9 learnings for mid-weight product designers

Marta Suarez
Zero To Design


1. Don’t waste time on high risk tasks — There’s a high chance requirements will change

Have you ever spent hours perfecting your designs to then have stakeholders change their minds on what they wanted in just a few minutes?

At ZeroToDesign, we call these “high risk tasks”. An example of a high risk task is spending a lot of time creating multiple options for a design — only one of the options will be chosen and the rest will be scrapped. In this case, you should only design enough to convey the concept of each option and spend time perfecting the design once you have clear feedback.

Therefore, the level of effort that you invest in a design task should match the amount of risk associated to that task (i.e. how likely is it that the design will significantly change).

2. Set an agenda for every meeting — Clearly define and communicate the goals of the meeting

Meeting agendas are often overlooked or neglected, but since joining the team, I have started ensuring I have a structured agenda for meetings where I’m presenting:

The agenda structure includes the following:

  • Why we’re having this meeting
  • What will be discussed in the meeting
  • This will be a good meeting if… (i.e. what we want to achieve in this meeting)

There are 4 main benefits that I have identified from incorporating this into my calls:

  • It helps me (the presenter) to have clear points that I want to be discussed during the call
  • Alignment amongst team members — everyone has clear understanding and visibility of the purpose of the meeting
  • Everyone in the call is working towards a common goal
  • Helps the person running the meeting to ensure all points are touched on and stops the conversation from derailing

The more specific the goals and agenda the more focused your audience will be and the easier it’ll be for you to get the right answers.

3. Schedule 1-to-1s with key stakeholders — Make sure you fully understand the product context

When joining a new product, ensure you set some time to speak to key stakeholders and team members (PM’s Delivery Manager, engineers…). They have deep contextual knowledge that can rapidly improve your product understanding.

Avoid asking generic questions, try to dig deep and ask questions that will help you identify any potential challenges you may face. Some examples of questions that have helped in the past include:

  • What went well in the past?
  • What didn’t go so well in the past?
  • What objections do people have to using the product?
  • What makes the product hard to use?
  • Are there any technical constraints?

4. Establish frameworks — Use them to establish common ground amongst teams

The use of frameworks is probably one of the things I enjoy the most when working on a new feature, especially on projects that require very quick execution.

At Z2D, we have numerous templates that allow us to structure our design process. One that I have found incredibly useful is the Feature Kickoff Framework. Instead of making the rookie mistake of jumping straight into the design, this framework forces you to take a step back and really think about the problem you’re trying to solve and what the main goals of this new feature are.

The use of these type of frameworks have been a game changer personally. They not only save time, but they help the designer (and even the stakeholder) to ensure they really understand what they need to deliver.

I usually fill it in before my usual meeting with the Product Managers and go through it with them to address any pending queries, and ensure we are all on the same page.

5. Pair with other designers — Increase collaboration and reduce future design debt

Design pairing is when two designers work together on a problem, product or project. This can happen at any point of the design process, e.g. starting in the discovery phase or in more specific pixel-perfect tasks.

Pairing encourages learning through collaboration, and brings many benefits to the team, some which I have listed below:

  • Better focus and prioritisation of tasks
  • Fresh perspective and real-time feedback
  • Increased accountability
  • Increased knowledge transfer e.g. on ways of working
  • Higher quality design output through faster feedback
  • Increased confidence in design decisions
  • Reduced future design debt

6. Challenge your designs

During our last team Design Inspo session, we watched an awesome talk by Paul Boag at an Awwwards conference.

One of the key takeaways from his talk was to become comfortable challenging your own design decisions. Ask yourself: Can I remove this from the screen? What will happen if I remove it? Can I put it deeper down in the IA?

This will help you declutter your designs with unnecessary information, as well as help you build confidence in your design rationale.

Check it out here: “How to Encourage Clicks Without the Shady Tricks” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tvR1rz_Nb8

7. Back your design decisions with evidence — Build trust and credibility with your stakeholders through evidence-based arguments.

Being able to articulate and back your design rationale is a big part of your life as a product designer. Take your time to do some product research, find examples and analyse best practices.

We normally use platforms such as nicelydone.com or mobbin.com to find examples of live products that may have solutions in place for a similar problem to what you are trying to solve. We collect a few examples, collate them into one file and highlight what may or may not work in our particular use case.

Walking the stakeholders through this thought process is important for two reasons:

  1. You are helping them visualise the different alternatives and see why it may or may not work
  2. You are demonstrating that you are considering multiple options and making a well-informed decision.

8. You’re the designer. Own your craft.

This learning is a reminder for designers that you were hired for a reason.

When discussing design related items, remember you have been given responsibility and ownership for the designs. Take the lead and don’t always rely on more senior team members opinions (particularly non-designers). If you have established frameworks, use them and trust your design process.

If you’re not comfortable taking the lead here are some things that can help:

  • Try to pair with other designers to go through any part of the design process that you may feel unsure about
  • Start establishing frameworks to optimise your design process

9. Avoid focusing illusion — Are you overestimating the importance of a specific problem or feature?

Focusing illusion is a bias I came across when reading Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, during our bookclub.

When tackling tough problems, we need to immerse ourselves to ensure we fully empathise with the users. This immersion can lead to “focusing illusion” where we may end up magnifying the importance of this problem too much.

Some ways to avoid this include:

  • Using user experience maps — step back to get a holistic view of the entire experience
  • Spending time doing user research — get qualitative information on the context of use and other jobs to be done
  • Design pairing — get a fresh perspective from another designer to avoid focusing on high risk items

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.