Ask Me Almost Anything
On designing and leading for Growth
Recently I participated in what was my first Ask Me Anything (AMA) talking about product design for Growth and design leadership. Thanks to the collaboration with Lex Roman, founder growthdesigners.co we continue to learn, share, and make meaningful connections with the design community.
The night before, not sure of what to expect and unable to trust the uniqueness of folks who might show up to ask questions, I thought to myself should the AMA be renamed to AMAA — Ask Me Almost Anything?! All my uncertainties were put to rest as folks on the video call dialed in from not just the SF Bay Area and the US, we had attendees globally, joining us regardless of their local time… night or day! The community’s curiosity, eagerness to listen and learn was a humbling yet empowering experience for me. We were on a roll!
The principle underlying all solutions is the question that was asked — John Cage
Typically the team has chosen not to record these AMA sessions to allow for the Q&A to be candid, real, and without any barriers. Many who missed the live session reached out as a follow-up — so sharing here a few takeaways from the conversation for posterity while keeping any specific details anonymous.
Q: How did you get into working on growth projects, with growth teams?
Chetana: I led product marketing design in my early days at Yahoo, setting up an internal design studio to launch products like Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Answers. Driving a communication design strategy to educate and acquire potential customers brought to my attention the value of design problem solving and business impact.
Later, at Scribd, my leadership role encompassed end-to-end user experience for the product, including pre-sign up, logged in, and brand design across platforms. As a subscription-based digital reading app Scribd had high user traffic driven by search queries; however, the customers who did engage, usually churned out according to the data. It became apparent to me then that building the product (adding new features) is different from growing the product (the subscriber base and solving for churn problems). I enjoyed the challenge of leading my team to solve for high impact, and in creating measurable solutions, and meet the customers where they are. Recently the industry has matured to embrace this as designing for Growth.
Building the product is different from growing the product.
In my next role at Netflix, as a leader in a data-driven approach to product, my leadership experience in Growth matured. I led the Growth design team with a focus on acquiring new customers globally in APAC. Leading teams for Growth design empowers me to continuously strive for better ways to provide the highest value at the intersection of business and user-centered design.
Q: What’s interesting to you about designing and leading for growth?
Chetana: Aspects of growth design that are interesting to me —
- Growth design solves at the intersection of business and customer experience.
- Growth problems focus on the forgotten areas of the product experience!
- Hiring and building a design team for Growth requires a strong understanding of the individual designer’s aptitude, besides her/his knowledge and craft. Successful Growth product designers are comfortable with failing gracefully, learning obsessively, and launching courageously!.
- Leading growth design initiatives requires collaboration across the entirety of the organization and does not thrive in siloes.
- Growth design is frequently trivialized as being a transactional flow, or a series of hacks. However, the mature customer today requires reasons to believe in the product in order to want to pay. Leading teams and design to create this human connection, the narrative is an interesting challenge to solve for.
- Leading for Growth requires a commitment toward outcomes as opposed to output.
Successful Growth product designers are comfortable to fail gracefully, learn obsessively and launch courageously.
Q: How can we work on Growth design projects when it’s a small team, fewer resources working on the core product itself?
Chetana: Spending time and resource on product growth is feasible once the product-market fit is established. As we have mentioned in our talk A Primer on Growth Design, prioritize the work required to build the product as being different from the work required to grow the product — particularly for small teams ramping up on their Growth strategies. So, if there are 2–3 key hypotheses your team wants to test for, a small cross-functional team could run these tests. Growth design is about constraints and focus. Depending on the maturity of the product, prioritize a few key tests, and create design variables. Tap into the Growth Designers community as a sounding board and for any coaching support!
Q: How do you think about hiring for growth designers? In writing a job description for hiring Growth designers, do you position it and look for designers with Growth experience or look for strong Product Designers?
Chetana: At its core, I believe designers for Growth problem solving are strong Product UX designers and are evaluated for all those fundamental design problem-solving skills, their knowledge, and craftsmanship. In addition to that, I look for an aptitude toward Growth. Aptitude can include a few of the following traits:
- Someone who is systematic in their approach to problem-solving.
