Principles of Product Design: Learn Fast, Guess Less

first principle of product design: guess less

Each and every day, we are exposed to (and interact with) various types of software.

Because of this, we have become sophisticated software buyers, capable of making our own purchasing decisions based on our previous experiences with related products. We no longer need someone to tell us if a software is good or not; we now actively vote for good user experience — and product design — through the homepage of our phones, and the icons on our computer desktops.

As sophisticated software buyers, product-based business is no longer a game of specifications and accessories — it’s about the overarching user experience. A 2014 study conducted by Gartner confirms this: the results indicated that by 2016, 89 per cent of companies expected customer experience would be their primary area of competition.

And they were right.

Recently, we sat down with Aarron Walter — VP of Design Education at InVision and author of A Book Apart’s Designing for Emotion — for a Shopify Partner Session webinar. We chatted about tools and techniques that web designers and developers can leverage to design great products, and craft enriching user experiences.

In his presentation, Aarron discussed seven actionable principles of product design that he’s learned over the years of working for, and observing, Fortune 500 companies. We’ve decided to deep dive into the first principle — guess less — to help you gather and analyze the feedback you need to be more successful in your designing endeavors.

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What is the “guess less” principle of product design?

According to Aarron, the easiest way to explain the “guess less” principle of product design is to compare it to a lottery.

In the United States, the odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 175 million, which begs the question: with odds so low, why do consumers even purchase lottery tickets? It’s simple psychology. Someone sees someone else publically win a jackpot, so they purchase a lottery ticket under the assumption that one day they might win, too.

Similarly to the lottery, software startups and SMBs see other companies winning big market shares and becoming wildly successful in their industry (like Google, Uber, and AirBnB). These smaller businesses start prioritizing speed over user experience in their product design process — quickly building and shipping new products thinking, “someone’s going to be the next ‘big thing,’ and it’s going to be me!”

This means that companies are putting out products faster, failing faster, and building a culture where product design decisions are based completely on guesses and not on customer feedback, which would allow them to guess less.

You might have already seen the correlation, but taking guesses in product design is a lot like winning the lottery — the odds are against you, and your chances of winning in your industry are now up to luck. Random, even.

So, in order to scale and create great products, you have to get better at learning fast and guessing less.

How can I learn fast and “guess less” in my day-to-day design process?

The entire concept of “guess less” is based on including customers in your feedback loop.

Therefore, in order to incorporate a “guess less” mentality into your day-to-day design process, you have to:

  • Make it easy for customers to communicate with you
  • Make it easy to filter through these communications to find little nuggets of gold

It’s simple. Here’s an example of a basic feedback loop that your business can use to get better at learning fast, and guessing less:

  1. Survey to learn about customers
  2. Interview and find patterns
  3. Collect and search

We’ve taken the liberty of outlining implementation techniques and tactics for each step to help get you started:

1. Survey to learn about customers

principles of product design: survey to learn about customers

The first step of the workflow is to create a survey that you can use to learn more about your clients and customers. It’s important that you’re optimizing your surveys to ask the right questions at the right time.

This can be done by implementing different types of surveys throughout the customer journey. A few of these are explored below:

Feedback boxes

These are the survey questions that pop up on a website’s homepage. Though more generalized, and not specifically created with the intent of capturing customer information, these feedback boxes are a great way to measure quantifiable data related to your product — from current, potential, and returning customers that visit your website.

Feedback boxes can be used to gauge:

  • How often a user interacts with your software
  • What type of content they’d like integrated
  • Which current product features are shining and which ones need improvement
  • If they haven’t purchased your product yet, why they’re holding off

This type of survey typically asks one question at a time, and should focus on acquiring generalized data that can be used to improve your product design.

Customer/Client onboarding survey

To begin your customer feedback loop and start implementing “guess less” into your product design process, you’ll need to determine a customer’s first impression of your brand and product.

