On Product Design...

Issue 2021/1 – Dear friends, I gathered enough courage to share the first newsletter issue of the year with you. I tried to summarise the motivation behind doing design and the key aspects of it.

I recently read an inspiring product design interview with Rasmus Andersson. He was the first designer at Spotify and later moved on to work on Facebook Messenger, Dropbox, and Figma. At the same time, last Wednesday, Tom & Marek invited me to join them on Clubhouse to discuss the basics of product design in the Slovak design community.

These experiences in the past week made me think about the foundations of our work. It inspired me to write the first newsletter issue of 2021 about my basic understanding of product design. Ready for a buzzword ride?

Making the world a better place

I'm sure you have met at least one designer, architect, engineer, or any other creative. The truth is that these experts have more in common than you might think. We are all problem solvers. We live in a constant state of transforming our ideas into tangible systems, products, buildings to make tomorrow slightly better. What is driving us? The motivation behind product design (and other creative disciplines) is a need, problem, challenge in the world. As humans evolve, we tend to innovate and improve lives by solving the pains, issues, and needs around us. This results in making our lives easier, more meaningful, and enjoyable. This is the human motivation behind the design, and I believe the main one.

What role does business play in this?

As Marek pointed out in our discussion on Clubhouse:

Design is also about lowering the risk that the company is going to build something no one needs or has no positive value.

In today's world, we are overwhelmed by all the attention-seeking opportunities around us. If the company's product or service doesn't improve a person's life in a meaningful way, why would they ever give their time or money to this business? One of the critical issues companies make is that they do business for the sake of making money, not because they want to bring value to humans. The second most significant issue is that they think that their company brings value, but they are the only ones. The public doesn't think that. Making sure we are building the right thing in the right way is what designers can bring to the business table.

How does product design work?

I want to point out that although I'm focused on product design in the digital environment, I believe that the basic understanding of a design process is the same, no matter if you are building cars, designing clothes, or constructing buildings. Yes, architects could be called "construction designers" as their process resembles all the aspects of design. I might touch on the architecture <> design resemblance in upcoming newsletters.

I won't go into the specific methods and frameworks like the double diamond or design thinking,... I will keep this article high-level and divide the design work into 2 main parts.

  • understanding

  • crafting

Understanding

To create something, firstly, we need to understand the problem area from multiple angles. This is why the majority of advanced design teams have specific researchers involved in their design process. The insights gathered during the understanding phase fall mainly into 2 categories:

  • Needs & pains (of customers & business) - defined by user experience research

  • Constraints (time, technical feasibility, other costs) - defined by the environment or company

The critical skill in the understanding phase is empathy – the ability to understand another.

Through various research methods and interviews with stakeholders, we ultimately land on a defined problem statement. This serves as the basis for ideation and represents the issue we will take as default in measuring our improvement.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to establish clear goals now. How much do we want to improve this specific problem? What will be considered a success in this particular project? This provides another valuable constraint for the designer.

Crafting

With a clear problem to improve, we move into crafting. Collaboration and involvement of people with different backgrounds play an important role here. Feedback & critique are helpful to avoid personal biases, improve quality and prevent building the wrong solution. By constant iteration & prototyping, we try to validate which solution brings the most prominent impact while keeping ourselves in the range of defined constraints.

The quality of the craft itself in the process is mainly defined by a designer's:

  • effectivity - the size of the positive impact a solution makes

  • efficiency - the straightforwardness with which we get to a solution

The world & society are constantly changing and with that the problems to solve. That's why I see adaptability as a critical skill during crafting. Especially if the designer is solo on the projects. She needs to be able to shift the toolset to be as efficient & effective in the communication and solution as possible. Using any means necessary, whether it is a sketchbook and pen, prototyping tools like Figma, or code.

In a team setting, the adaptability shifts from a person to team adaptability. Therefore the most effective design teams put together people from different backgrounds with different strong skills. This way, the team can deliver higher quality work while having specialists for various tools, methods, or people with a different mindset and cultural background.

To sum up

I see design as more of a process than an outcome – a never-ending starting over to make a product, physical space, society better. It always starts with empathy towards the needs and constraints around us. Followed by the ability to adapt the process to make it simple, with the least risk and the most significant impact – effective & efficient.

With every new impact we make, we change the world and create a new set of problems to tackle. Over and over, this portraits an impossible chase for perfection, which we will never reach.


Thanks for reading the newsletter. I'm curious about your understanding of design in the world. Reach me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram, or reply to this email.

See you in the next edition of People over Pixels, where I will write about my weekly planning and transparency approach on the design team.

MJ out 🎤