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To Design, One Must Give a Damn
And learn how to let go at the same time
Being a Product Designer is a complex and fascinating endeavor, often involving juggling numerous aspects of design and collaboration. In this article, I'll share my insights from 15 years of experience on striking the perfect balance between caring deeply about your work and knowing when to let go. The key lies in finding harmony between these two seemingly contradictory mindsets.
Care about what matters
As a Product Designer, you're likely aware of the many facets of design that require your attention. There are a plethora of factors you need to understand and provide great care for, such as:
People who use your product
Engineers who build from your designs
Executives who want more and more
Product Managers who need to plan the roadmap
People who are impacted by your product
Making the product easy to use
and so much more
While it's essential to be well-versed in various aspects of your craft, honing in on a few key areas will help you create more impact.
One crucial area to focus on is user-centered design. At the core of every successful product is a deep understanding of users' needs and pain points. Empathize with your users, research their requirements, and design solutions that resonate with them. For example, if you're designing a fitness app, observe how users interact with similar apps, gather feedback, and identify areas for improvement to create a more engaging and useful experience. This is your craft, your bread and butter, and you need to continuously learn and improve these core skills.
Collaboration is another essential aspect of your role as a Product Designer. Work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, product managers, and other designers, to align on the product vision and ensure seamless execution of your designs. Imagine you're designing a new e-commerce platform. Regularly communicate with the engineering team to address potential technical constraints and collaborate with product managers to prioritize features that drive customer satisfaction and business growth.
Product Thinking is also a vital area of focus for Product Designers, as it enables you to approach design problems with a broader perspective that goes beyond the aesthetics and usability of a product. By embracing Product Thinking, you'll develop a deeper understanding of the business goals, user needs, and the overall context in which your product operates. This holistic approach empowers you to create solutions that not only look good and function well but also provide real value to users and align with your organization's strategic objectives. For example, when designing a new feature for a project management tool, consider how it addresses users' pain points, integrates with the existing feature set, and contributes to the company's vision for the product. By incorporating Product Thinking into your design process, you'll create more impactful, relevant, and meaningful products that stand the test of time.
Finally, adaptability is key in the ever-changing world of product design. Be prepared to embrace change and iterate on your designs as user needs evolve, technology advances, or the market landscape shifts. For instance, if your mobile app initially targets young urban professionals but later expands to cater to a broader audience, you'll need to reassess your design approach to accommodate the needs and preferences of this new user group.
Embrace the art of letting go
While caring deeply about your work is vital, it's equally important to know when and how to let go. Here are three common scenarios in which letting go can be a powerful strategy:
In the prioritization process, there will be times when you must let go of a feature or design element you're passionate about due to limited resources or competing priorities. Recognize that it's crucial to focus on the most impactful aspects of the product. For example, you might have envisioned a delightful animation for the onboarding process, but the engineering team is swamped with other priorities. So, maybe that animation can come at a later time, or perhaps you can work with someone on it as a side project to the delight of everyone.
When faced with conflicting opinions or feedback from your team, be willing to compromise and embrace others' viewpoints. Remember that collaboration often leads to better outcomes than rigidly sticking to your own perspective. While it's important to remember that YOU are the expert at Design, the product is made by everyone, together. Know when to flex and pivot and fight the hard battles when they arise.
Lastly, accept that there's always room for improvement and iteration, and let go of the idea of designing the "perfect" product. Embrace the iterative nature of design and trust that you'll continue to refine and enhance the product over time. Because, let's be honest, there is no perfect design. You're going to look back at this work in a couple of months and find a lot of things you'd like to change anyway. So, don't sweat it, make your designs the absolute best you can and keep pushing on.
By focusing on the aspects that truly matter and cultivating the ability to let go when necessary, you can navigate the world of product design with resilience, empathy, and creativity. The balanced approach enables you to produce better designs while contributing to a more fulfilling and sustainable career as a Product Designer.
Caring deeply about your work while knowing when to let go might seem contradictory, but it's precisely this duality that makes product design such a rich and rewarding field. Embrace the dance between these two mindsets, and you'll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges and opportunities that come your way.
The art of finding balance in product design is akin to being a tightrope walker. You must maintain a delicate equilibrium between caring deeply about the aspects that matter most and letting go when the situation demands it. In doing so, you can traverse the tightrope with poise and grace, creating meaningful and impactful products that resonate with users and contribute to your growth as a designer.
The Designer's Paradox: Care and Let Go
In conclusion, as a Product Designer, mastering the art of balancing care and letting go is a powerful skill that will propel your career and shape the products you create. It's the Designer's Paradox: the simultaneous need to care deeply about every detail while also embracing the inevitability of change and compromise. By harmonizing these two mindsets, you'll cultivate resilience, foster collaboration, and design products that truly resonate with users.
Remember, the journey of a Product Designer is like a dance on a tightrope, where every step requires the perfect balance between passion and pragmatism. Embrace the dance, and you'll not only navigate the complex world of product design with grace and skill but also leave an indelible mark on the lives of those who interact with your creations.
So, care fiercely, let go graciously, and thrive as you traverse the thrilling tightrope of Product Design.
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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. View Portfolio and Experience.