If a customer has purchased your product online, follow-up with a thank you email and include a short survey to fill out. This type of survey is typically referred to as a customer onboarding survey, and can be used to to identify:

  • Why they purchased your product
  • What their business goals are
  • If they’re switching from a competitor
  • Why they’re switching from a competitor
  • Where they found out about your product

This information can help you design your products in a way that improves a new user’s first experience with your product. You’ll quickly discover customer expectations and goals — giving you the perfect opportunity to include this feedback into your design process and grow your product.

ZenDesk offers nine tips for customer feedback forms that you should be sure to include when building out your survey.

Customer/Client satisfaction survey

Next, you’ll need to implement a survey that collects data from consumers who have used your product for a significant period ot time. These are the people who will have insights into how your product exceeds their expectations, how it misses the mark, and how it can be improved for new (and existing) users.

Segment out your existing audience and send a customer/client satisfaction survey to customers three months, six months, and 12 months after they’ve purchased your product. By implementing this survey into your new “guess less” regime, you’ll proactively identify pain points and issues at every stage of the customer journey.

Use this type of survey to learn:

  • If your product has lived up to, or exceeded, your customer’s expectations
  • How loyal your customer is to your brand
  • If your product has been pivotal to helping achieve your customer’s business goals and objectives
  • What your customer overall likes about your product
  • What your customer overall dislikes about your product
  • If the customer would recommend your product to a friend

FluidSurvey, now subsidiary of SurveyMonkey, offers an interactive template that you can use to craft your product feedback/customer satisfaction survey. Keep it as long, or as short, as you believe is effective for reaching your audience.

Features survey

When building your business and scaling your product design efforts, you’ll eventually have to decide what features to focus on, and which features to build into your product in the future. The best way to make these decisions, again, is to turn to the end user: your customers.

Use the product features survey to understand:

  • Which feature your customer can’t live without
  • Which product features could be improved, and how
  • What type of features and functionality your customer would like to see in future iterations of your product

If you don’t think a devoted survey send is the right way to collect this information, you can implement a more passive “feature request” form on your website.

Alternatively, you can also conduct a usability survey to determine which features are effective and which ones are not. MeasuringU offers some actionable tips for implementing user experience surveys into your “guess less” workflow.

Account closing survey

No one likes to see a client go, but unfortunately it happens. Even the most successful companies can’t completely eliminate churn — but they can learn from it if they ask the right questions. When a customer reaches out to close their account, it’s important to understand why.

Use the account closing survey to learn:

  • What motivated your customer to leave
  • If they’re leaving for a competitor, and why
  • What part of your product’s UX was most frustrating
  • How you can improve your product

According to GrooveHQ, you can increase the responses to your exit intent surveys by including open-ended questions, and asking “what” made the customer leave, as opposed to “why” the customer is leaving.

2. Interview and find patterns

principles of product design: find patterns and interview

Now that you have a steady stream of survey data coming in, it’s time to dig through the information and find patterns — commonalities between responses that will serve as North Stars for improving the design of your current, and future, products.

We won’t talk much about how to find these patterns, as Custom Insights already does a great job at detailing how to interpret your survey results.

However, with this abundance of feedback, you’re bound to find customers that provide exceptionally valuable responses — make note of them, because you’ll want to follow up with them and deep-dive into their answers.

When reaching out to further discuss survey responses, it’s best to use an active form of communication, such as a phone call or in-person meeting (if possible). This allows conversation to flow naturally, and you can get real-time, off-the-cuff answers to some of your more specific questions. You’ll never get these special nuances and details by having a conversation via email or text messaging.

Who knows, you may get off topic and find more valuable information hidden in your conversation. Again, you just need to make sure you’re asking the right questions, at the right time.

Crazy Egg has a great guide to help you conduct impactful customer interviews. Brush up on your technique so you can expertly, and consistently, reveal priceless insights during these one-on-one chats.

