Tell us about your journey into Product Design and why Product Design?
My journey into Product Design is a reflection of my journey into Tech. I got into Tech with this arrogance/naivety that I could do better. I saw the websites available at the time and figured they were ugly and I wanted to make them better. This also drove me to become a Software Developer. I showed up at a hackathon programme in Lagos and everyone on the table was a Software Developer. At the time, I had started building products for clients. Design came easy to me but then I understood design as just how it looks. So that day I showed up at the programme and participated in the hackathon. People in the group introduced themselves as Developers and listed about 7-10 languages they could write and I was still struggling with object-oriented PHP (one language). When it came to the time for me to describe what I was going to contribute to the team, I simply said if nobody was going to design it, I was going to do the job. That was how I landed my job as a Designer with CcHUB.
After the hackathon, it became clear to me that the space had way more Developers than Designers. Being self-aware about the knowledge gap in the market made me more deliberate in trying to bridge that gap to transition into a place where I'm more confident to describe myself as a Product Designer.
What is Product Design?
I’ll describe Product Design as taking a holistic view at a problem; which is:
trying to understand the problem and who it is affecting,
coming up with a solution for that problem,
testing it with a target audience,
developing that solution, and,
identifying what your go to strategy is going to be.
Taking the holistic view of that entire process is one way to describe Product Design. However, it is not necessarily restricted to technology. The people who design cutlery for instance are Product Designers because they need to figure out all the materials that need to go into the cutlery, the different considerations that they need to take to be able to not just design the cutlery but also take it to markets and make sure that it is acceptable to the target audience.
Why is it important?
In as much as you have other roles such as Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers, you need someone in the Project Designer role to look at the products with a strong user bias. A Product Manager is going to look at the product but the bias will be more towards the business. The Product Designer is going to pay attention to the product, understand the commercial limitations and the business goals, however, they are going to have a strong bias towards the user.
Misconceptions with Product Design
A. Product Design is about making products beautiful.
Describing design primarily as a function of beauty or as a function of looks does a great disservice to the entire industry. Design isn’t about how it looks but how it works. Even if you take that a few steps back and ask people they will tell you that Product Design is about problem solving and for you to solve a problem you need to understand who the problem is affecting.
For you to solve a problem you need to understand what the motivations of the other stakeholders are; what are the commercial motivations of the other stakeholders to be able to deploy resources and resources are money, people and time to be able to solve that problem.
Going with the spoon analogy, imagine being given a golden spoon to eat pepper soup, the spoon looks really good, the curves and all but it has a hole in the middle. Looking at the spoon in that isolated sense, it looks really good, however when you try to use it, it becomes useless essentially, it is not functional.
B. Product design is UI
Fundamentally two of these things are like pieces of the same puzzle but not necessarily the same thing. UI is User Interface while UX is User Experience, with UI as a subset of the UX. A UX Designer can be good at UI Design as well but there may also be the case whereby their strong suit is not UI Design, but in Product Strategy or User Research. This doesn’t make them less of a UX Designer. It is just a question of being clear about where your skills lie and knowing how to apply that in the real scheme of things.
It would be hard to find a UX Designer who doesn’t know how to design Interfaces but it may not be the person’s strong suit. I don’t consider UI Design as my strong suit. Instead, it is Product Strategy and how to take products to the market. So, that difference is something that recruiters need to be clear about. The teams that are looking for the designers need to know what they expect that person to do. For example; if I'm expecting someone to show up and build fantastic interfaces that we hope are going to string together pieces of the experience then I should emphasize that.
Is there a difference between Product Design and UX Design?
I feel that Product Design is the next evolution for a UX Designer but not necessarily the default state of a UX Designer. It is very situational and contextual. As a Product Designer, I am more involved in having commercial conversations with Product Managers or Account Managers to then carry out research to understand their needs and to understand different user needs across our demography. However, a UX Designer in the context of a team may do research and the design, but not necessarily get involved with stakeholders on the commercial side. Depending on the context; I think Product Design as a role is going to be the evolution of UX Design and because I believe that UX Designers should not limit the scope of their engagements to just creating Interfaces, handover to Developers and hope that the Interfaces created are delivered with the same fidelity.
As a Product Designer you do take a higher degree of ownership of the product. As a UX Designer, there isn’t a standard role or expectation across the world, as different companies will identify what their specific requirements of UX Designers. There are some core similarities which are to create visual assets and deliver high fidelity prototypes or interfaces, as should be in the job expectations for UX Designers. However, that angle of doing the research, engaging stakeholders to try and negotiate some commercial leeway, or asking them to allow us to take a hit on a particular product so we can progress on certain features, or working closely with a Product Manager to advance the product’s commercial needs is fairly situational; but I think that it’s the logical evolution of anybody in the UX Design part.
