Everything You Need To Know About Working In Product Design

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Ever wondered exactly what product design is?

We sat down with one of our Product Designers, Josh, to find out all about product design, his favourite tools to use at work and one of his favourite product designs.

 A headshot of a man in red jumper

What I’m listening to: Saveur Cheveux by Totorro
What I’m reading: Scaling Lean by Ash Maurya
My favourite city: Berlin


What is the role of a product designer?

For me, a product designer’s role is all about:

  • Uncovering and defining real problems that are stopping users from reaching their goals
  • Prioritising these problems and crafting conscientious solutions that resonate with users

Product designers should strive to build functional products that are a joy to use and easy to interact with.

It’s their job to represent, ‘the voice of the user’ and help the wider team discover, understand and empathise with the target audience. If a team understands and cares for their audience, then this enables them to make better decisions and build a stronger product.

In a nutshell, product designers are evidence-driven, creative and curious people who want nothing more than to make the world a tiny bit better than it was yesterday via their work.

A group of people using whiteboards writing notes

What skills are required to be a product designer?

There are many skills that are useful to learn, but above all else, endeavouring to become a strong communicator and an expert listener will often serve a product designer best. This is because at its core, product design is about using conversations to learn information, share information and make decisions.

As a designer you need to understand your audience, your team, your stakeholders and your mission and it’s impossible to do that by locking yourself in a box and ‘designing’. My biggest ‘eureka’ moments as a designer have happened in front of whiteboards and in conversations with customers and team members, not in a design tool.

Amazingly, you don’t need to be able to draw. You don’t need to be able to animate either. You also don’t need to be a coding wizard. Yes, these things can be beneficial, but the ability to successfully transfer knowledge is what makes or breaks a successful product designer.

What makes up a great product team?

If you have a designer who can identify people’s problems, a product manager who can monetise the solution and craft a strategy, and developers who are able to use technology to support its implementation then you’ve got yourself a product team!

When it comes to greatness, I find that collaboration is the differentiator. As a team, craft a shared understanding of each other’s personal goals, learn about who you are building for, how best to do it, and always understand why your work is important. That is what makes for a great product team.

A group of people huddled around two sofas and a small table

How did you get into product design?

It was a total accident! I always had an interest in problem-solving and creating media (animations, videos, photography), but it was only when a university module said, ‘go and work with a local business and make them better’ that I really found out what I loved.

That first project was a lot of guesswork and also a ton of fun. Heck, I didn’t even realise I was being a ‘product designer’ at that stage, but what I did know was that I was jogging to those lectures, learning more than ever, and looked forward to talking to our client and team more than anything else in that semester.  

It was only when I joined Ford’s graduate IT scheme and they offered the role of Product Designer that all the pieces fell into place. Suddenly this fun module had its own career path. The rest is history!

What is life like at HeadBox?

Fun, exciting and challenging in all the right ways. It’s my first time working at a start-up and I’m absolutely loving life. HeadBox is full of bright individuals and it’s been really rewarding introducing teams outside of product to the design process. My hidden agenda is to get every single person to a customer interview or into a workshop!

My day-to-day activities change depending on what part of the design process I’m executing, but personally, I aspire to, ‘always be productive, never just be busy’.

I’ve recently read the productivity books, ‘Make Time’ and ‘Eat That Frog’ and found that if you schedule a meaningful highlight, construct weekly outcome-oriented goals and remain accountable to them, then you’ll be amazed at how much you can do! The product team at HeadBox share a similar viewpoint and put a focus on outcomes, not output, which is super refreshing. I’ve discovered this is especially important when it comes to navigating the fast-paced world of start-ups!

 

A group of people sat on the table

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

My favourite tools are post-its, pens and whiteboards. You can make great decisions very cheaply by working in the real-world. I try to avoid digital until I have a clear understanding of what a desirable, viable and feasible solution might look like.

When it comes to digital, you can find me using Sketch and Invision. “Keep it simple and work fast” is my mantra.

However, I foresee Figma and it’s expertise around real-time collaboration being a big winner if our design team continues to grow!

What products or product design techniques do you admire?

I’m forever referencing Monzo and all the work they’ve done to give the banking industry a huge wake-up call. Over 50% of the office are touting Monzo’s bright-orange cards and so I love using their product to explain why UX can be a differentiator. Do less stuff, but do it well.

When it comes to techniques, there’s too many to list! A recent example that springs to mind is learning about the ‘Catastrophic Brainstorm’ as outlined in Tragic Design. First and foremost, it has the best name ever, but it’s also a really useful technique for quickly identifying high impact risks. The team got a lot out of running one of those sessions.

What kind of goals do you have?

At this stage in my career, they’re pretty straightforward:

  1. Solve real problems for real people and measure my impact.
  2. Learn awesome practices from experienced product people.
  3. Become a super-duper designer by always asking questions and being hungry to learn.

Outside of work you can find me training for the Edinburgh marathon.

 

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