Designers help you think in terms of people’s experiences across the whole of your app or system, not just sub-components. Most companies tend to structure their product teams around individual features or product goals, which makes sense because you want one engineering team owning the code for each part the system — it’s tough to manage when four or five different teams all want to muck with the same code stack. However, this needs to be balanced with perspectives that are more holistic. Your users do not look at your product in terms of your individual orgs. They do not realize that a separate team owns the sign-up and NUX flow than owns the notifications feature. In their head, the product is one experience and it should work seamlessly from when they decide to give it their attention to when they put their device away. This holistic, user-centered view is where design (as well as research, analytics, marketing, communications, etc) plays a strong role. In most tech companies, design tends to operate more centrally than PM or engineering. This diversity and intentional push-pull creates better outcomes. Designers help can spot issues like:
A side note on the risk of having designers work alone: For higher design quality and productive, it helps to have more than one designer working together on a product. This may seem counter-intuitive, and defy the mythical man-month, but I’ve seen enough examples of 1 + 1 = 3 with designers to advocate strongly for it. Why? The reason is simple: designs rarely emerge fully formed. They rely on a process of iteration, with new inputs helping to support strong outputs. An important source of constructive input is critique from other designers. Designers working alone miss out on other people challenging them, pointing out ideas they might have missed, and collaboration so you get the strengths of multiple designers. Even without headcount constraints, we often prefer, instead of dedicating 1 designer 100% to a single project, resourcing 2 designers 50% to two projects. This will often yield higher quality work faster than a single designer working 100% and ensure that work on a team doesn’t grind to a halt if a designer happens to want to take vacation, or is out sick for a few days.