If you’re reading this to get a clue about what product designers do, this is the bottom line — in my experiance so far, digial product designers use design and storytelling technics to solve a constantly asked questions inside companies — What does the company do? How we could do it better? Where are the places we will have the biggest impact? How we take the business module and make it actually work?
We are also in charge of identifying problems using data being collected — and more importantly, we define what data should be collected to get a full understanding of the product’s functioning.
When I was offered this position I had no clue of what a product designer does. Is it any different from being a UX/UI designer? I figured it’s somewhere between a product management and a UX/UI designer, but what does it mean? Is it just doing the work of 3 in one position?
Moreover, I was supposed to be the sole designer on the team, so who is going to teach me how to be a product designer? (unlike the studio where you always have other designers more senior than yourself).
The beginning was chaotic. Really. But now, 8 months later, I think I’ve started to figure it out and wanted to share some of my experience:
So, what is a product designer?
First, I assume that you know some basic concepts such as the product manager role in a startup, the UX/UI role and agile management methodology.
As a UX/UI designer in a studio, you always strive to have the best, most efficient user-friendly experience you can achieve with wires, mocks, and prototyping. The user, or human, is your focus. His or hers cognitive effort, state of mind etc.
As a product designer more parameters come into effect:
- Development costs: does this solution cost 3 days of development or 1 month? Does the business value of this feature worth 1 month of development in comparison to other features waiting in the pipeline?
- Business: in the end, you are part of a company and no matter what is your business model, it will always have an impact on the product. Sometimes this impact contradicts the human needs from the interface. Where do you cross the line? It is your job to balance between the business and human needs.
- Customers and Investors: especially in an early stage startups you will have at least 3 cases of features you’ll need to design because a very important client asked it for.
Tools product designers have to deal with some of this mess
Phases: I know, Phase 2 never comes. I’ve heard it so many times. But for me, it works. I relate to each feature as a small tiny product and ask myself — what is the MVP of this feature? What are the very basic components it can’t live without? Sometimes it’s like a Tetris game, separating the feature to blocks and managing implementation each sprint, sometimes even 2 or 3 blocks in one sprint.
This has so many benefits, and the one most important is QA. When splitting a feature into blocks, you are allowing your dev team to also built it this way, making each block ready for QA faster making it easier and faster to check.
- Know at least 3 sprints content ahead: I plan 3–4 sprints in advance. This way I have a picture of all the important blocks and the order and prioritization of each block and feature. The moment a sprint it too loaded, no problem, prioritize the blocks and move some tasks to the next sprint, prioritize and so on.
- Always remind yourself of the business goals: on a feature-based work it’s easy to forget what we are doing. To add more complexity to the equation — the business itself changes on a regular basis. It’s super important for you as a product designer to know, deep down, what is the goal. What is the story of the product? What are we all as a company trying to achieve? And when you know the goal always think — does this serve my end goal?
- Let go of perfection: Let’s say for example your goal is to show growth. That means you need to develop features fast and fast means really really fast. It also means some functionality will be developed and deprecated sometimes in a gap of 1–2 months from the moment the feature came out. As a product designer, you need to understand that finishing a feature to the very end of perfection is a waste of time and money. You can never know your next month, so let go of perfection. You can always come back in 4 to 6 months time and fix that dropdown.
- Remember — most of the time you are the only person in the room who has the full picture in mind — the ability to stop a certain discussion of the team and say “this is a waste of time” is super important and part of your job as a product designer.
It’s true. The actual time I sit in front of Sketch and design has decreased by 40% or so. I find myself participation more in meetings with clients and stakeholders, grooming specs with my dev team and retrospect the job and the team’s performances.
Nevertheless, I feel my design skills are improving every day. I think that to be a product designer takes the term “designer” beyond the actual work of “putting concepts into mockups” — for me I use design methodologies now for decision making: How to decide what’s more important? What is the most cost-effective action the company can take? How to split features into phases? How to balance between the business needs and the experience? All of these questions you are faced with as a product designer.