8 Principles for Increasing Your Impact
From Exploring Wild Ideas to Leaving Everything Better Than You Found It, Our Guide Has You Covered
Are you a product designer who feels like your impact isn't as significant as it should be? Do you often find yourself at odds with or unable to convince your product manager or engineering partners? If so, you're not alone. With over 15 years of experience in product design, I've been there too, and I want to share my insights to help you navigate these challenges more effectively. In this post, we'll explore key strategies that can amplify your impact and improve collaboration with your team.
Always Be Exploring
As a product designer, it's essential to maintain a curious mindset and continuously explore new ideas. Don't wait for the perfect moment or a meticulously crafted brief to dive into your creative process. Embrace the possibility that your initial concepts may be rough and unpolished – this is often where the most innovative ideas are born.
Allow yourself the freedom to venture into the unknown and take risks with your design explorations. Pursue unconventional ideas that may seem far-fetched or out of the ordinary. Remember, some of the most groundbreaking products and designs have emerged from seemingly wild ideas.
Sharing your explorations with others can also play a crucial role in refining your concepts and unlocking new possibilities. By collaborating with your team and inviting their input, you can benefit from a diverse range of perspectives and experiences, ultimately leading to stronger design solutions. So, make it a habit to engage with others during your creative process and always be open to new ideas and opportunities.
Get Feedback From Everyone, All the Time
Imagine you're a chef preparing a new dish for your restaurant – you wouldn't want to serve it to your customers without first getting input from your fellow chefs and tasters, right? Similarly, as a product designer, it's essential to seek feedback regularly to ensure your designs are well-rounded and meet the needs of your users.
Embrace a mindset of openness and treat your designs as shared property, not just your own personal masterpiece. This allows for a more collaborative environment, where everyone contributes to refining and improving the product. Make sharing your work a habit, and consider using tools like Campsite to foster a culture of constant feedback within your team.
Being proactive in seeking feedback is key. Don't sit back and wait for others to critique your work – actively request input from a variety of sources. This will provide you with valuable insights from different perspectives and help you identify areas for improvement.
Lastly, don't forget to ask for specific feedback. Request targeted input from individuals with different areas of expertise and viewpoints, as this can help you uncover blind spots and unlock new design opportunities. Remember, just like a chef constantly refining their recipes, a successful product designer thrives on a steady diet of feedback and collaboration.
Hold Your Opinions Loosely
As a product designer, it's natural to have strong opinions on design matters. After all, you've likely spent countless hours honing your craft and developing your expertise. But, it's important to remember that opinions are a bit like socks – they're meant to be changed, especially if they start to stink.
Recognize that everyone on your team has an opinion, and while yours may be rooted in design expertise, it's not the only perspective that matters. Be flexible and open to adjusting your stance when presented with new information or fresh viewpoints. Embracing change can be tough, especially when you're attached to a particular idea, but keep in mind that the best design solutions often emerge from a melting pot of diverse perspectives.
Let your team know upfront that you're open to changing your mind. This willingness to adapt not only demonstrates humility and open-mindedness but also fosters a collaborative atmosphere where everyone feels empowered to contribute. So, loosen up those opinions and let your design decisions be guided by a healthy mix of expertise, feedback, and adaptability.
Do the Little Things For Others
Sometimes, it's the small gestures that can make the biggest impact on your team and work environment. By taking the initiative to help others and address gaps in processes, you can foster positive relationships with your colleagues and create a more effective workflow.
For example, while working at Twitter, I noticed that our team's use of Asana was becoming increasingly cluttered and difficult to navigate. I decided to take the lead on rethinking our approach to project management within the platform. By working closely with my colleagues, gathering their input, and implementing a more streamlined and easy-to-use process, our team's productivity and overall satisfaction with the tool improved dramatically.
The key is to be on the lookout for opportunities to make a difference, both within your own team and across the organization:
Lend a hand: Offer your support when someone from another team needs assistance, such as crafting a presentation or brainstorming ideas.
Fill the gaps: Take the initiative to identify and address inefficiencies in your team's organization or processes, just like in the Asana example.
Follow through: Always deliver on your promises, but remember not to neglect your primary responsibilities in the process.
By doing the little things for others, you not only contribute to a more positive and efficient work environment but also showcase your leadership skills and commitment to the team's success.
Write Out Your Rationale
Effectively communicating the reasoning behind your design decisions is essential to ensure your ideas are understood and well-received by your team and stakeholders. When you develop a design, take the time to articulate the rationale behind it in writing. This not only helps clarify your thoughts but also provides a valuable reference for future discussions and potential revisions.
As you document your reasoning, consider the best way to present your thought process to your audience. Different stakeholders may prefer different formats, such as a brief email summary, a detailed report, or even a visual presentation. Tailor your message to resonate with your audience and ensure that they can easily grasp the core concepts and motivations behind your design.
