Ten Resolutions for Product Design in 2018

Liam Oscar Thurston
The Almanac
Published in
6 min readJan 4, 2018


This year’s holiday food coma provided me the opportune moment for serious introspection. Rhythmic sugar highs punctuated by MSG-glazed Chinese spreads found me gazing into the angelic milk-drunk face of our eight-week-old son Theo, wondering what the crystal ball of design might hold for his funky future.

Before postulating deeply on that distant mirage, there are a few things that need to happen first. In order to dig into that, I’ll share my two fundamental beliefs:

  • Human-centered software strategy, design and development is one of the most powerful vehicles to drive progress
  • Deeply committed collaboration and feedback amongst passionate, multidisciplinary teams ensures the best outcomes for that progress

Leading the design practice at TWG has reinforced these beliefs in me, and demonstrated the personal and professional growth that they can fulfill for our teams and clients.

With that in mind, these are my 2018 Resolutions for Product Design. Maybe they’re predictions, or simply a to-do list. Regardless, these are areas of opportunity that we should focus on within our community — the lovely folks who dream up and ship the designed experiences that make our world a fascinating snowglobe of self-reflection. I think these themes are important and plan to contribute to them this year.

1. Use Useful User Personas, for Real

Mary the Marketer and Sammy Suburbs with their 1.7 kids, $58.5k salaries and 3.7 years of post secondary education will make way for persona frameworks that will actually help you make product decisions based on when, how and why they use the thing you made. Behavioural personas, interaction-based personas and Jobs to be Done for all.

Claire Menke reconstructs the persona in The “Goldilocks Experience” of developing a foundational research framework – finding a practice that’s “just right” (article). More to come from TWG on this in 2018.

2. Focus on Design Tools That Ship

This is far from new in 2018, but more collaborative design tools will continue to proliferate and flourish. The gold rush of tools such as Invision Studio, Figma, Webflow, Adobe XD, Alva, Sketch, Framer, Origami and dozens more will mud wrestle for market share. The only ones that will last will allow designers and engineers to ship code harmoniously.

3. Ensure That User Research Wins

A nascent practice for some, a bedrock of thorough product discovery and validation for others, the growing practice of User Research will continue to objectively challenge design and product teams to stop designing for each other and put their users first.

Try hiring a User Research specialist on contract or attend the next UX Research TO Meetup (Toronto Meetup Group) and measure how your team and product grow. If you have experience practising this fine art, join the TWG User Research Team (job posting).

4. Investing in (Design) Management Equals Sustainable Growth

This goes well beyond the sphere of design, although I am passionate about designing sustainable org charts. Modern management and leadership training initiatives thrive as companies planning for the long term realize that active and intentional mentorship as well as professional development of their teams = retention and loyalty. When was the last time you had a really good one-on-one that included prep and follow-up?

Some of the great leadership training that we’ve invested in at TWG comes from Raw Signal, Plucky, 21 Toys, Founder City, and our very own legendary team of leads and managers.

5. Try Product Copywriting as a Practice

Hyper niche, tremendous value. User testing for language isn’t new, but isolating its value and focusing on it is a critical, and too-often skipped, step. Marketing and product teams will finally try to get along in the interest of communicating to their customers in the most effective ways. Try testing a flow with just language, no design.

What is Narrative UX? (article), by Jessica Collier, is a classic first step.

6. Go Deeper With Accessibility

We’ve all gotten on board with ye olde WCAG and AAA-calibre product and web standards. In 2018, accessibility will take us to new depths of empathy. Going beyond traditional definitions of accessibility and considering form factors and standards for physical and cognitive impairments beyond bad eyesight will be essential for our work to be truly inclusive.

More to come from TWG on this in 2018.

7. Define Service Design as a Service

You’ve used the term, read the articles, seen the blueprint, but… what exactly does Service Design mean? Businesses will embrace the need to design their teams and services (everything that happens before and after you interact with an application) in tandem with designing the screens and features that deliver them. And designers will figure out how to help, promise.

Read up on The Difference Between a Journey Map and a Service Blueprint (article) by Practical Service Design.

8. Visualize Machine Learning

Algorithms and Machine Learning will become more human, and humans will better understand algorithms and Machine Learning. Designers will create the language that will mediate that relationship in an effort to clearly communicate specific applications of AI and ML. From napkin sketches of decision trees to 3D renderings of neural networks, visualizing the applied value of these complex and buzzworthy topics will be a necessary next step in making them accessible.

Benedict Evans’ 10 Year Futures talk (video) delivers an aerial perspective on where we’re headed.

9. Sign Up for Team Sports

Clients will continue to see the value in joining the project teams of their service providers / vendors / agencies / partners… the word they use to describe these entities will say a lot. Truly collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams from different businesses will create valuable outcomes together, but – more important – learn a ton from each other along the way while building deep relationships.

When you’re building those relationships, always practise Radical Candor. And hugs.

10. Define Your Moral Compass

2017 was a little fucked up, let’s be real. Politically, socially, environmentally, our planet and our people need some love. This year, take a deep look at the work you do and who you do it for, analyze the outcomes that you’re optimizing for and what legacy they’ll leave. You’ll come across a lot of soft edges and blurry lines, but you’ll also discover some things that you know you will or will not get behind, definitively. Take a stand for those things. Let people know what you believe in, and act with conviction.

We hosted Mike Monteiro’s How to Fight Fascism talk (video) at TWG last year, and he inspired us to keep fighting the good fight.

I encourage you to think about your year ahead and join me on some of these vision quests or define your own inspiring path. It’s only with love and intention that we’ll make 2018 shine bright and bold together.

TWG is a Software Consultancy that believes that software, in the hands of visionary teams, is the most powerful tool to drive growth and change. We’re always growing our team of designers, user researchers, product managers, engineers, and QA analysts.

Let’s talk.



Liam Oscar Thurston
The Almanac

Senior Director of User Experience at Loblaw Digital, ex Creative Director @TWG, building human-centered software for all.