Why a Product Centric Design Team Makes All the Difference

With clear business goals and the need to orchestrate your team’s effort to achieve them on time you can’t afford to work with a design team which is disconnected from the bigger picture.  This is why we believe a product-centric approach is the most efficient.

To better explain why we think this approach is so successful we have written down how it affects the design team’s work, how the product benefits from it and finally, with examples, why we believe this to be the case.  Because we honestly believe that it’s better to work with a team which is in sync with the company’s goals, and which understands the strategy to get there and uses their creative power to drive these things as far and as fast as possible.

The issue is, that if you don’t have a design team like this, you’ll need to follow them closely, argue points, actively push your requirements, and regularly go back and force with edits. The end result is inferior quality, misused creative skills, lots of wasted time, a whole heap of unnecessary stress and general team dissatisfaction.

 

What is product understanding from the design team’s perspective?

·      Design is a complicated and delicate process with its own priorities, requirements and timelines. The issue is that the product has them too and more often than not the two do not coincide. In this context, product understanding means that the design team knows how to bend the normal design processes to better fit the product’s needs whilst keeping the quality of the design as high as possible. This works the other way too. Sometimes a product’s needs can and need to be manipulated to get a superior product.

  • Product centric design teams look beyond their artboards and canvases. They don’t just work on achieving the best design, but rather understand that their output is a part of a greater group effort and that effort has an ultimate business purpose.
  • Product centric design teams bear in mind the company’s business goals and product strategies and use them as constraints in their process to make more appropriate design decisions.
  • It is not just sitting down and creating the best design possible, but rather creating the best possible design for a specific product need. For example:
    • For helping to sell white label versions of the product to hospitals.
    • For a marketing event that is happening in just two weeks.
    • Or for encouraging users to focus more on one of the product’s secondary actions, because of a business need.

A few years back we were working on an interior design tool which was on sale as a white label product. One of the potential customers needed a more advanced way to snap furniture together within the design. Imagine that you are dragging a box close to another one on the screen and they just suddenly snap together perfectly. This is what was needed, but in complex scenarios. The way they required it wasn’t easy or quick to develop. So we needed to design a snap feature that at the same time satisfied the client’s product needs and budget, and for us it was a reasonable development effort. No need to say that it also had to offer good user experience.

 
 

We made it happen, the deal was signed and everybody was happy. But without product centric thinking we would design the best user experience possible that would have not been developed, since the deal would not have been signed.

 

How product understanding affects the design team’s work and output?

  • Buy in – there is a tremendous difference between working with a team that is designing a feature because they were “asked” to, and a team designing a feature that they know and agree with its business goal. So what’s the difference? Well, design affects users, clients and anyone else who comes into contact with the product. If the designer is in sync with you, their design output with be in line with the business goal.
  • Timing – I honestly don’t think anyone in the tech industry has ever said “oh, don’t worry, we have plenty of time”, well,. Unless they were being sarcastic. Whatever the design team is working on has to be done within time constraints. The question is whether your design team is pushing to make it on time because “Everything must be completed yesterday …” or “We must have this update ready for the conference to kick ass!”
  • Design decisions – Both UI and UX designers have countless decisions to make through the course of their work. Product needs naturally guide the design process and help make smarter and more effective decisions.

Last year we were hired to do UX design for a startup who was after a pivot and before a major investment round. They had fantastic new ideas and they needed us to design and build for them a prototype of a mobile app that they could use as a tool to show their vision on investors. Working with the normal design process would give them a great result, but completely fail the business goals, because we wouldn’t complete the design in time for the investment round and we would spend tremendous amount of effort in defining details and solving problems that no user will ever have to deal with.

So we re-aligned our process with their business goals, which led to throwing out most of the process, and jumped right into it. The outcome was an interactive prototype showing an advanced mobile app.

 
 

There were many details left that needed improvement, but it didn’t matter. The two things that mattered were that we made it on time and the prototype explained their vision well. They ended up using the prototype quite intensively in their investment round and it was a very successful. They raised almost $10M in series A funding.

 

So why aren’t all design teams product centric?

  • If the product plans and strategy are not shared with the design team, they can’t consider them in their work. No one can be product centric if they are removed from the product.
  • Designers are taught to be the best possible designers they can be, to advocate design and its importance, and to strengthen the value of design in the eyes of the non-designers. For some it means that design is the beginning, end and center of everything. Luckily, most do take it as a goal to achieve within real world constraints.
  • Sometimes there are just designers who design for the sake of design greatness. Anything else is inferior to them. These are designers who design great designs to be appreciated by other designers.

 

What is your part in helping the design team be more product centric?

  • Involve – Just as in lean processes, where designers bring in developers to plan together new features as early as possible, you should bring in designers to early stages of product strategy and business planning.
  • Share information – Reveal your plans and goals. Talk about as many details as you can. It helps people understand the plan, not just accept it.
  • Explain why – This is the single best tool to achieve buy in. Every decision has a reason (hopefully) when people don’t know it they sometimes assume that the reason doesn’t make sense. However if they do know it, and agree with it, they will push the hardest to achieve the goal. So, explain everyone why you are trying to achieve a specific goal right now, and how you’re planning to build on it later. You will enjoy the benefits.

 

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