The product design world asks: Should we build teams of generalists or specialists? Which approach is better?
At Percolate, we’ve built a product design team with generalists, and we think that’s the best way to go. Our designers have the skills needed for user research, UX, and visual design. In practice, we empower designers to solve design problems from start to finish.
In this post, you’ll learn why we think product design teams should be built with generalists, and we’ll also share the skills needed to land a job as a generalist product designer.
“Building a product design team with generalists is the best way to go.”
Generalist product designers benefit your designers, your organization, your product, and your users.
- Ownership. Generalist designers feel a real sense of ownership in the project. As the project progresses, they’re more invested in the solution and their excitement grows. When designers are excited about their work, they design better products.
- Knowledge. The designer who performs research is the best person to develop the solution. When research is transferred from person to person, it’s like a game of telephone—some level of information is lost in the process. Generalist designers build solid foundations with research and prevent lost information in the design process.
“When designers are excited about their work, they design better products.”
- Efficiency. Projects move faster when a single designer is responsible for all stages of the design process. When a project changes hands, time is lost to knowledge transfer and often delayed by resource dependencies. Since time is of the essence, our organization benefits when generalist designers are efficient resources.
- Resource planning. Our product management team enjoys roadmapping with generalist designers because it’s easier than planning handoffs between specialist designers. The handoffs add a number of dependencies. As timelines and scopes shift, the dependencies can cause significant delays. Generalist designers are the best choice for resourcing planning.
- Flexibility. When designers are capable and flexible, they can easily adapt to the various needs of our projects. Some projects will include a lot of research, and others may not need visual design. We save time when our design process is adaptable.
“Projects move faster when a single designer is responsible for all stages of the design process.”
- Functionality. Our product improves when designers are closer to the research. Functionality is more closely tied to user needs and pain points.
- Growth. When our design process is more efficient, our product grows faster. Today, our 90-person product team ships 15-20 times per week. The product benefits from quick design iterations.
- Relationships. Designers at Percolate speak regularly with users to better understand their roles, workflows, and needs. Constant listening allows us to formulate better design solutions. As a result, we’re able ship more thoughtful products.
- Happiness. Our users are happy when we’re listening to their needs and shipping more meaningful features on a regular basis. Happy users are the foundation of a successful product and company.
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of a generalist product design team, here’s a list of skills we look for when we hire product designers.
- Curiosity. Begin the design process by asking why?
- Communications. The ability to speak with users, ask questions, listen, and discover pain points.
- Analysis. The ability to compile research findings and share the key pain points.
- Low-fidelity wireframes. The ability to sketch simple diagrams and user flows to quickly explore solutions to the design problem.
- High-fidelity wireframes. The ability to produce high-fidelity wireframes that showcase the flow and interactions in greater detail.
- Simulate. The ability to produce a simple prototype to test the user flows, key interactions, and animations. The designer should be able to review the prototype with users to ensure the solution provides the best experience for the users’ needs.
- Styles. The ability to move black and white wireframes into color. When applying visual styles, the designer should be able to apply our brand’s identity to improve the usability across web and mobile touch points. They should also be looking for opportunities to push and evolve our visual styles and patterns to improve our product.
In addition to these skills, designers should have a growth mindset. The industry is rapidly changing, and for designers to thrive, they must be interested in learning and improving their process.
“In order to thrive, designers have to be interested in improving their process.”
At this point, you’re probably thinking, whoa, this is a very long list of skills.
Yeah. It is.
That said, it’s important to note that a generalist’s experience can be light in some areas and deeper in others. It’s common for generalists to have areas of strengths and weaknesses. Some generalist designers are more UX-oriented, while others excel at visual design.
When building a team of generalists, balance the strengths and weaknesses amongst the team. The diversity will raise the bar for everyone.
Percolate has thrived thanks to a team of generalist product designers. Designers benefit from a greater sense of ownership and user research, and the organization benefits from an efficient design team. The product benefits from more meaningful features.
And best of all, users are happy when designers build a product they love.
Melissa loves building design teams and products. She's also an architect by training and enjoys drawing parallels between architecture and product design.