Each year, numerous UX/UI designers and product designers graduate, equipped with similar technical skills and knowledge. However, what sets some individuals apart from the rest?
It's not merely about having a user-centric perspective or creating intuitively designed products for users; these qualities are already expected.
The differentiating factor lies elsewhere—it's not about mastering tools like Figma or Sketch flawlessly or having a flawless portfolio.
The true distinction lies in soft skills.
Let's understand this first -
- What is the role of a product designer?
- Effective and Assertive Communication
- Embrace Overcommunication
- Empathy in Design
- Embrace Collaborative Teamwork: Share and Involve
- Master Time Management
- Protect Your Time
- Embrace Flexibility and Adaptability
- Cultivating Critical Thinking
- Unleash the Power of Questioning
- Master the Art of Articulation
- Embrace Your Intuition: Trust Yourself!
What is the role of a product designer?
The role of a product designer is to create and enhance the user experience and visual aesthetics of a product. Product designers are responsible for designing the overall look, feel, and functionality of a product, ensuring that it meets the needs of both the users and the business.
Here are some key responsibilities and aspects of a product designer's role:
User Research: Product designers conduct research to understand the target audience, their needs, and their pain points. They gather insights through methods like user interviews, surveys, and usability testing to inform the design process.
Ideation and Concept Development: Based on user research, product designers generate ideas and concepts for new products or product features. They collaborate with cross-functional teams, such as product managers and engineers, to brainstorm and develop innovative solutions.
Wireframing and Prototyping: Product designers create wireframes, which are low-fidelity visual representations of the product's layout and structure. They also develop prototypes, ranging from simple mock-ups to interactive designs, to test and iterate on the product's user interface and interactions.
User Experience Design: Product designers focus on creating intuitive and seamless user experiences. They design user flows, information architecture, and navigation systems that enable users to easily achieve their goals within the product.
Visual Design: Product designers are responsible for the visual aesthetics of the product. They define the color schemes, typography, iconography, and overall visual style that align with the brand identity and enhance the user interface.
Collaboration and Communication: Product designers work closely with cross-functional teams, including product managers, engineers, and stakeholders. They effectively communicate design decisions, rationale, and user insights to ensure alignment and gather feedback.
Iteration and Testing: Product designers continuously iterate on designs based on user feedback, usability testing, and data analysis. They refine and optimize the product based on user insights, business goals, and market trends.
Design Systems and Guidelines: Product designers contribute to the development and maintenance of design systems and guidelines. These resources ensure design consistency and efficiency across different products and platforms within an organization.
Overall, the role of a product designer involves a combination of creativity, empathy, problem-solving, and collaboration skills to deliver user-centered and visually appealing products that meet business objectives.
Let’s take a look at some of the valuable soft skills designers should develop.
Effective and Assertive Communication
As designers, it is essential to effectively communicate the narrative behind our proposals. We must establish the connection between our design solution and the objectives we aim to achieve, emphasizing what sets our solution apart.
Moreover, we should be able to communicate not only with fellow designers but also with individuals from diverse backgrounds, including developers, translators, and product managers.
To achieve this, it is crucial to adapt our language and provide clear explanations that can be understood by those unfamiliar with design jargon. Save technical discussions for interactions with other design professionals.
Here are some guidelines:
- Avoid assuming that others have the complete context of the project.
- Tailor the information you share to suit your audience's profile. For example, product stakeholders may not require the intricate details of why a particular spacing is set at 32px, whereas developers might.
- Communicate assertively, which means being direct, confident, and honest while displaying empathy and respect.
- Structure your explanations like a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end:
- Provide context and state the objectives.
- Discuss the ideas considered and explain the reasons behind choosing a specific approach.
- Present your proposal.
- Clearly specify areas where you seek feedback or input.
By mastering effective and assertive communication, we can enhance collaboration and ensure a shared understanding among team members from different disciplines.
One valuable lesson I learned while working at big enterprise companies is the significance of overcommunication. You might feel like you've explained a project numerous times, fearing that others will grow weary of hearing the same story repeatedly.
However, the reality is that within a team, multiple tasks are happening simultaneously, and everyone is engrossed in their own work. It's common for team members to not retain all the complicated details of what others are working on.
By intentionally overcommunicating, you achieve two important outcomes. Firstly, it ensures that your message reaches its intended audience effectively, increasing visibility and understanding. Secondly, it helps counteract the natural tendency to overlook or forget vital information amidst the busyness of individual tasks.
