Design-Led Software Engineering Improves User Experience

Editor’s note: Focus on user experience now shows up in numerous surveys as a major determinant of success in software product sales. We interviewed the co-founders of software development provider Clarice Technologies: Sandeep Chawda, who is also CEO, and Shashank Deshpande, who is also president. Between them they have more than two decades of experience in user-centric design (especially at Symantec/VERITAS) and now lead Clarice Technologies in design-led innovation for Clarice’s software customers. Please explain what you mean by design-led innovation in software development. 

Shashank Deshpande: Design-led innovation is to understand users and their needs to come up with a design that is usable and consumable and then to apply technology innovation to translate it to a user-centric product. It is about providing an optimal balance of design and technology in the process of product development to ensure intuitive and high-performance products. More often than not we see that products are over-designed or over-engineered, and neither is good for consumers and end users. A product that really delights the customer has a good balance between design and technology. What causes developers to over-design or over-engineer? 

Sandeep Chawda: It’s caused by the lack of sensitivity of one aspect or the other. We seldom see companies with an ecosystem that has the right mix of designers and technology engineers. If the product is designed without considering various technology aspects, that will cause the product to be over-designed. There are several design studios where designers take a flight of fancy in the product design without really considering whether or not that can be meaningfully engineered.

And the same applies for the engineering side. Many technology companies try to build the product without having a meaningful information architecture in how product functionality is presented. This results in a product that won’t be exposed to the users properly and they won’t be aware of its key functionality, or they may be aware of it but will tend not to use it. What do you do differently in design-led engineering to avoid these problems? 

Shashank Deshpande: We do up-front design of the complete product without writing a single line of code. We come up with “product storyboard,” which is a pixel-level detailed mockup of the key screens of the product, and we tie them together so as to mimic the complete product. All this is done without writing a single line of code because changing pixels is an order of magnitude easier than changing code.

These mockups are then used by multiple stakeholders of the product in a very effective manner. Product Management can use it for validating the product functionality. Sales can use it for talking to customers about the product roadmap and what is going to come. And the storyboard acts as refined requirement specifications for the engineering group to go ahead and build the product.

We use this process iteratively when developing software products for our customers to ensure there is a heavy emphasis and high priority on the user-experience angle.

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