Visual Design
Interaction Design

Feb 16, 2015

12 min


The RAD-Four Process

Article Purpose

The RAD-Four Process is my personal product development process. It has evolved over the years into its current form and it will inevitably evolve more in the future. The process has been an invaluable resource helping me contribute to and finish team-based and personal software-related projects. The goals of this article are to:

  1. Communicate my approach
  2. Gather feedback regarding my approach
  3. Gather insight regarding the approach of others


In its simplest form, the RAD-Four process is Research > Analyze > Design > Develop > Deploy > Distribute. Though this linear progression is accurate, each of the Design, Develop, Deploy, and Distribute steps has its own relationship with an instanced Research and Analyze pair. In addition, the Design and Develop steps overlap. This entire process is about iteration through a progressive set of steps. Below is a visual representation.

RAD-Four Process


The Research step involves three sequential exercises:

  1. Sketch and Word Storm
  2. Light Competitor Research
  3. Heavy Competitor Research

The first two exercises are intended to be done individually (even if within a team) in an effort to record personal and unjaded thoughts and information. This may seem counterintuitive, but I believe this is a must for at least the first iteration. In the third exercise and in successive iterations it is not important to work siloed, in fact collaboration is required.

Sketch and Word Storm

The process always starts out the same. An idea or set of ideas sparks the notion of a product, service, solution, or approach that could be valuable. For the creative mind, this happens virtually every day. In fact, I created Noded to capture these very ideas quickly and with minimal friction. When an idea is powerful enough it evokes action. In these instances I do the following:

  • Sketch – pen and pad only (typically interface sketches)
  • Word Storm – stream of thought record of words relating to the idea

This exercise can be a single session or happen numerous times (the latter being ideal). What is important is getting ideas to paper, to make thought tangible. I stress pen not pencil and paper not computer for two core reasons. The first is to keep the record low-fidelity by enforcing the use of primitive tools. The second is to encourage creation not destruction (no erasing, undoing, or editing). Editing happens much later in the process. The end goals of this exercise are to:

  1. Make thought tangible
  2. Record unjaded thoughts for later reflection
Light Competitor Research

In having thoughts put to paper by exploring interface concepts and recording word associations, it is time to determine their originality. This step should take no more than a few hours of research. The end goals of this exercise are to:

  1. Determine the originality of the core idea
  2. List all entities producing product or that are involved in the core idea
Heavy Competitor Research

Having determined the originality of the core idea and listing those involved with it, it is time to make the first big decision. Is the idea worth pursuing? There are many facets which impact this decision and they are unique to both the idea itself and the team pursuing it. There is no shame in quitting now. Always remind yourself and your team that the investment thus far will be dwarfed by the investment of the pursuit. If pursuing, I do the following:

  1. Define the goals and deliverables desired from researching each list entity
  2. Allot research time and map the individual(s) to each entity
  3. Execute


It is now time to analyze your accumulated sketches, unjaded insights, and competitor research. The goal in this step is to determine if you have (or through design or other means will have) differentiating aspects of your product or approach compared to what exists. Ideally, the differentiating aspects are innovations, but this is not often the case. There are three core exercises involved in this step:

  1. Compare and Contrast
  2. Innovation Exercise
  3. Marketing Exercise
Compare and Contrast

The goal of this exercise is to simply record what works well and what doesn't. This record takes into account the competitors individually, against each other, and against your original and unjaded record. Any additional insights that come to mind should be recorded as well.

Innovation Exercise

This exercise is the most recent addition to this step and ultimately the entire process. It is sourced originally from the book Something Really New by Denis J. Hauptly. I however stumbled upon the exercise by way of reading Hooked – How to Build Habit Forming Products by Nir Eyal. The sequence of this exercise is:

  1. Understand the reason(s) people use a product/service
  2. Layout detailed steps users take to accomplish their task(s)
  3. Remove steps until the simplest process remains

This exercise is conceptually simple, but getting a good result and analysis is less so. It is extremely important to understand what people actually do (so get in front of and meet with users) so you can have the greatest details regarding why and how they take action. From here you can cull and simplify accurately.

Marketing Exercise

This exercise came to be after reading The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. I highly recommend the read and in doing so, you may find additional or replaceable questions for this exercise. In this exercise I answer the following:

  1. What category is this product first in? Not, how is this product better than the competition?
  2. The most powerful concept in marketing is to own a word in the prospect's mind. What is the word for your product?
  3. Reduce scope, narrow focus, and don't fall into the “everybody” trap. Ask yourself honestly, who is this product for?
  4. Failure is to be expected, know when to cut your losses.

The end results of the three exercises in this step should give you a good picture and potential indicator of future success. More importantly, the results should answer core questions that will drive your various design, development, and marketing decisions should you choose to move forward. Again you must ask yourself, is the idea worth pursuing? If it is, the analysis will have undoubtedly added confidence and momentum that will help you move forward.


Take note that the Design RAD cycle and the Development RAD cycle overlap.

This step embodies the first of four RAD cycles. Always leverage the collective record having led to this point. The first goal of this step is to validate design decisions through iteration. The second is to solidify visual and interaction design decisions through validated prototyping in the Develop step. The cycle involves two aforementioned exercises followed by two new exercises:

  1. Research step – Sketch and Word Storm (sketching interface emphasis)
  2. Analyze step - Innovation Exercise
  3. Mockups Exercise
  4. Validation Exercise

The first two exercises have been covered above, but the remaining two have not.


This exercise inherits all sketching done to this point. The goal of this exercise is to nail down the user flow(s) of the product itself and to solidify the user interface. Pen and pad, Photoshop, and HTML are my mockup tools of choice. But ultimately it is important to use the tools you're most productive in. I firmly believe that “the interface is the product” and that is why I stress the importance of interface design. 37Signals stresses this mantra and more in Getting Real – The Smarter, Faster, Easier way to Build a Successful Web Application. I consider it a must read for both designers and developers as it contains practical information relating to design, development, and the entire process of building, releasing, and maintaining a product.


