Product design — inspiring quotes and what I learned

Johan Jonsson
6 min readJun 9, 2019
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

I have been working as a digital designer, mainly for mobile, pre-iPhone. Back then no one really understood why you should use the (to be honest crappy) browser in your Nokia or SonyEricsson to browse the web, read the news or check timetables for public transport. Apps existed but social media was not yet as today.

The release of the iPhone changed that just within a year or so. Now end users wanted to use their mobile phones for more than calls and texts. And companies and organizations also saw new opportunities for products and services. Anything mobile was good and looking back now it’s obvious to see that a lot of times the question “Why are we building this?” was missing.

That exact question is now more and more important to me as a designer– Why are we building this? Are we doing the right thing? I have been reading up on the subject (mostly on my Kindle) and decided to compile and share some of the best saved quotes and add some conclusions and comments. Links to the books are available at the end of the post.

I promised myself that never again would I work so hard on a product unless I knew the product would be something that users and customers wanted.

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan, Loc 661–662 | Page 2

Sometimes it’s really hard to choose your next project due to reasons (kids to feed and bills to pay) or lack of insight into a project. But this is something I have been thinking about a lot, especially since I started freelancing more than a year ago. Do I as a designer have the opportunities to actually do a good job? Is the client organization design mature enough to understand the importance of design? Does the team have the time and the budget to do a good job? Is the product owner on top of things and knows how to fight both internal battles and prioritize development? And are we building something users and customers want?

( On testing a competitor’s product or Service) I always like to say that somebody has created a fully functional working prototype of your product and left it lying around with the keys in it

Build Better Products by Laura Klein, Loc 1644–1645

Such a valuable tip! Before even starting to build anything, why don’t do some user testing on whatever competition already has created and launched? It might be something already existing out there, so do some concept testing or UX testing and get insights super cheaply and fast.

​They have spent literally months building an MVP when they could have had this same learning in days or, sometimes, even in hours.

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan, Loc 1052–1055 | Page 29

From my experience, the term MVP is misused in so many projects. Either people don’t really know what it means, or it’s easier to sell the idea of an MVP to the management. Or, that with an MVP not only are you allowed to fail (that’s ok!) but also that you have not clearly identified the most critical hypothesis you might have (not ok!). Figure out what you need to learn first and only spend enough time and effort to prove if you are wrong or right. That might mean that you should not start building anything real. It might mean a prototype or doing a user test on a competitor's product (see earlier quote).

Most entrepreneurs and product development people dramatically overestimate how many features are needed in an MVP. When in doubt, simplify.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries, Loc 1338–1339 | Page 88

Another one on MVP. But it’s important. Simplify and focus on the key features of your product and make them as good as possible. Prove them and then make them even better before even considering more features.

The big limitation of a user prototype is that it’s not good for proving anything — like whether or not your product will sell.

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan, Loc 4046–4049 | Page 249

Good reminder that what you are testing might be perfect for testing your creative concept and proving some hypothesis. But to actually test if a user will spend money on your product might need some other type of testing. When real money is at stake the user sure is more cautious and will probably act in a different way. If your product will sell is also not only up to your product — the cost and how you will reach the target audience are important factors. “If you build it, they will come” might have worked for Kevin Costner but not for digital products.

…as soon as you think you’ve identified an issue, just fix it in the prototype… We’re not trying to prove anything here; we’re just trying to learn quickly.

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan, Loc 4046–4049 | Page 249

Also, a good reminder that if you in a user test learn something just after a couple of interviews — fix it and then continue your testing. Then you have the opportunity to test an alternative solution to your problem and instead focus on other issues in your test.

What the customer needs to gain in value is frequently a lot smaller than what the team wants to deliver.

Build Better Products by Laura Klein, Loc 2728–2729

Something to keep in mind is that the team might be involved and engaged in new exciting features using fancy technologies, but all the users want is that the key features of the product to perform well and as expected. Not only are you wasting time and money, but in the end, it might mean your product will fail even before you have a solid user base and have made some profit.

Emphasize why the existing way does not make sense, why it’s safe to switch to your product, and why they don’t need to worry about leaving the existing way behind.

Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done by Des Traynor and Paul Adams, Loc 347–350 | Page 21

When launching your product remember that your potential users most likely solve the problem you are trying to solve in some other way. It might not even be digital and it might be a cumbersome and time-consuming way to solve a problem. But you need to convince them your solution is way better.

Ask yourself, “From which budget will my product take away money?” Also ask, “When customers start using my product, what will they stop using?”

When Coffee and Kale compete by Alan Klement, Loc 660–661

And also remember that not only does your product need to solve the user’s problem in a better way than the current solution. It will also compete with the cost of using your product vs. the cost of using the current solution.

There are a lot of good books and articles out there, these are some I have read and have quoted in this post. Please share any books you find interesting.

Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done by Des Traynor and Paul Adams

Build Better Products by Laura Klein

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

When Coffee and Kale compete by Alan Klement

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries



Johan Jonsson

Surfer. Father of two. Senior Product Designer. Owner of Galveston. Malmö/Sweden.