Connecting the Dots

How designers can play a bigger role in creating truly relevant tech products

Last year I wrote a thought piece about how strategic thinking can help designers, not only create more relevant work, but also get a seat at the table.

As I’ve continued to think about the role of designers within companies, specifically in the tech world, I’ve become more and more interested in the growing specialization happening in our field. Within the digital world, there is a plethora of terms that have replaced “graphic designer.” From product designer, UX, UI, visual, interaction to unicorns (designers that code).

And while specialization isn’t new (agencies have traditionally specialized in a field: branding, advertising, digital), today’s omnipresence of digital products in our lives and the switch of design talent from the agency world to the tech companies that create these products, have expanded and deepened the roles designers can specialize in.

I see two challenges with this current trend of specialization in design:

  1. Designers tend to focus too much in their area of expertise, making them loose sight of the other parts that create a business, brand, product or service
  2. Consumers couldn’t care less about these internal divisions

Designers tend to focus too much in their area of expertise, making them loose sight of the other parts that create a business, brand, product or service

As our world gets more complex and connected, designers have become an integral part of the teams that bring these products to life. We have the important roles of understanding who is using our product and creating an exciting and relevant experience for them.

In early stage startups, designers have more of a generalist role, touching different parts of the brand and product. As the company and product scales, design teams need to scale accordingly and start specializing to keep up with the growing complexity.

The problem is that the designers in specialized teams tend to approach their work with a narrow mindset, focusing only on what they’re good at or passionate about. At the same time, design and product leaders can also create isolated environments, where their teams don’t have enough communication with other design teams or parts of the business. As a result, the people that use our products are stuck with a fragmented experience.

I’m not suggesting the solution for designers is to become a generalist or jack of all trades. There is undeniable value in becoming the best you can be at what you’re passionate about. Instead, I propose we focus on getting better at seeing and making connections, since each part of the journey is intrinsically connected, and plays a crucial role in the overall success of a company.

Think about it. If you’re a product designer, who has worked really hard to create an amazing app, wouldn’t you want every other channel that leads to it to meet that high bar? Here lies the value in seeing how every part of the business directly affects the overall consumer experience.

Consumers couldn’t care less about these internal divisions

Think about a product that plays an important role in your life. Doesn’t it feel like every time you use it or come across it throughout your day, you feel a connection to it? And you can clearly see how it adds value to your life?

These are the products that understand that people don’t care about the difference between business, brand, marketing and product. All they care about is having a unified experience that lives up to their expectations. Each touch point is a step in their journey, playing a key role in helping them form that strong connection to the brand. But the moment one of them fails, it starts eating away their trust and loyalty. And with the amount of competition companies face nowadays, this can easily lead these people to move on to the next product.

Here is where we as designers (regardless of the area we specialize in) have an immense responsibility to make sure we consistently deliver on people’s high expectations. At the end of the day, we are all creating a brand, product or service that will hopefully play an important role in their lives. And the only way to achieve this is by making sure we fulfill the promise that brought people in the first place.