In this exercise, the goal is to confirm the design decisions that comprise the user flow and interface. The value resulting from this exercise relates directly to the amount of iterations through this step's cycle. Make informed design decisions and then validate them. There are really two core ways to validate design decisions. The first is by getting the mockups in the hands of users in the environment the product is intended to exist. In essence a mobile app interface should be validated on a device, a web app in a browser, etc. This exercise has a tight synergy with the prototyping exercise in the Develop step. The second is through personal use or gut validation. The latter has its place, but it can be a slippery slope. Through validation, the solidification of visual and interaction design decisions can be made.


Take note that the Development RAD cycle and the Design RAD cycle overlap.

This step embodies the second of four RAD cycles. Always leverage what is validated in the Design step's cycle, but also use this step as the interactive proving ground. The first goal of this step is to confirm that the validated design decisions work as expected through prototyping. The second is to code the solution(s) that ultimately give life to the visual and interaction design. The greater the number of iterations through the Design and Develop cycles the better as long as validated improvements are being made. The cycle involves two aforementioned exercises followed by two new exercises:

  1. Research step – Light Competitor Research (find existing code solutions that accomplish goals)
  2. Analyze step – Compare and Contrast (determine best code solutions or create your own)
  3. Prototyping Exercise
  4. Coding Exercise

The first two exercises have been covered above, but the remaining two have not.


I consider this exercise “sketching with code”. The goal of this exercise is to get interactive prototypes up and running as quickly as possible. Once able to manipulate the interface a tester can help to confirm that the validated design decisions behave as intended upon interaction. There are numerous tools for prototyping (Framer, Moqups, Pixate and others for example), but I typically use HTML/CSS/JS for speed's sake. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if I pickup a specific prototyping tool and methodology in the future. I also use this exercise when experimenting with new interaction models or proof-of-concept creations. The core thing to remember is to prototype with speed, so write down a small plan and execute against it with allotted timers. The next exercise is when you properly architect, write, and test code. So when prototyping, don't be afraid to “write drunk and edit sober”.


In this exercise everything previously worked on comes together. The goals of this exercise are to architect, code, implement, and test functional , visual, and interaction design decisions. This exercise results in the solidification of the product or service. Pieces of prototype work can be leveraged here, but it is often better to start fresh. As progress is made in this exercise there is nothing wrong with cycling back through earlier steps, in fact it always happens. The results of previous steps and exercises are meant to test and validate decisions as cheaply as possible (sketches and prototyping as cheap time investments but valuable progress). Inevitably things change and decisions morph, but the faster you can learn what works and what doesn't the better. In fact, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries stresses the importance of minimizing the total time through the Build > Measure > Learn loop and I agree with this completely. I highly recommend the read as it will undoubtedly help you work through your creative process more efficiently. As mentioned earlier, there are many reasons to pursue a product or project, but if the pursuit aligns as the backbone of a startup then the read is immensely valuable.


This is the third of four RAD cycles and it is pretty straightforward. The goals of this step are to solidify and produce marketing materials and to officially launch your product. Leverage work in earlier steps and exercises to influence the official marketing material. Though this step is second to last in the entire process, it is important to be working on and promoting/teasing marketing material throughout the process. Just releasing a product isn't enough; its value must be communicated to your target audience. The cycle involves two aforementioned exercises followed by two new exercises:

  1. Research step – Light Competitor Research (marketing approaches)
  2. Analyze step – Marketing Exercise
  3. Marketing Production
  4. Launch

The first two exercises have been covered above, but the remaining two have not.

Marketing Production

This exercise is about producing what is needed to gain attention for your product but more importantly to communicate its value to your target audience. Always leverage the research of marketing approaches in addition to the Analyze step's marketing exercise to align your production plan. Marketing is a topic all its own, but as I mentioned before, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout will help you immensely. It is important to note that the earlier a product is communicated to its target audience and potential customers the better. Though this exercise rests toward the end of the overall process, it should occur in some form throughout the Design and Development cycles.


This exercise is the most fun and potentially most anxious. Having finished the product and marketing production, the product is ready to be released into the wild. The goals of the exercise are to position your produced marketing material in line with the official product release. Once launched, your work is not done however, and this is where the next step is worth its weight in gold.


This is the final step in the process and the fourth and final RAD cycle. The single goal of this step is to distribute your product to your target audience and potential customers. This step is ultimately synonymous with marketing. I don't hesitate to reinforce the value of reading The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The cycle's exercises are identical to the Deploy step's except that the launch exercise is about launching marketing material as opposed to the product itself.

  1. Research step – Light Competitor Research (marketing approaches)
  2. Analyze step – Marketing Exercise
  3. Marketing Production
  4. Launch Marketing

All exercises have been covered above aside from the last one.

Launch Marketing

By properly executing the second exercise in this step you will have a higher chance of success in getting the attention of your target audience. This final exercise is simple conceptually and its execution directly relates to the marketing strategy taken for the product. Ultimately, this exercise and the entire Distribute step are about persistently communicating your product's value to your target audience. Persistence is vital and experimentation is encouraged. The better you know your target audience, the more inclined you are in finding a creative, unique, and ultimately successful marketing approach.


I hope this article provides a somewhat detailed look into my product development process. As mentioned before, this process will likely morph in the future as I learn about new techniques and tools. I'm very curious about what critiques others have regarding my current approach. In addition if you have specific books, tools, or exercises that you recommend, I'd love to hear about them. I'm looking forward to both the good and the bad feedback, but I hope most to gain insight into different approaches. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @derekknox.