I'm a highly adaptable product designer who prefers being a generalist rather than a specialist.
Great product designers think like great
artistsproduct managers. - Marissa Louie
I’m comfortable writing functional specs with product managers, jumping into code with engineers, and reviewing metrics with marketers. I can document every edge case in a design file, review pull requests in GitHub, lead research sessions, write UX copy, run meetings, and speak/present to large groups. I also value the “people” part of my job: mentoring, hiring, improving design team processes, and contributing to the team culture.
What does “great design” Look Like?
My primary job as a designer is to enable others to see the future. To see what could be. To help the team make better decisions faster.
Conducting user research, producing wireframes and UX flows, and prototyping UIs are table stakes for any designer. A great designer’s job also includes:
- 📣 Facilitating: Help communicate everyone’s ideas by making them tangible, clarify goals, and check for understanding.
- 💎 Stewardship: Protect and promote design, spread user perspective throughout the organization.
- 🌟 Connoisseurship: Show folks what good design is, elevate the team’s design taste, and hold the quality line.
My colleague and I led a workshop on how designers lead design projects at Stack Overflow. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years:
- Great design comes from learning to operate successfully inside an organization. No matter how skilled one is creating UIs + prototypes, if they can’t articulate their process and build healthy relationships, the work is unlikely to be accepted.
- For designers to have a meaningful impact, they must go beyond beautification and understand the business needs to the same depth they understand their users’ needs.
- Presentation and storytelling are important. Explain the scenario and sell the experience, from concept to final execution. Tell why, not just what. It helps others understand the design and feel more confident in it.
- Good design makes people feel like they are in control. It explains what’s happening and what’s possible without making the user think.
- Product designers don’t need to be expert coders, but some basic code knowledge goes a long way in shipping a high quality product.
- Favor leveraging familiar trends and patterns. Rules can be bent or broken, but it should be an exception.
- Good design doesn’t leave anyone behind. Progressive enhancement > Graceful degradation.
Communication and Collaboration
- Trust by default. Assume people are smart and good at what they do.
- Invite others into your design process. The best work is created by diverse teams of designers and non-designers. Break the problem wide open at the beginning. I like starting design projects in a Google doc.
- Listen to others and be open to their perspectives. They need that space and you need their perspectives.
- When design is done in the open (where everyone can see and provide feedback), things that might get overlooked can be caught before a point of no return. It creates an environment of shared intelligence where everyone feels like part of the process. This is especially relevant to remote teams.
- Communicate frequently and document decisions. This includes proactively pushing information out (email, chat, docs, etc.) and making it easy for others to pull information when they need it (searchable documentation, organized files, etc.).
- Leadership is not management and it doesn’t require authority. It’s not a role, it’s how you work.
- Lead by example. Be consistent and reliable.
- When possible, lead others to conclusions they can make for themselves. Hold space for their learning process.
- A mentor helps their mentee get to the next level with a balance of mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring. Ask how you can support your teammates, don’t just tell them they’re doing a good job and to keep doing their basic responsibilities.
- Identify blockers and take responsibility in removing them.
- Don’t assume why someone’s behaving the way they’re behaving, ask about what’s behind their actions and problem-solve together based on their answer.
Product Development Process
For the past few years, I’ve worked in a double diamond process:
- Discover: Understand the current condition by auditing existing designs, reviewing competitors, interviewing users, “How Might We” brainstorming sessions, and gathering insights.
- Define: Synthesize the ideas identified and focus on the most compelling opportunities. What has the most potential impact? Which should we do first? What’s feasible? What does success look like? The goal is to define exactly what we’ll do and won't do.
- Develop: Explore the best potential solutions. Designs concepts are created, prototyped, tested, and iterated. This trial and error process helps ideas improve.
- Deliver: As confidence in the solution increases, exploration gives way to engineering. Working software is created, optimized, and shipped.
- Improve: Measure results and tweak when appropriate.
It fits our team well and I work in every phase. I especially like the parts where the problem is defined and explored widely.
I’m not attached to this approach, but think have a process helps an organization understand how design works and its responsibilities.