3. Collect and search

principles of product design: collect information and search

Funnel all of your survey responses into a dedicated area. This can be a database, spreadsheet, or communications software — any one place where you can aggregate all of your data. This way, you’ll be able to easily find correlations in your data, and back-search any responses should an issue arise with the product itself — maybe a customer already had insight into this problem earlier.

Take at least one hour each week to review your collection, browse through the responses, and identify high-impact customers that you can re-initiate contact with.

We’ll discuss different options for software that you can use to make collecting, searching, and responding to your survey data much easier.

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What are some other tools to help me “guess less”?

Now that you understand what “guess less” is and what a “guess less” workflow looks like, it’s time to look at a variety of tools that you can use to help your company guess less — and design great products.

Survey tools

Use the following tools to collect customer data:

SurveyMonkey (Prices vary depending on your plan) — One of the most widely used softwares in the industry, Survey Monkey offers a plethora of features for companies looking to implement a customer feedback process. Interestingly, SurveyMonkey offers text analysis for their Gold-level members, which will search and categorize open-ended questions (and identify commonly used words).

SurveyGizmo (Prices vary depending on your plan) — This software features all of the basics that you’d want in a survey solution, like branded URLs, logic branching, and different question types. SurveyGizmo also has more advanced features for users requiring more functionality from their survey product, but maintain a forever free version for those looking for the basics.

Qualaroo ($199/month and up) — A full suite of analytics products for your business. Qualaroo allows you to conduct surveys, integrate feedback boxes on your website, and even has a Reporting API for Enterprise-level customers.

Email marketing tools

Use the following tools to engage with customers and provide them access to the above surveys:

Emma Email Marketing (Prices vary depending on the number of subscribers) — Use Emma to create campaigns based on customer behavior, ensuring that you’re always sending the right survey at the right time. Emma also sports a comprehensive mobile application to let you review email data on the go. (Prices vary depending on the number of subscribers) — Similar to the above email marketing solutions, offers enhanced segmentation, marketing automation, and email drip campaigns. What differentiates from its competitors is its Liquid templating, allowing you to create emails using the same coding language as Shopify Themes.

Data migration/automation tools

Use the following tools to automatically transfer survey data from one application to another:

Zapier (Prices vary depending on number of zaps required) — As they mention on their website, Zapier connects applications and automates workflows. This means that you can have your survey responses automatically sent to a Google Doc. With over 750 application integrations, automate nearly every step of your customer feedback workflow (and any other workflow, for that matter) by using Zapier.

IFTTT  (Mostly free, save for premium integrations) — A little less robust than Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT) allows users to set up triggers, which will automate a response. Use their predefined applets to help make your customer feedback workflow seamless.

Data organization tools

Use the following tools to collect your survey data for further analysis:

Evernote ($49.99 a year for the functionality required) — A lot of people use Evernote to organize their day-to-day lives, so why not use it to aggregate and analyze your survey results? Aarron suggests using the secret email functionality of Evernote to feed incoming emails and analytics into a notebook, making it much easier to sort when it comes time to review your survey data.

Google Docs/Sheets (Free) — Use a tool like Zapier or IFTTT to feed your survey data into a Google Doc or Google Sheet, and sort your data for quick analysis.

Trello (Free) — Similarly to Evernote, use the secret email functionality of Trello to have your responses sorted into various cards and lists. This way you can keep track of responses, and ensure you’re tracking which customers you’re following up with, or which customers you should consider following-up with next.


We provided you with a lot of information that will help you learn faster, and guess less in your product design process. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Implement a customer feedback loop workflow into your day-to-day product design process: survey customers, analyze data, and collect and store information.
  • Set up different types of surveys for different stages of the customer journey.
  • Set up a feedback box or form on your website.
  • Schedule short phone interviews with customers who have interesting nuggets of feedback.
  • Visit local customers, if possible.
  • Use the right tools to gather the right information and to automate your workflow.

How do you incorporate customer feedback into your product design process? Let us know in the comments below!

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