Before designing a product, what’s your thought process?
There’s only one question. The Question of ‘Who’. For you to set out to design a product, you need to understand:
what you are trying to do,
who you are doing it for and who is going to benefit from it, who are the stakeholders, who do I need to depend on to be able to deliver this product. The size of your ‘WHO’ would be significantly dependent on the kind of product you are trying to build and the kind of organization that you are in. I'm in a fairly large organization so for me stakeholder management is like high on the list of things that you need to do. For someone working in a smaller organization and in a smaller team, the amount of stakeholders they need to manage is very limited. Once they identify the target users and dependencies, you then need to figure out if what you are trying to build, is a fit for, and benefit to, your target user.
A day in the life of a Product Designer
A day in life will probably start with morning rituals (whatever they are) and then you show up at work. These days I have a work space, you show up and figure out “what are we doing today”? because in my team or at least most teams in my company follow the agile methodology. So when I show up in the morning, I typically have tasks on the backlog that I want to pick up on. Depending on the kind of task, it can then lead to different things, it can lead to sending a bunch of messages to Product Managers or Product Marketing Managers to ask questions and seek answers to those questions. It can also lead to scheduling meetings or jumping on quick calls. My team has standards like stand-up time which is telling everybody what you are up to or just checking in to see that everyone’s good (mentally and with work) in these times; and off course go about the task. The task can then take you in different directions depending on what the task is. I can go weeks without opening my Figma or Sketch, because of the work that I'm doing or because of the type of team I'm in so that also very significantly influences how I engage my job and the things that I do.
For us, AGILE Methodology is a function of:
Having shared goals
Aligning at the very beginning
Defining milestones clearly for everyone
Breaking down those milestones into specific tasks
Planning those tasks 2 weeks at a time
How do experienced Product Designers who want international experience on their CVs get in?
The biggest engine for discovery right now is LinkedIn. It’s still like the biggest way for people to discover talent especially for big organizations or small organizations who are looking to expand their search radius for talent. So, LinkedIn is one, you need to keep it updated, clearly define the impact of the things that you’ve done and frame it in a way that communicates value.
For Designers, the other thing that Hiring Managers or Recruiters look at, is your portfolio and that is common. It is simply a profile of things you’ve done and how you went about doing them.
The key for portfolios is to highlight the process and the outcomes because not everything you design is going to be successful. Which means, your failures are probably even more valuable to people looking to recruit you than the fancy interfaces that you’ve made. If you are able to highlight products you are proud of; document the thought process and learnings, you are able to be more reflective. This way, anyone who stumbles on your profile on LinkedIn or Twitter and gets curious about your work can easily get to see the thought process. Even if they don’t have something for you at the moment, they may have it at the back of their minds to reach out to you in the future. Having a portfolio also makes it easier when you start applying for jobs to companies.
Design is not magic, unless you are designing for dribble then you can sit down, do the magic and put it on dribble then get digital hi-fives. In the real world you have managers and other stakeholders who have an opinion in the product design process so in as much as you are creating these visual artifacts you need to also document the process and the thought process and the why’s. That is what you use to engage other stakeholders. If there is data behind it, if you have looked at your google analytics to find out the value around a decision, you need that data to convince Managers to get developers to dedicate extra time to reworking a particular process that is ‘fine’.
What skills, Traits or Characteristics should a new Product Design professional have?
In terms of the skills that are needed, I’ll probably frame it as you focusing on being a UX Designer first. So, it’s now a question of what skill do you need to become a UX Designer and of course:
1. You do need to understand the medium you want to design for; is it the web, mobile, wristwatches, refrigerators, or rockets for Tesla?
2. Understanding the medium will then expose you to the tools that are needed to design for that medium. You would need to familiarize yourself with any of the tools. The one that is the big rave right now is Figma and it’s rightly so because it’s on the browser so you don’t need very expensive computers to run it. In understanding the tools that you need you need to then understand the core basics of the medium. Take the web for instance; you need to understand colors, typography, grade, spacing, line height etc.
3. As much as there is an argument for people to not know how to code, especially Designers, you also need to learn to understand the basics. Personally, I think it’s a double-edged sword because you want to understand the medium that you are designing for so in conversations with developers, you are able to understand the things that they push back on. I'm not saying become a Front-End Developer but understand the basics for the medium. If you choose not to do that, that is 100% fine. If you are very deliberate to leave out the coding, it is fine, it is a perfectly good stance to take, you just need to find your feet and where you fit in.