Brief notes on design

In no particular order.

On Skills

  • There are three general skills in product design. Product thinking, Interaction Design, Visual design. Have all these skills but be excellent in at least two.
  • Salesmanship is the single most important multiplier for a designer. Your job is both to propose a solution as well as to get people to buy into it.
  • Write well. It is difficult to overstate the power of a well written document in both structuring your own thoughts as well as helping others understand your vision.
  • Learn to code. But remember coding is just a tool and tools don’t think. Great coders who are bad at product thinking have less impact than great product thinkers who are bad at coding.
  • The more high-level you go as a designer, the less designer-y you will feel. Know that at this height all disciplines converge into product leadership.

On the Work

  • Sometimes the details don’t matter. It’s good to be passionate, but bad to get stuck when the needle won’t be moved.
  • Don’t design unique one-offs. Systems are a gift. If it works well and nobody notices, you’ve succeeded.
  • Be opinionated. It’s good to have a stunning number of iterations but unless you focus them into distinct, opinionated, visions your critiques won’t be able to help you move forward with strength or clarity.
  • Know what the problems are and be able to articulate each of them in a single sentence. Or better yet a memorable name. Unsuccessful designs are often those still searching for a problem.
  • When experimenting, set a clear standard for success (based on your problem statements) so that vague results don’t get misconstrued for success and then passively shipped.
  • Map your solutions to your problem statements and be clear on what success looks like for each of them.

On Industry

  • Design celebrity only exists outside of the walls of the company.
  • Elitism is rife in design. Don’t care. It’s mostly posturing.
  • All the big companies (Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Twitter, Pinterest…) are basically in a ongoing exchange of the same designers.