As someone who works extremely closely with our clients at Finlabs, my career journey has morphed and molded itself from visual and experience designer into a role more akin to that of a Product Manager. I still keep my hands incredibly dirty on the day-to-day visual designing of the products we work on, as well as infusing my functional user experience knowledge, which I still constantly absorb and improve upon over time. But as I delve deeper into this direct collaboration with our clients I find myself working my visual designs in new ways, with more insightful outlooks that go beyond the end-user and delve into the world of the clients business goals and the path to achieving them.
The mind of the young recognition craving designer
It wasn’t that long ago I was in the ranks of designers who were constantly striving for attention and recognition. There was always a desire to create a new and exciting interaction that would serve as a badge of honor for the creator/inventor. For fear of showing my age, I honed my design skills in the days when using the outer bevel effect in photoshop to the perfect fine-tuned settings was a sign of extreme competence. Regardless of what you were doing with your designs, and how it was created, the desire for recognition originated from the end-user. The customer on your newly designed website who responds with a “Woah, this is sickkk!” resulted in the kind of recognition that went, in many ways, deeper than client satisfaction. But this kind of recognition is largely superficial.
I love this type of desire in designers. I think it drives a lot of great new visual thinking and pushes boundaries all the time. It’s something I look for in any designers looking to join Finlabs. It is the foundational drive in these young designers under me that I look to cultivate and evolve in order to craft them into the deeper thinking product-focused designers we want them to become. However, this drive for recognition lives vibrantly in less battle-weary designers. I, for one, have seen too many battles. Today, my drive and excitement are driven more by what I see these young minds create. My desire is more to steer this creativity to fulfill what I now see as bigger goals.
The fact of the matter is this young-minded approach to designing leaves out a key aspect of creating solutions, particularly in the product world where design needs to also drive the business path of your product.
The mind of a seasoned success-oriented designer
As I’ve worked my way through different companies, and eventually into the world of startups and product building, my view of what success is has changed. This journey has exposed me more and more to the numbers behind projects. The real measurements of success in building and maintaining a user base and generating and growing revenues. These journeys in product development are not A to B pathways, and it's also a journey that has no definitive end. As long as your product is alive you will constantly evolve it to keep it relevant to the user, to be better at solving their problems, and to constantly grow the solution as a business. To that end, the A to B vision can only be high level and likely exist as a brand or product vision statement. The A to B to C to D … path is one that needs to incrementally improve the product for its users while also incrementally driving the business forward.
How you then approach design becomes a skill of viewing the evolution of a design overtime to reach the Rolls Royce solution, as opposed to shooting for the Rolls Royce from the first delivery of design. Your visual designs now have a far deeper impact on the product development process than just the wow factor from an end-user perspective.
Design for incremental development
It impacts development where, in order to effectively work through solutions more systematically, the developers break things down into steps, better known as our beloved sprints. Each “sprint” may implement incremental improvements to functionality that always needs to look and work the way the product intends without affecting the end users experience in a negative way. Therefore you have to design your way through the sprints to create a visual design pathway to cover off the incremental improvements being implemented. Simply designing the Rolls Royce and leaving elements off to be implemented one after the other won’t work. The engine of your product needs to keep working and have all parts moving correctly and constantly as you move through sprints. Your vehicle may have amazing bodywork, but if it doesn’t have any wheels bolted on yet it's a lame duck.
Design for sales journeys and marketing opportunities
You also have to consider the sales team. Their world revolves around the evolution of products. They aim to build desire around the next new feature that is being released and what its impact will be on new and existing customers. As a designer, you know the sellable impact of what you are doing. You also know how to you can break that down into multiple selling opportunities throughout the life of a feature in order that the sales team can keep the desire fresh with new and existing customers. This means, for me, that I look at a new feature addition as a micro journey of smaller wins that eventually ladder up to the big win. Each feature can often be broken down into individual elements that all have their own beneficial impact on a user. These individual features can then all become the color of an ongoing vibrant sales and marketing conversation that shows results as the conversation occurs. This again means that your designs need to be created to fill in the steps of that conversation, again, without degrading the end-user experience at any point along the way.
Design for business success
Every product must meet its ultimate goal. But this is often also a long journey with many crossroads and decision paths to be navigated. You generally start from zero with the finances to allow you to grow your business being unlocked over time by the ongoing improvement of your product. Nobody can generally fully fund the Rolls Royce product idea on a nice story and passionate vision. Investors are driven by success metrics and projections. Therefore there is no point in driving for the billion-dollar company from day one because we know the first step is to design and build the $100,000 dollar piece of the puzzle that shows a solid direction towards the $500,000 dollar phase of that product, that, in turn, shows the direct path to the $5 million dollar phase of the product… In many ways as a designer to have to pump the brakes. You know where you have to go eventually, but you have to methodically plan and design your steps in order to execute using the resources available to the business at any given time, while still knowing and understanding how your design WILL evolve in order to move to the next phases of building that business. You constantly have to live in the now and think to the future.
In conclusion, I am not preaching that there is only one approach to being a designer. I am speaking mainly to my own observations as a designer who is now firmly in the world of product, and who also has a strong entrepreneurial spirit that drives a keen interest in business success.
I often get called a Product Manager these days. A badge I initially resisted as it didn't seem to garner the creative glamor I tended to receive as a Creative Director in my advertising agency days. But now I realize what it means and, somewhat, embrace this new moniker. But my drive is not necessarily typical, and “design” comes in many shapes and forms. It takes different minds to do different parts well. As a product lead, I think that the values and approach I outline above are most relevant. But as a product lead, I want many designers on my team beyond just me. I want the illustrator, I want the animator, I want the strategic thinker, I want the brand specialist, and I want all of them to be better at it than I am. As a Product Designer turned Product Manager I simply want to steer all these skills in a well thought through direction and a planned journey to ensure success. The difference between designing an end-user experience, and designing the lifecycles of a product.
About the Author:
Dave Papworth is Finlabs Creative Cultivator and Product Leader. His career so far has taken him through multimedia, development, design, innovation and ultimately Finlabs.
While working in the advertising industry he led teams focused on technical innovation and how it can be leveraged for marketing campaigns and brand building platforms, creating forward-thinking projects that have been showcased at events like Googles Sandbox, and even recognized in Time Magazine as an “Invention of the Year”.
At Finlabs his focus is on building the team that can tackle any challenge, look beyond their boundaries, and growing the collaborative relationships we desire with our clients.