Product design is a team sport



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Dear client,

Know that your product is of utmost importance to us designers. We want it to be exceptional, we want it to be successful, and we want it to evolve as time goes by.

More than anything, we want to do everything in our power to serve your product.

But here’s what prevents us from doing so: loneliness.

“Want to release a hit product? One designer isn’t going to cut it.”

Not the kind that makes us cry into our pillows. It’s a whole other kind of loneliness—the kind where we end up attached to a development team like a fifth wheel to a coach.

Useful, sure, but slightly uncomfortable. A lone product designer on a team will do their best, but not the best that could be achieved in a given situation if they had company.

Related: How to build trust with your team

We’re writing to you now to address this problem. In short: open your pockets a little wider and work with 2 or more product designers on your team, you beautiful, business-savvy, clever person, you.

Why? Well, we’ve prepared 5 handy exercises that’ll help you determine how many designers are or will be necessary for your project. All we ask in return is that you be honest with yourself.

Life is like a role-playing game: designers assign their skill points to specialize

This isn’t obvious, but product design involves a whole bunch of different skills. So it makes sense that a person responsible for making a product successful needs to know about business strategy and UX research—and they should have some experience with prototyping, visual design, animation, and…

Yeah, no. It does not make sense.

Most product designers probably do have an extensive skill set, but why would you want someone who is only “adequate” at interaction design to be in charge of designing your interactive application? You wouldn’t!

You’d most likely prefer to pay money for a professional grade of service. “Professional” meaning excellent in every way and meeting all your needs, including the ones you don’t know about. “Adequate” just doesn’t cut it.

Building a team of experts with varying skill sets might save your product from failure. This is especially true if your product requires specialized technologies or approaches.

Think about it: Do you really want to make compromises and sacrifice your vision because your team doesn’t have the necessary experience?

At the very least, make this early choice when you’re fully aware of the consequences.

Problem solving: If only designers could be upgraded with extra brains

Do you have any idea of how very human designers are? We make mistakes. Our designs aren’t always as good as we think they are. We try—we really do. But sometimes we don’t spot all the faults in our work.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes, we just don’t have the brain capacity to understand everything about your product, remember about everything that’s important for its success, and think of every possible way in which users might interact with it.

Do you know what would help? Someone to talk to. And no, our spouses, children, and pets won’t solve the problem.

Sure, user testing is an absolute must anyway, and isn’t that a fantastic opportunity to socialize! But we’re talking about early-stage design and everyday work at the office. We’re talking about brainstorming sessions, attention to detail that rivals that of Hieronymus Bosch, and fast, furious, essential feedback.

“If designs can’t grow with time, they become useless relics of the past.”

Mutual design critique helps us see those nasty little things we stumbled over during the design process—we tell each other what’s good, what’s bad, and what needs improvement. Fast feedback, from a person as knowledgeable about the product as we are, means we don’t get stuck when something isn’t quite working properly. Attention to detail is built into our brains by now, but do you and should you always trust your brain completely?

We are your team. We want the same thing: smooth, fast, efficient product design. Consider how much this means to you.

When the product is not ready to be ready

There comes a time when the product needs to be released. Thrown to the wolves. Pushed out of the nest.

Sometimes, this is a good thing. When the product is as mature as it can be with a team of developers and one designer fussing over it, it’ll benefit from experiencing the real world. If all goes well, it’ll keep growing and engaging more and more users. More on that in a bit.

Related: 7 free resources every product designer needs

Other times, though, the product isn’t ready. The product won’t even be in the vicinity of ready for a really long time. And yet, the product gets released.

Launch. Speed to its death. Crash. Goodbye.

Who would want that? Nobody wants that—especially the designer responsible—but you know what? This designer simply stuck by the first viable solution because there was no one there to help him or her explore other options. The designer did his or her best, okayed the product for release, then crossed their fingers.

We call this trap premature commitment. It’s the common cause of death for new products.

You know what that feels like: the moment you finally think of a solution to a difficult problem. It seems perfect in every aspect, so you rush to implement it and move on to the next challenge.

How exciting!

But the solution probably has hidden flaws. These flaws will likely come to the surface when fixing them will involve an enormous cost, unless you sidestep this pitfall by letting people criticize your ideas early on. Investing in another perspective is worth it when compared to the cost of failure.

Product as a new form of life—it’s born, it grows, it lives!

Repeat after us: design is a process. A constant, glorious struggle to make the product better. And better. And better still.

Leaving the product as-is after launch would be like looking into the watery blue eyes of your newborn child, declaring it has reached its full potential and throwing it to a bunch of random strangers.

Good business people won’t do this because they’re aware that product continuity and product ownership are important. They accept the fact that the devices and technologies through which users interact with their product will change and that their users now and their users in a year might have very different needs and habits.

It’s fine. We have a way to deal with this constant stream of chaotic change that is the reality.

Our secret? Not making a product dependent on the continued engagement of a single person.

Designs need to grow with time. Otherwise they become useless relics of the past. People might still pay them some attention as curiosities, but that’s not what you want your product to be.

You want to solve users’ problems. You want to be relevant. So make sure your product has ample room to grow.

Who reads summaries, anyway?

Key things to take away from this letter:

  1. One designer probably doesn’t have all the skills necessary to make your product a hit
  2. Designers work better in pairs and teams
  3. Premature commitment is caused by growing your product in an unfriendly environment—that is, under the care of only one designer
  4. Design is a process, so let your product live

We’re confident you’ll apply this knowledge by finding yourself a merry bunch of product designers, so that both you and they can live without the fear of sudden failure.

We’d wish you luck in all your business ventures, but you don’t need any.

With love,
Lonely product designers

More posts about product design


Mateusz Czajka
As Head of Product Design, Mateusz holds one of the most responsible roles at Netguru, which provides consulting services in programming, systems integration, product design and creating software solutions. He believes that good design is synonymous with problem solving. Mateusz takes advantage of the problem-solving approach in his day-to-day co-operation with clients—he always responds to real user needs and creates effective solutions. Mateusz is proud to have delivered over 30 successful products together with his team of 13 talented creatives.

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