Design is not about a ship date, dammit!
3 mentalities I despise around building digital products for a living.
Over the course of my career I’ve worked in small and large engineering / product design environments, learning tons from each team, agency, or organization I was a part of.
However, I’ve heard a lot of the same old arguments, piffles, and regurgitated process rhetoric time and time again. My point in this article isn’t to bash on anyone, but rather explore how design goes so much deeper than pandering to process.
Launching a successful product to market is tricky business, but gone are the days of throwing out an idea without knowing how your customers think, use, or prefer solutions to their needs.
User centered design : how to have impact
User centered design is all about placing the customer at the front and center of your business.
- How do they think?
- What are they up against throughout their day?
- What touch-points, problems, fears, and wins do they go through on a daily basis — through their life!
- How does your product address any of the above bullets?
When you’ve done your research on a specific target audience, you can iterate on informed solutions to address needs. Get that backwards however, and you run the risk of wasting time, money, and energy on a solution that possibly no one cares about.
With that in mind, let’s dive into a few parts of the process that can sometimes be distraction to solving for user goals.
01 — The glorification of shipping at all costs
One of the biggest facets of product development that drives me bonkers is an obsession on calendar dates versus shipping the right thing. Our process (agile, lean, etc.) has to flow with how and who we design for, and putting our best foot forward on that effort is key. Don’t ship now to fix stuff later! Fix stuff later that you’ve learned from your users; things you didn’t catch the first time around. If something wasn’t fully ready to use, it shouldn’t have been in the shipped release.
We don’t start with the same template for every design problem, and we shouldn’t treat our user’s that way either. We have to have deadlines for the sake of getting things done, but when a ship date becomes more about back-patting and bonuses rather than shipping valuable design solutions for users, I usually raise my hand in objection.
Good design is not about a ship release date. It’s about effective impact for the user…and your user’s are the only ones qualified to tell you if you were successful or not.
Features should only be shipped to the degree they are ready to utilize. In the agile world, “Working software” is a very low bar.
We can do better, and users expect more. They understand what they want to do, and you’re either catering to that, or getting in the way and confusing that task. The internal goals, time-lines, KPI’s, and every other acronym we use absolutely must be part of our release process, but we can’t mess up the priority. We have to ship our best solutions to obtain valuable feedback. We can’t forget who cuts our real paychecks.
02 — Obsessing over what competitors are doing
Delivering for user goals is not blindly chasing the tail of Apple, Google, Nike, or Amazon and the latest feature they’ve shipped. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people simply explain that “Apple does it this way, so we should too”.
In the language of my 10th grade science teacher “engage your brain”.
While there’s merit to understanding why a multi-billion dollar giant shipped a feature any given way (they probably did their research), you have to take a few things into account.
Let’s place ourselves in the shoes of our users, designing from their point of view rather than focusing on internal process alone…
- Are you copying a competitor because you’re too lazy to figure out your own problems within your own app?
- Are you crafting solutions that serve your customers needs, or just coming up with trendy UI patterns that distract from what users are actually trying to accomplish.
- Is your Product Manager, VP, CEO, or Stakeholder playing designer again and you’re too scared to push back for the sake of their users? They do pay you to challenge facets and bring ideas to the table that they may not be seeing. (btw, this is a very large part of your job as a product designer)
It’s important to know the competition, their patterns, and how they do things, but we have to realize they’re probably solving for something different. You can’t copy one solution to fulfill a completely separate problem. That’s like putting a skateboard wheel on a car axel because it’s still a wheel. Does that make sense? Possibly from a semantics standpoint, but users probably won’t take it for a test drive.
03 — Implementing mediocre design solutions
Design is starting to get better. People are understanding the power of user experience design, and are starting to get that visual, and emotive connection to a product is a really important thing to business acquisition and retention metrics.
Design is about the whole experience, not a visual layer alone. What is the atmosphere of a website? Does the information architecture make sense and easy to use? What is the emotive response of a user messing with the app? They aren’t simply tools, nor simply artistic expression. Design uses the visual to breath emotion into the functional.
As designers, engineers, and business-people, we really only have one chance to WOW our customers. If we blow that due to our own internal process and knowledge that we’ll ship a real version in 2.0, a lot of those customers won’t give you that second chance to prove your app is a good fit for them. They’ve already made up their mind about you.
This is why Steve Jobs got it right. It’s not a question of does form follow function…it’s form is function, function is form situation. Does your product just work? Is it ok? Does it get in the user’s way or feel unfinished? That’s all the user will be asking / determining for themselves.
Businesses need to take design a lot more seriously. They need to stop looking at the design of their experience as a cost and start understanding it’s true value; it’s true potential. However, if people think of design as just another line item to be completed and shipped, their solutions won’t go far, and their businesses will suffer for it.
Users are wide awake. Are you? Is your business?
At the end of the day, design is business, and mostly about making money. The thing is, when we focus on our customers goals and strategically use process to ship the right products at the right time, for the right reasons, in the right ways, everybody learns. Everyone adapts. Everyone wins.
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I’m currently a User Experience Designer at eBay, where I work on the Native (iOS+Android) Selling team out of Portland, Oregon. I’ve previously rallied onsite with design teams at Nike, Bodybuilding.com, Intel, as well as freelanced with multiple businesses since 2010. I’m the co-founder of Northwest Beard Supply LLC with my beautiful wife Megan, an avid musician, and weight training junkie.