Thoughts from a product designer

I started out as a product designer in the mid of 2015 at Practo.com, a healthcare startup based out of Bangalore. Back then, I wasn’t aware of what I agreed for. While I made plenty of mistakes, here are a few things I learnt on the way.

Thought 1 — Your designs need an explanation

At art school, we often followed the mindset of “show and don’t tell”. As a formally trained student in commercial art, I was taught that the best designs are the ones that explain itself, which still holds true. However, your designs need explanation while working in a team of developers, product mangers and testers about why something works and something doesn’t. Every small inclusion in your design has a part to play which can be shared with the members working in your team.

Thought 2— Design for effective solutions over trending patterns

We often want to add features that create a factor of delight for the user. We tend to create a design elements or patterns that are fresh and trending. However, the cleverness of our creation obscures the intent of the product. Focusing on the intent of the design helps one get rid of the clutter that gets in the way of user understanding and the functionality of the product.

In one of the projects I worked on, we introduced a gif for an empty state with the intention of adding a sense of delight. While testing the feature before the release, the app kept crashing and we were unable to understand the root cause which led to waste of our time and resources. As a product designer, we often have to design for invisible features like performance, trust and support.

Thought 3 — Add skillsets to stay relevant

As a product designer, you might have to pick up multiple skillsets as you progress to ship your product. Education may provide you with the fundamentals, however you will be expected to keep learning new skills to contribute to the strengths of your design team. It could include visual design, methods of user research, articulating you designs with your colleagues or even learning a new tool.

Thought 4 — You don’t design screens anymore

With digital products, we design flows. Each interaction can lead to a difference experience. Designing for flows would mean having multiple conversations with the product managers and developers to make sure you get the flow right before even before deciding the visual language, the interaction pattern or the iconography you would like to use.

I had the opportunity of reworking a product’s sign in flow. While I began explaining my designs to the developers, I was questioned about multiple use cases that I had not taken into consideration. As a designer I need to make sure their are no dead ends to that experience while handing off my designs for implementation.

Thought 5 — Your designs won’t be perfect and change is constant

Not everything I designed was shipped. Designs that you create are constantly questioned and reviewed by the team stakeholders. You would have to defend your designs by showcasing the thought process that went behind them. You will have to keep revisiting your designs over and over again. And through this process of repetition, sprint after sprint, you become a better designer and achieve some level of patience.

Thought 6 — Take time to create something of your own

As a designer and a creator, I often tried to find satisfaction in the designs I made at work. But over a period of time, you realise it’s not about you and your skills that you want to showcase but the intent of the product for the user. Thus, taking out time to do things I enjoyed like illustrations, hand lettering or some good old paper crafting was necessary.

Thanks for reading.

This article as inspired by the book, Product Design for the Web by Randy Hunt and my experiences at Practo.com and Cuddle.ai as a product designer. These thoughts were penned down as I quit full time work and decided to move for a masters program in design during June 2019. Much has changed over the year. If you’re a product designer, I’d like to hear about your experiences, challenges, fears and changes in the past one year in digital product design.

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