Writing down your rationale also serves as an excellent exercise in refining your talking points for future conversations. By putting your thoughts into words, you'll be better prepared to defend your design decisions and engage in productive discussions with your team and stakeholders. Ultimately, a well-articulated rationale strengthens your design's foundation and sets the stage for more effective collaboration and decision-making.
Stay On Top of Industry Trends
Keeping a finger on the pulse of the design and tech industry is vital for staying inspired and sparking innovative ideas. Sharing and discussing new developments, techniques, or trends with your team can foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning.
For instance, let's say you've recently come across an article about a new trend called "Neo-Skeuomorphism." It's a design style that combines the tactile familiarity of skeuomorphism with the sleek minimalism of modern flat design. This trend has been taking the design world by storm, and it's all anyone can talk about. You could share this with your team and jokingly suggest that it's time to bring back the once-beloved, now-infamous leather stitching from early iOS designs, but with a twist!
On a more serious note, exploring new trends and discussing them with your team can lead to valuable insights into how these concepts might influence your own product designs. Sharing your discoveries via platforms like Slack can encourage ongoing discussion and collaboration, enabling your team to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to the ever-changing design landscape.
So, don't hesitate to dive deep into the latest design gossip and share it with your team. Who knows – maybe "Neo-Skeuomorphism" will inspire your next groundbreaking design, or at least give everyone a good chuckle.
Proactively Keep Others In the Loop
Transparent communication is the glue that holds a successful team together. By proactively keeping your colleagues informed about your progress, priorities, and timelines, you foster a collaborative atmosphere and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Share your progress: Regularly update your team on what stage you're at in the design process and when you anticipate completing specific milestones. This helps manage expectations and enables your team to better plan their own work in tandem with yours.
Be adaptable: Understand that timelines and priorities may change, and that's okay. The key is to promptly communicate any adjustments to your team so they can adapt accordingly. Remember, surprises are better suited for birthday parties, not for project timelines.
Align on priorities: Openly discuss your priorities with your team and reach a consensus on what's most important. This ensures everyone is working toward a common goal and minimizes the risk of misaligned expectations.
By proactively keeping others in the loop, you cultivate trust and support within your team, paving the way for a more harmonious and productive work environment.
Leave Everything Better Than You Found It
As a product designer, think of yourself as a gardener nurturing a thriving ecosystem of ideas and processes. Your goal should be to leave each project, task, or interaction in a better state than when you first encountered it – just like the old saying, "leave no trace" when camping.
By adopting a proactive approach to improvement, you can sow the seeds for positive change throughout your team and organization. Look for ways to enhance the quality of your work and refine the processes that underpin it, and soon you'll see the fruits of your labor. Cultivating a growth mindset not only benefits you but also has a ripple effect on those around you.
When you consistently go above and beyond to elevate your work and the work of those around you, people take notice. This can lead to recognition, new opportunities, and a reputation as someone who truly cares about their craft. Your commitment to leaving things better than you found them ultimately fosters a collaborative and growth-oriented work environment.
By embracing this "gardener" mentality and striving to cultivate positive change, you'll not only enhance your own skills and career but also contribute to the overall success of your team and organization. So, go ahead – grab your metaphorical gardening tools and get to work on nurturing that creative landscape.
In the ever-evolving world of product design, making a lasting impact and becoming a valuable team player takes dedication, curiosity, and a healthy dose of collaboration. To elevate your career and truly shine, consider practicing these 8 principles, just a little at a time.
Always be exploring, even when the path seems unclear
Actively seek and embrace feedback from all directions
Hold your opinions loosely, like a treasured but adaptable map
Do the little things for others, proving that no good deed is too small
Write out your rationale, transforming your thoughts into a clear design compass
Stay on top of industry trends, like a curious explorer charting new territories
Proactively keep others in the loop, fostering trust and teamwork
Leave everything better than you found it, like a gardener nurturing growth
By mastering these practices, you'll not only experience a significant improvement in your impact but also contribute to a more harmonious and successful team. So, go forth and conquer the design world, always learning, growing, and iterating upon your skills. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – or in our case, a single pixel.
As we sound off on this edition of Design Is Hard, I hope you've found this post both entertaining and informative. Our journey together doesn't have to end here, though! Make sure to subscribe for free and stay tuned for more delightful insights into the world of product design. By joining our community, you'll gain access to a treasure trove of knowledge, inspiration, and camaraderie. So, hit that subscribe button, and let's continue exploring the twists and turns of the design landscape together. Remember, design may be hard, but with the right mindset and guidance, we can conquer any challenge that comes our way.
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About John Wayne Hill
John Wayne Hill, a seasoned product designer based in San Francisco with over 15 years of experience, is the creative force behind Design Is Hard. Previously a Director-level IC at Twitter, John Wayne has a proven track record of challenging the status quo and pushing for innovation. His collaborative spirit extends to working with fellow designers, engineers, product managers, data analysts, and researchers, fostering a team-oriented environment. Check out John Wayne’s Design Portfolio and Experience.