Why Product Design Matters

“ If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.” – Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover.

I just finished reading Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan. I loved the inspiring anecdotes and insights on how great product teams work. I believe that every one in the product world will hugely benefit from this. Hence, I am sharing the notes I captured from this lovely read. In this article, I will focus on the importance of product design.

Let me start with an easy question. Which of the following situations relates close to your product team?

  1. Product manager does the actual design by him or herself (this is different from the situation where the product manager is a trained designer)
  2. Product manager doesn’t provide the designs, rather provides very high-level user stories to the engineers. To begin coding, the engineers have no choice but to work out the design themselves
  3. Product manager provides the interaction design (wireframes) and then use a graphic designer to provide the design

All these three situations are incredibly common and pose serious problems. They don’t provide the holistic design any good product team aspires for. I have spent more than a decade in Enterprise product space working closely with hundreds of customers and users across different functions and industries. Nothing turns off the users more than a poorly designed product. Worth underscoring that great product design gives an enviable competitive advantage!

Many organisations wake up one morning and suddenly realise design is important. They spend money and bring talent in-house. This is great! But please understand this is only half the solution. Why is it so? They still set it up like a design agency (through internal). Bringing design requests to this group – often sitting together in their little studio – and when they are done, they expect the results. If that is the way we needed to work, we would probably continue to work with external agencies. We need design – not just as a service to make our product meaningful – but to discover the right product!

In strong product teams today, the design informs the functionality as much as the functionality drives the design. This is a hugely important concept. For this to happen, we need to recognise designers as key members of the product team, working side by side with the product manager and not as a supporting service. Include the designer from the very inception of the idea, in all the customer and user interactions as possible. Learn about users and customers together. Great product companies illustrate the seriousness of this collaboration by measuring the contribution of product designer on the success of the product and NOT on the output of their design work.

Few great questions every product designer should ask him or herself:

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

Great product designers use prototypes as their primary canvas for communicating ideas, both internally and externally. They are constantly testing their ideas with real users to constantly validate and refine ideas as well as gain insights they otherwise may not have got.

To summarise, building great products require an intense collaboration of product manager with design and engineering teams. That is how real customer problems are solved.

One of my favourite quotes is from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French aviator and poet. So very relevant to all aspects of life, even more to ‘design’!

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” 

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been republished with the permission of the author.


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