Don't hesitate to reiterate important points, provide updates, and share relevant insights. This repetition reinforces key information, fosters alignment, and strengthens collaboration within the team. Remember, overcommunication is a powerful tool for success in any project or team setting.
Important Tip: Communicate, Don't Assume!
When it comes to sharing information with your team, remember this simple rule: don't assume they'll figure it out on their own. Whether you write it down or say it aloud, make sure to communicate even the seemingly trivial details. This proactive approach avoids misunderstandings and saves time in the long run. Effective communication is the key to successful collaboration and a smooth workflow. So, never underestimate the power of clear and concise communication within your team.
Empathy in Design
Empathy is not just a personality trait; it's a skill that designers must cultivate. In the realm of design, empathy plays a crucial role in creating products that are centered around human needs. It allows designers to immerse themselves in the users' perspectives, understanding their desires and requirements.
Often, users struggle to articulate their needs clearly, making it the designer's responsibility to keenly observe and utilize empathy as a tool to uncover and address unspoken problems.
While some argue that emotions have no place in the workplace, they are an integral part of the design process. As designers, we aim to create products and services that evoke positive emotions and deliver exceptional user experiences.
Companies that successfully establish an emotional connection through their meaningful narratives tend to thrive. Design serves as a bridge, bringing people together, and emotions play a vital role in forging that deep connection.
“When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.” -Susan Sarandon
Embrace Collaborative Teamwork: Share and Involve
This point is closely intertwined with the previous one: while it is true that "only you can design," it's crucial for the development team to understand how to implement the solution, and the product team needs to comprehend your work and how it contributes to achieving the original objective.
Sharing your ideas and designs extensively yields numerous benefits. By actively involving others, you can generate fresh ideas, gain diverse perspectives, and uncover novel concepts that may have eluded you. Moreover, this collaborative approach fosters team unity and a shared sense of purpose.
It's not about working in silos with a cascading project structure; rather, it's about collectively striving for the best possible solution.
Encourage open dialogue, regularly share your progress and insights, and invite feedback from team members. Embrace a mindset of inclusive collaboration, where different skills and perspectives converge to create a harmonious and optimized outcome. By actively working together, you enhance the overall quality of the design and drive collective success.
Master Time Management
When embarking on a project, I've developed a habit of taking a few moments to outline all the necessary tasks and considerations:
- Synchronization meetings: I determine when these meetings will take place and who will be involved.
- Asset requests: If I need assets from another team, I establish a clear timeline for their delivery and ensure I have them in hand when I need to proceed with my work.
- External reviews: If the project requires input or evaluation from other teams (such as design systems or accessibility), I account for the time they will need to review and provide feedback.
With these factors in mind, I set a deadline for myself based on the ideal delivery date. Allow me to elaborate: If the final submission is due on February 27, I "compel myself" to complete it two or three days earlier (leaving room for unforeseen circumstances). Using this delivery date as a reference, I define checkpoints for the control points mentioned in the previous paragraph.
While this approach may not always unfold exactly as planned, it grants me peace of mind knowing that everything is more or less scheduled. This proactive time management strategy enables me to stay organized, maintain a sense of control, and better navigate any unexpected challenges that may arise during the project.
Protect Your Time
Within the realm of "time management," there lies another crucial aspect: minimizing random interruptions. Here are three main types I've identified along with my strategies for handling them:
- Non-urgent Slack messages.
- I utilize the status feature in Slack to communicate that I'm in a focused work phase, indicating that my response time may be delayed or that I won't be available on Slack until a specific time, such as 5 pm. This sets expectations and allows me to prioritize uninterrupted work.
- Informative emails that shift focus.
- To prevent constant disruptions, I designate specific times to check my work email. I typically do this two or three times a day—once in the morning, around lunchtime, and before the end of my workday. By batching email activities, I maintain better control over my focus and avoid constant distractions.
- Unexpected meetings that may lack value or purpose:
- When faced with impromptu meetings that arise without prior notice or a clear understanding of their relevance, I take proactive steps to assess their importance. I reach out to the meeting organizer, inquiring about the meeting's agenda and what they expect from my participation. If it is deemed essential, I attend the meeting. Otherwise, I decline the invitation, providing a reason within the Google Calendar event. Later, I review the meeting notes to stay informed.
By implementing these strategies, I safeguard my time and minimize interruptions, allowing me to focus on critical tasks and maintain productivity throughout the day.
