A behind-the-scenes look at product design at Squiz

If you’ve ever managed your company’s website, you know that navigating a clunky interface can cost you hours of labour or, worse, lead to mistakes and inaccuracies that can damage customers’ experience of your brand. But did you know that the difference between a smooth workflow and a litany of back-end issues is often linked to product design?

Steve Beagley, Product Designer at Squiz, designs the products Squiz clients use every day. “I work on new product features to ensure that they are usable and useful,” he says. “We try to figure out how we can create software that helps the people who use our products succeed.”

Putting yourself in the users’ shoes

When you’re building features for a content-management-system (CMS), identifying the problems that users grapple with on a daily basis is your first priority. This means thinking critically about a client’s business and understanding the goals they want to hit.

“We start with a conversation about what the user has to achieve,” Steve says. “We then ask lots of questions to properly define the problem that needs solving.”

Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to solving user problems, arriving at a solution means using different strategies and methods.

“Once we define the problem, we use a number of techniques to flesh out possible solutions,” Steve explains. “Some of these include working with others in the team to bounce ideas off each other, sketching out lots of rough ideas on paper, and developing low-fidelity prototypes of features to see how they feel to use.”

Why it’s important to keep it simple

The best design often makes the complicated seem simple. That’s why eliminating complexity is an ongoing imperative at Squiz. According to Steve, developing visual mock-ups and embracing an iterative process usually deliver the best results.

“At this point, we develop visual mock-ups of the workflow the user would follow when using the feature,” Steve explains. “These usually go through a number of iterations as we try to simplify and refine the interfaces. Once the new feature has been built by the developers,  we test to make sure the interface behaves as expected. At this point we make fine adjustments to the HTML and CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] to ensure that the developed interface accurately reflects the mock-ups.”

Implementing an HTML Form Builder Interface within Squiz’s Edit+ product, which presents HTML-building functionality in a way that’s visually legible to content editors, is a powerful example of how eliminating convoluted workflows can benefit end users.

Designing products that are wired for change

As web content becomes more complex – in line with the internet’s ongoing evolution – it’s critical that CMSs support future changes and can scale with business growth.

“Although the CMS is a back-end tool, we need to make sure that the product can support these changes,” says Steve. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing a product that you’ve worked really hard on materialise and concepts that you’ve come up with validated by users.”

Product design has a powerful impact on your ability to navigate your CMS on a daily basis and to build a web presence that’s ready for what the future holds. From getting intimate with users’ problems to keeping it simple and building scalability into the end product, start understanding your CMS better by familiarising yourself with the research we conduct every day at Squiz.

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