifles the selfishness of designers and prevents us from making things that look good but are detrimental to the customer experience.

2. Steal

Learn from similar products. Not sure how to manage your custom settings? Not sure how to encourage an exchange? Having trouble deciding whether to place filters in front of or behind the icon? See what competitors are doing. Analyze common and unique patterns. If most of your similar products share the same design, there is probably a reason. At the very least, following common patterns can save you some of the cost of user training.

What if you are doing something innovative and you have no direct competitors to steal the idea from? In fact, we rarely invent things out of thin air. More often than not, you try to be “Uber by X” or “Netflix for Y,” and you can always find out about Uber, Netflix and the industry you’re trying to enter.

3. Remove all options

There will always be times when you cannot get clear signals, perhaps your links are conflicting or you are reading articles and wondering if they apply to your use cases. If in doubt, list all the possible ways to represent a function and get user feedback on them. Since you have direct user feedback as a yardstick, you can iterate through all the options and make decisions quickly.

In most cases, you will find that it doesn’t matter which option you choose. Therefore, you can choose the simplest implementation and save money.

4. Leave visual design alone

After testing and making sure your product works properly, leave the visual design alone. If you don’t have a designer, chances are your product doesn’t boil down to a brilliant visual design.

I’m sad, but it’s okay! Just remember one design rule: less is more.

If you don’t want to invest in visual design, then don’t. Use default iOS UI elements, use Bootstrap or Foundation. Pay for a theme if you want, then resist the urge to change anything about it.

If black, white, and the default theme color are too boring, okay, you can choose one brand / theme color that has a contrast ratio of 4.5: 1 in relation to white if you have a light theme and black for a dark theme. Use only this color and shades of gray, and use color sparingly – for the most part, reserve it for call-to-action buttons and links.

Leave the rest to a professional designer. (Read: no more than two fonts, no font size changes of your choice, no 4-5 colors per page, no random neon cats running around the screen. NO.)

4 ways to create a great product without visual design skills
Created at imgflip.com, another great example of extremely useful stuff 🙂

If you don’t know what you are doing, visual “enhancements” can quickly turn into clutter and ultimately degrade the quality of the end-user experience.

That’s all! Create a feedback loop by talking to customers, exploring similar products, testing all the options, and leaving visual design alone. This will allow you to focus on what you do best – delivering value to your customers. You can do this without being distracted by visual design.

Remember, creating a good product is always a multidimensional equation. If your product importantlike Zoom in a pandemic, don’t worry about icon style. Make sure it works first.

Otherwise, you may need all the help available to make your product stand out. This is where visual design really adds value. The quality of the visual design speaks about the quality of your product and inspires trust among customers. Good visual design makes your brand stand out and reduces marketing costs. This is a visual design business case – not a beautiful facade, but adding value and saving money.

Good luck creating something extremely useful!

Author: Clark Douglas

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