Embrace Flexibility and Adaptability
The path of design is seldom a linear one, just as businesses face market fluctuations, competition, and internal dynamics that can introduce chaos. In light of this, it is crucial for us to be flexible and open to change. And by flexibility, I don't simply mean being receptive to feedback; it also entails accepting that projects we've dedicated weeks to may be paused or even canceled.
Being flexible means setting aside a project, regardless of our attachment to it, and seeking to understand the factors that led to such a decision. It could be a matter of timing, with the need to reprioritize our workload.
These situations are closely linked to adaptability. There will be moments within a team or company where everything appears chaotic and uncertainty prevails. In such times, the best approach is to adapt to the circumstances. If there are no active projects to work on, it's an opportunity to address design debt and resolve issues that have long needed attention but often get overlooked due to time constraints.
By embracing flexibility and adaptability, we position ourselves to navigate the twists and turns of the design journey and respond effectively to changing circumstances. This mindset allows us to make the most of any situation, fostering growth and resilience in our careers as product designers.
Cultivating Critical Thinking
With a strong 62% consensus, critical thinking emerges as a vital soft skill for product designers. As digital designers, our role often involves nurturing the initial spark of an idea, nurturing it, and bringing it to life. Critical thinking serves as a cornerstone of this process.
Not only does it empower designers to comprehend, define, and ultimately solve design challenges, but it also enhances their communication skills, enabling them to articulate ideas with clarity.
To evaluate critical thinking prowess, As a mentor at Think 360 I emphasize the importance of assessing designers through behavioral questions or white-boarding assignments that prompt them to think "outside the box." These exercises provide valuable insights into how designers approach and respond to various situations and problems.
By honing their critical thinking abilities, designers become adept at dissecting complex problems, generating innovative solutions, and effectively communicating their ideas to stakeholders. This skill enables them to thrive in the dynamic landscape of product design, where adaptability and inventive thinking are highly valued.
Unleash the Power of Questioning
Throughout my career, some of my biggest setbacks stemmed from my failure to ask the right questions. As a fledgling designer, I couldn't comprehend why our input wasn't given more weight in high-level decision-making processes for products. In multiple startup environments, the pattern persisted—the management team would outline the path and solutions, and then they would turn to the design team for the "visual candy."
It was only years later that I realized the transformative potential of reframing the conversation. Instead of simply saying, "Sure, I'll get right on it," I learned to ask, "What business problem are you trying to solve? Will this change truly achieve the desired goal?" By posing the right questions, we can reshape how our role as designers is perceived. It not only enhances our craft but also enables us to engage in meaningful business conversations. With persistence, patience, and unwavering dedication, we can earn our rightful place at the decision-making table.
The types of questions UX designers ask during interviews speak volumes about the state of our field. Often, they lack specificity, practicality, and actionable insights. There's a disproportionate focus on gaining recognition and too little emphasis on addressing the core challenges at hand. Ryan Singer, Head of Strategy at Basecamp, aptly remarks, "Too much of 'How can we be taken seriously?' and too little talking about the work."
So, what questions should we be asking? When faced with a problem, it's crucial to peel back the layers and uncover the true essence—the problem behind the problem—by delving into inquiries such as:
- What is the core problem we are striving to solve?
- Is this the right problem to address?
- Is it worthy of our utmost efforts?
- Are there other problems we could solve that would bring more value to our customers?
- If we ignore this problem, will our product suffer?
- Will addressing this problem align with our product vision?
Once the problem is identified, it's time to solidify it by aligning it with your business goals. Consider probing questions like:
- What are our business goals?
- Which specific goal(s) will this problem-solving endeavor contribute to?
- How do the stakeholders perceive the idea or project at hand?
- What are the measurable KPIs associated with these goal(s)?
- What value do these goals hold for our business? (e.g., monetary gains, time savings)
- How will we know when we've achieved the primary goal(s)?
- Do we have sufficient resources allocated to this project? If additional time is needed, will it still be feasible?
- What risks and challenges must we address?
- Have we considered the viewpoints of other departments impacted by the end product, feature, or UI change?
The key is to ask probing questions that drive meaningful insights and align your design efforts with overarching business objectives. By mastering the art of inquiry, you'll unlock a world of possibilities and elevate both your design prowess and your impact within the organization.
Master the Art of Articulation
When it comes to hiring, one of the most crucial qualities I seek in candidates is their ability to express themselves clearly and effectively communicate their thinking process. How did they arrive at a particular result? During a recent experience of hiring a designer for a temporary position, I came across an eCommerce project in her portfolio. Intrigued, I asked her why she had designed the checkout process in a specific way. From there, I proceeded to pose several thought-provoking questions:
- Can you articulate your thoughts on your solution and explain the underlying rationale?