- Someone who is not afraid to ask questions
- Someone who expects failure
- Someone who can trust the design process
- Someone who will not shy away from cross-collaboration across the org
- Someone who has the maturity to focus on outcome as opposed to output
Designers interested in growth tend to come from experiences outside of design or growth, like science, math, or entrepreneurship.
Not sure how to frame a role focused on designing for Growth? AB test your job title and description!
In my recent hiring experiences, I have re-written the job description to remove any bells and whistles around the role and pitched for those interested in solving Growth design problems to apply. A few domains I have looked into for sourcing candidates in partnership with my recruiting teams are fintech, enterprise, SaaS as starting points, and not limited to. Titles for such job descriptions are still evolving as the industry is beginning to go beyond Growth as being trendy. I have AB tested titles and job descriptions, and that was a successful experiment!
Q: What are the lowest hanging fruit, quick wins at a company to promote Growth design where you are a contractor? How to bring a growth mindset?
Chetana: As mentioned above, assuming there is product-market fit, evangelize, and educate around the difference between building a product and growing the product. Feel free to tap into existing community resources by hosting Growth video talks, reading a case study together with your team, or Q&A following a Growth related podcast. Consider inviting your business leaders/ PMs to share key metrics, business goals that might not be known to the design team and/ or the company at large. In your consulting time there if you are able to get the team to focus on why solving for Growth is critical and has a method to go about it, I believe that is a huge bang for the buck for them and your goal to seeding a Growth mindset.
Q: How to build stronger relationships with Product Managers?
Chetana: Empathize with your internal stakeholders. They are your first customers! Stay involved in the Growth design project, test from end to end. Partner on learnings from the success or failure and what the design solutions are for iteration. Once you have built a rigor and framework around design critiques with the design team, consider inviting your product managers to your design critiques.
Q: What is one practical skill you’d recommend designers develop?
Chetana: Writing (and reading/ listening).
For designers today, the ability to think and express in writing (and sketching) is a powerful tool. Whether it is writing a hypothesis for a test, synthesizing data, pitching a concept or idea, drafting up a case study for your portfolio, providing feedback or critique, effective writing has become ubiquitous with being a strong Product Designer.
Ability to read reports, stay informed with industry trends (reading or listening), and use data to inform your design solutions. By data, I mean quantitative and qualitative research. Be invested and accountable for the designs you are proposing, why, and the outcomes from the test. Shying away from reading and understanding weakens your position in the design negotiation.
Q: What advice do you have for people interested in getting into design leadership?
Chetana: Ask yourself these three questions. Suggesting a journal or record your response and listen!
- Why am I interested in design leadership, and why now?
- Am I able to define my success in the success of others*?
- Am I ready and matured enough to let go of the pixels and focus on the people?
*Others are your audience as a leader: your peers, your direct reports and your stakeholders.
Q: What common mistakes do you see designers making in their careers?
- Focusing only on what the company needs from you and not championing a single initiative or cause that you care about, or are good at.
- Empathizing with your product customers while forgetting to invest in building relationships with your internal customers (stakeholders).
- Not investing in self-awareness and the ability to give and receive feedback.
Q: Any closing remarks, things you want the Growth Design community to know?
Chetana: I would not espouse to differentiate Growth Designers as a breed of their own. Instead, we need to stay rooted in first being strong Product Designers who have the aptitude to solve growth.
The AMA event allowed me to be present and to listen attentively; two critical qualities in being an effective leader. Powered by your curiosity and your questions, I am grateful for this opportunity with the community.
Chetana Deorah is a product design leader and mentor who helps empower human-centered design to achieve high-impact business goals. Most recently, as Design Director at Netflix, she led product design for global acquisition & growth with a focus on emerging markets.
Before that, she was at Yahoo, Scribd, Betfair, Pivotal Labs, and Pentagram. As an Indian-American, Chetana brings a rich diversity of ideas and influences fostering a culture of product innovation, inclusion, compassionate leadership, and effective communication.
When not building digital experiences, she volunteers her time in design education with Interact Project and DesignLab. She is a certified Hatha yoga teacher and pursues projects on well-being with non-profit organizations Sri Aurobindo Society & Isha Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @tanadeo