Digital product design: ten years, ten lessons

As design ventures practice Josephmark marks ten years in the industry, Creative Director Alex Naghavi shares her top ten design lessons learned.

Jan 7, 2015 · 5 min read

1. Embrace failure to prevent failure.

Create an environment where failure is appreciated – uncovering issues as you go is key, as it saves time and money in the long run. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try not to get hung up on executing the perfect product first time round. You want to be agile enough that you can launch, test and iterate as efficiently as possible. If you find your product or design isn’t quite working, no big deal – change it or move on. Small, early failures are fine. But huge, complex or highly-public failures – not so much.

2. There are no new ideas – just new executions.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re the only person who’s had a particular idea – that’s pretty much never the case. You can, however, be the only person to execute it in a new and beautiful way. If you’re looking for originality, my advice would be to source inspiration from places you wouldn’t normally look – psychology, physics or maths, for example. I find that the more unique the source, the more original the end outcome.

3. Stay relevant and stay ahead.

Many of our projects go on for several months – if not years. To launch a timely and relevant product, you need to understand what’s on the horizon in terms of emerging trends and technology, user expectations and predicted growth industries. Giving a product real longevity means reading the signs and predicting what’s to come.

4. Know your heritage.

To become good at something it doesn’t hurt to imitate, replicate and learn from the leaders in your field whilst you develop your own style. By studying the work of people you admire, you start to understand not only how they did it, but why they did it as well. That’s the crucial part. If you understand their process, you can apply that thinking and knowledge to your own work in a unique way. I’m not saying that you should plagiarise work – rather, use the work of others as a study on how they solve problems and approach design.

5. There is such a thing as ‘good procrastination’. Seriously.

For me, good procrastination is about giving your mind a break when you find yourself with creative block. The first thing you need to do is recognise you have a block – so often people just get stuck going nowhere. The next thing you need to do is to move on. Grab a cup of coffee; list every Bill Murray film by memory; or just go for a walk. Whatever you choose, you’ll be surprised at how your subconscious mind naturally solves problems whilst you’re focusing on something else. Make sure you’re not just avoiding your problem, though – because, well, that’s just regular procrastination.

“Some of JM’s best work has come from pulling the whole project team together in a rapid sprint.”

6. Ask, watch and listen.

Whether you’re speaking to colleagues or a client, be sure to ask the right questions. If a final design doesn’t meet the client’s expectations, you can be sure something was lost in translation. We do thorough diagnostics at the start of every project, and we try to be sensitive to body language and other visual cues – we want to be as attuned to our clients as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions – at the end of the day, if the project doesn’t deliver what’s expected, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

7. Embrace visual storytelling.

Communicating a clear vision at the start of a project is so important – it gets people excited and gives them an idea of the road ahead. Getting everyone on the same page though – especially when many stakeholders are involved – can be difficult. That’s why JM often uses walkthrough videos or FOMO reels to articulate a vision. Using videos, as well as prototypes, ensures the vision is explained in the exact same way to everyone in the company.

8. Pressure creates diamonds.

When the pressure’s on, you’re often running on adrenaline. That means your mind’s forced to focus, and you have to rapidly critique everything to figure out your next move. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes pressure can make you want to tear your hair out – but some of JM’s best work has come from pulling the whole project team together in a rapid sprint. More often than not, we find the outcome and effort is much more impressive than if we’d worked for twice the time with less pressure.

9. Bros before egos.

At JM, we prioritise having a harmonious team dynamic – in other words, no dickheads. Instead of being competitive, we’re supportive. Instead of trying to outdo each other, we aim to inspire each other. We’re an eclectic bunch with a mutual respect for one another, and we foster an environment where we feel comfortable to voice our opinion whilst maintaining an open mind. When we’re looking for new talent, getting the right cultural fit is number one on our list. Skills can be learned and harnessed, but having the right attitude is essential from the start.

10. Stop talking about it and just fucking do it.

This could be my personal motto – take action. Be proactive rather than reactive. So often actually doing something to resolve an idea is far more effective than just talking about it. If you’re unsure or hesitant about where to begin, just start anywhere – you’ll soon realise how quickly you can navigate problems simply by exploring multiple solutions.

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