Whether a different way to name UX or a whole new role, Product Design is becoming more pervasive in startups and technology organizations, given the need companies have to hire designers who are fluent not only in design thinking and human-centered design, but in product thinking as well.
Inspired by a thread from PM Shreyas Doshi, I did an exercise to contrast the nuances between good and great Product Design, in order to pave the way for emergent designers who want to excel at their craft.
Good vs Great Product Design
Good Product Designers document specs and design requirements that lead to an organized hand-off to engineering, with attention to detail.
Great Product Designers know that design is never done; they do not rely on hard hand-offs, but rather involve engineering early and often. Along with product, they decide when a design is ready for dev instead of done.
Good Product Designers run Design Sprint-type workshops or Lightning Decision Jams on a frequent basis to solve problems along with their teams.
Great Product Designers are masters of improv; they craft exercises and workshop agendas by taking inspiration from different sources, as every challenge requires a unique set of activities.
Good Product Designers work closely with Product Managers on the interaction and visual design of a feature, which is then documented on a Product Requirements Document (PRD).
Great Product Designers co-create both the experience and the PRD through several rounds of iteration, avoiding blocking other teams or working in cascade.
Communication & Presentation
Good Product Designers actively participate on design critiques to review and challenge their design decisions.
Great Product Designers orchestrate highly interactive design critiques, moderating the discussion, and leveraging storytelling to frame the problem and solution space.
Good Product Designers are outstanding individual contributors. They feel comfortable taking end-to-end ownership of a feature.
Great Product Designers look beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and find opportunities to help other designers, either by coaching or mentoring. They become sought-after for advice.
Good Product Designers are fluent in prototyping as a way to render and test their solutions.
Great Product Designers leverage prototyping as way to explore not only their own but other team member’s ideas, as they know design is a team’s sport.
Good Product Designers never jump to wireframes or mockups without mapping user flows first.
Great Product Designers are capable of modeling artifacts beyond user flows such as Job Maps, User Story Maps, or Journey Maps, that depict the jobs users want to get done.
Good Product Designers rely on insights from UX researchers to guide the design decisions they make, as well as validating assumptions through concept or usability testing.
Great Product Designers work closely with UX Researchers and create strong relationships, where the outputs of each role influences the inputs of the other.
Good Product Designers back-up their design decisions with quantitative data, qualitative insights, and competitive analysis.
Great Product Designers go beyond hard data points and create stories that resonate with their stakeholders, which in turn allows them to get stakeholder buy-in.
Good Product Designers work closely with Product Managers to learn about business priorities and constraints.
Great Product Designers never stop learning about the industry they are in, as well as the competitive landscape; they are capable of playing the role of subject-matter experts and provide business recommendations to create and capture value.
Good Product Designers measure success by the design quality of their output.
Great Product Designers measure success by the outcomes they produce for both users’ solved problems and business goals accomplished, reflected in KPIs and OKRs.
Good Product Designers thrive when being provided with style guides, design systems or libraries to render their design concepts.
Great Product Designers are systems thinkers. They are fluent in understanding the limitations of a design system, the moving pieces, and feel comfortable deciding when to break the mold and adding new components and patterns.
Good Product Designers understand the brand of a product and how it is represented on visual devices such as color schemes, typographic scales, illustrations, and icons.
Great Product Designers are proactive in evolving the brand, and bringing new ways to visually express it.
Good Product Designers are mindful of the technical assumptions they make while developing a solution, and run their designs by engineers to reduce uncertainty.
Great Product Designers invest a significant amount of time to deeply understand the architecture and technical constraints of a product, so they can better estimate technical complexity of their solutions and speak a shared language with engineers.
Being a Great Product Designer is aspirational; we should never stop pursuing excellence. These guidelines should not be considered as written in stone or silver bullets, but rather signposts to follow by emergent product designers willing to up their game, myself included.