Each month we’ll be lifting the lid on what it’s like to work at HeadBox. This month, 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 how he’s adapted to working from home.

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.

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!

How has your routine changed as you’ve worked from home?

The lack of in-person interactions has brought a lot of significant changes to my work routine.

I’ve found that the biggest challenge has been finding ways to effectively collaborate with other HeadBoxers – both from a social perspective and a ‘getting stuff done’ standpoint. In an office, we ‘default to social’ and are surrounded by colleagues. We feel part of a team because we are surrounded by the team. Information sharing is easy, progress is visible and you can physically see and hear the frustrations and elations of the company.

Working from home takes all of these signals away. We ‘default to isolation’. It takes work to engage with an audience. Zoom calls don’t happen by themselves. This isolation can be great for finding focus, but it means that it takes a lot more effort to decide who to engage with and how. As a designer, this makes discovery-tasks interesting, that’s for sure! I really miss seeing people :joy:

On the flipside, the lack of commute has been an incredible win and great for my wellbeing. I’ve repurposed that time with three styles of activity and try and ensure my week has a blend of all three:

Progression activities

Any activity where the primary goal is to make me smarter or fitter. Running, reading, researching, writing, etc. These activities have really helped me to find clarity in an uncertain world.

Indulgent activities

Sometimes you’ve just got to focus on you and prioritise happiness. After a tough day, I like to take the time to chat with friends/family, play video-games and watch TV.

Chores

Repurposing ‘boring commute’ with ‘boring chores’ also works, especially on evenings where I have plans with my friends or girlfriend. By getting this stuff out of the way it means I have more time to focus on what matters.

All things considered, this pandemic has taught me how valuable face to face interactions are and has given me immense empathy towards companies who are solving ambitious problems with fully-remote teams.

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.

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 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 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.

Thank you, Josh! Join us for the next instalment of ‘A Day in the Life’ in January.

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