scraps of ideas around software and collaboration

Surviving without a product designer (or how to make talking about design fun)

Early stage start-ups have one goal: get product market fit. This usually means that the initial tech team is focused on functions and features over design.

The awkwardness of the situation: a product manager and an engineer staring at a problem, trying to pull together some sort of idea of how the final product should look like.

  1. The main problem: subjectivity. People building products that work in precise ways are often not big fans of subjectivity.
  2. The second problem: we still had to do our regular job duties such as building products and scoping out the future work.
  3. The third problem: something must be shipped.

Here are some things I tried that worked for us:

Focus on UX > UI

  • When taking decisions, one of the factors involved in pursuing certain paths is the cost of reversing, if you find out the decision was bad. Colours are easy to change. Layouts and user flows, potentially harder.
  • A lot of the customer rage is created from lack of usability, not dullness of design. You don’t usually get annoyed that the form looks bland as much as the fact that it doesn’t let you submit your data.
  • Focus on creating clear guidelines for how to use the different components vs creating components from scratch.

Create a space and a culture of openly gathering thoughts about the design

  • Teach others how to ask and receive feedback. Keep the scope of the feedback well defined. We have a Slack channel called #designcrit.
  • Create an inspiration channel. People working on a computer will be exposed to tens and hundreds of different user flows and front-ends. We have #designinspo, where we capture different apps that we enjoyed using.
  • Moderate conversations when things get heated by reminding the team that you should put the desire to pursue the correct solution above the desire to feel like you won the argument.
  • We try to tease each other’s thinking process rather than roast the final product. When the right questions are asked the person course corrects by themselves.

Create a design debt sheet

  • The same way you have tech debt, be comfortable launching with design debt.
  • Removes form the pressure of shipping something perfect as well as prompts the team to look out for solutions in the wild.

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Jamie Larson