Designers: just for nice interfaces?

I still remember in one of my first experiences working in product teams, designers expected specifications from product managers to create their designs. Perhaps some suggestions here and there from the designer could have been considered. Or even worse, I still see product teams with any designer at all.
Years ago it was proven that product designers collaborate with product managers and engineers from discovery to delivery products. Nowadays designers sits side by side with the product manager as a partner with to discover the product.

I still see product teams measuring their designers on the output instead the success of the product. Designer have many of the same concerns as product managers and they understand that user experience is as important to costumer value as is underlying functionality.

Answering key questions

Good designers think about the customer’s journey and his interaction with the product as a whole. They answer a ton of important questions, but one of the most interesting are:

  • How will clients first learn about the product?
  • How will we onboard a first-time client and gradually reveal new functionality?
  • How might users interact at different times during their day?
  • What other things are competing for the user’s attention?
  • how might things be different for a one-month-old client vs a one-year-old client?
  • How will we motivate a user to a higher level of commitment to the product?
  • How will we create moments of gratifications?
  • How will a user share his experience with others?
  • What is the perceived responsiveness of the product?

Testing and discovering

They are constantly testing their ideas with real clients, by presenting prototypes into their weekly cadence, so they are able to constantly validate and refine ideas collecting information that they might not have been looking for. They know that their ideas can not be attached before they come in contract with objective and enough insights from a prototype.

They don’t wait for specifications or expect mocks in .psd anymore, they use and create prototypes as their primary canvas for communicating ideas, internally and externally. Protectively they use different easy and fast tools to validate different approaches and apply the correct one for the task at hand.

My whole experience is based on small / medium startups. Is incredible common -at least in Latin America- see product teams in serious situations, like product managers trying to design without design training at all by providing wire-frames, or even worst sending just high level user stories to the engineers, then they have no choice but to work out the design themselves. And, although you do not believe it, I saw product managers creating wire-frames and using those to create the interface for engineers.
The results of those rarely are good.

We know big companies (Apple, Google, Facebook and more) made huge investments in design talent from the beginning. In my opinion, any product for customers needs at least a designer as a team member. If the product is for businesses, it’s one of the best competitive differentiators. Specially this kind of products have awful designs in many startup companies. They know it is important, but because the user is so often not the customer –the one that buys, sometimes they are considered as less important. This is one of the differences I noticed in North America, B2B products take design very seriously and displacing the old guard.

Incorporate a designer

Invest in design staff is only a part of the solution. With the mentality of request good design and see the results on the user’s screen, you need only an agency and that would be enough. But design is much more than make the products beautiful, it’s a service to discover the right product.

The design drives the functionality of the product, engineers wait from the designer’s income to analyse and discover the product together, before think about any feature. For that reason, design is a first-class member of the product team working side by side with the product manager. They are included in any user experience discussion, including interviews and meetings. They try different design alternatives by fast prototyping to a different problems, so engineers don’t need to create multiple applications and features.

I think designers are really partners of the product managers to discover the necessary product solutions bringing critical skills for any tech product.

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Ricardo Aragón

Ricardo Aragón

Full Stack Developer