- Why should we place value on your perspective and expertise?
- What factors led you to reach this conclusion?
- Did you explore alternative approaches? If so, what were they?
- Why do these alternatives fall short of our requirements?
- Are there potential consequences associated with your proposed solution?
- What insights have you gathered from user feedback?
- Have you personally engaged with users to gain a deeper understanding?
As she confidently answered each question, I gained valuable insights into her thought process and ultimately decided to hire her. These are precisely the types of inquiries that individuals have when presented with design work. The more comprehensive and insightful your responses, the greater their understanding and trust.
Trust is built on familiarity. To truly know someone, you must witness their thought patterns and actions. Therefore, remember that your ability to effectively communicate your thinking process to others is directly correlated to the level of trust you can establish. By honing your skills in articulation, you'll enhance your ability to build trust and forge meaningful connections with those around you.
Embrace Your Intuition: Trust Yourself!
In a data-driven world, it's easy to overlook the power of intuition. We often prioritize objective information over our own instincts when making decisions. However, there are instances where trusting your intuition can lead to better outcomes. While data is important for understanding customer needs and feedback, blindly following every customer request can steer your product off course.
Devoting time and resources to implement every feature request can clutter your product and hinder progress. I once worked with a client who found themselves trapped in a never-ending roadmap cycle, unable to make meaningful changes due to a backlog of requested features.
That's why it's crucial to trust yourself and communicate your reasoning effectively. When you believe in your approach, take the time to articulate your thought process. Explain why following the data alone may not be the best path forward. Use examples, visuals, and evidence to support your perspective.
Remember, balancing data-driven insights with your intuition allows for a more holistic decision-making process. So, don't shy away from trusting your instincts and expressing your rationale to guide your product's direction.
In the world of design, ideas evolve, projects may be abandoned, and plans don't always unfold as anticipated. However, in the face of setbacks, persistence is key. The more you persist and keep trying, the greater your chances of success become.
It's crucial for designers to continuously adapt their perspective and approach when faced with obstacles or failures. By embracing perseverance, success becomes an inevitable outcome.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”-Winston S. Churchill
How product design can change the world | Christiaan Maats | TEDxUniversityofGroningen
Christiaan Maats, a designer and entrepreneur, challenges our perception of product design by exploring its deeper layers of meaning. In his TEDx Talk, he emphasizes the ability of products to connect us to a greater reality and embody the change we seek in the world. With a vision of a circular society that harmonizes industrial and natural elements, Christiaan sheds light on the transformative potential of meaningful products.
Born and raised in Groningen, Christiaan pursued his studies in Industrial Design Engineering at the Technical University in Delft. His fascination with the psychology of product and brand experiences led him to conduct a case study titled "Storytelling through Product Design" during his time in Sydney, Australia. He believes that good product design is akin to compelling storytelling. One notable manifestation of his philosophy is the creation of the world's first biodegradable shoes that bloom.
As a practical idealist, Christiaan is motivated by his passion for innovation and his desire to create products and brands that inspire a better future. He aims to evoke smiles, provoke thought, and inspire wonder through his creations. His groundbreaking ideas on sustainable innovation challenge the existing norms and pave the way for positive change. With his diverse background and infectious enthusiasm, Christiaan delivers an inspiring TEDx Talk centered around envisioning the society of tomorrow and exploring the path to reach it.
Key Points to Remember
- Simplify Your Mind: A cluttered mind leads to a cluttered product and ineffective communication. Strive to declutter your thoughts and streamline your approach. Avoid excessive jargon, complex writing, and the desire to sound overly intelligent. Focus on clarity and simplicity.
- Be Concise: Whether you're writing website copy or collaborating with developers, prioritize brevity. Get straight to the point, conveying your message succinctly and effectively. Avoid unnecessary fluff or lengthy explanations that can confuse or bore your audience.
- Overcommunicate: Communication is key. Don't assume that others fully grasp your message after a single interaction. Embrace the practice of overcommunication, ensuring that important information is shared clearly and repeatedly if necessary. This helps minimize misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page.
- Ask and Answer Questions: Asking good questions is essential, but be prepared to answer them as well. Engage in thoughtful inquiry to gain deeper insights and challenge assumptions. This promotes meaningful dialogue and encourages critical thinking.
By following these principles of simplicity, conciseness, overcommunication, and active questioning, you can enhance your product development process and foster effective collaboration with others.