The qualities I look for in a Product Designer

As a Product Manager, I work closely with and rely heavily on the team’s product designer as a craftsman and collaborator. I get a lot of questions about what the design process is like at Pivotal and I am going to use this piece to share my perspective on the qualities of a Product Designer that are most important to me on a Pivotal Labs team. (Note: for a designer’s perspective, check out some of the links at the end.)

I want to work with a designer that

Recognizes assumptions. We are constantly starting new projects, so we’re always asking; Are we about to solve a real problem? Is this the most painful problem we can solve? Once we validate the product problem, we start to move on to the solution. Then we ask, can people understand how to use this product? Is this solving the exact problem that we’re trying to address? I want to work with a designer who is eager to test everything — from concept validation to usability testing.

Empathizes during research. We take user research seriously and, unlike other consultancies, we talk to a lot of users throughout our product process. This means I want to work with a designer that actively listens to clients, teammates, and users, resulting in deep empathy for each player in the project. They should confidently lead a user research session, make a user feel comfortable enough to open up, lead a user research synthesis, internalize user research findings, empathize with the users, and reference user quotes throughout the product build process.

Is passionate about the agile process. Designers have lots of options in the software world. I want to work with a teammate that wants to be here. I want to work with someone that loves process, appreciates and embraces iteration (even if it means throwing away design work), and wants to make products and software development better.

Values usable over beautiful. We make real products that people actually use. I want to solve real user problems, and we can’t solve problems that don’t understand and adhere to natural behavior. I want to work with a designer that likes software design as a solution more than an outlet for aesthetics.

Understands the importance of balancing business needs with user needs. It is critically important for product designers to advocate for the end user (noting, the full team should share this burden.) The designer needs to continue to lead that charge. But, I want to work with a designer that understands, values, and incorporates business needs.

Values a second set of eyes, often. We’re probably going to be sitting next to each other throughout the product build process. That means I’m going to check in every couple of hours. And even when I’m not checking in, you might want a developer to look over something. I want to work with someone that values transparency and collaboration so we can keep moving quickly.

Values done over perfect. Our small teams rely on each other to keep moving. Since every team member is 100% dedicated to one project at a time (including designers) we need to enable each team member to keep moving forward efficiently.