co-founder and Head of Design at Preply
Sergey Lukyanov, co-founder, and Head of Design at Preply, on who product designers really are and what they actually do.
Myths are part of the IT industry. While fiction about programmers and designers are getting old, positions in companies multiply. New delusions flourish in areas where work is being done at the intersection of several disciplines.
I am the co-founder, and Head of Design at Preply, international edtech marketplace for learning foreign languages, explains what product designers are, and more importantly — what they are not.
You can’t generalize too much. The key task of a product designer is to address user and product problems.
To achieve this, you must go beyond being a specialist, but also a generalist, a professional with knowledge in several areas.
You have to dive into behavioral psychology, UI and UX, analytics and much more. The role of the product designer is to oversee interface development, usability, and product type, given the budget and tasks.
Another oversimplification. To avoid it, you need to remember areas of responsibility. Product managers assign team KPIs and manage the project life cycle.
Product designers are on the other side; they have responsibility for what happens when people use the product.
The daily tasks that product managers focus on are not first on a product designer’s list. The latter deals with issues using design thinking and designs the human-product interaction, and is also in charge of the information infrastructure.
First of all, a product designer should focus on how the product will be used, rather than the way it looks. Of course, you cannot ignore aesthetics, however, the position doesn’t allow you to lose yourself in visual fantasies.
Paradoxical as it may sound, a poor design may look good, and a good one may not be so spectacular. How to strike the right balance? This is one of the product designer’s challenges and it is much more complicated than "just making it pretty."
Just look at the new iPhone screens. A contentious cut at the top. It does not suit the phone and is hidden in banners. But the main thing is that the “bangs” are no bother — Apple had to edit the rounding elements millimeter by millimeter.
Having the strictest ToRs and running sprints like crazy is a dangerous strategy. A product designer cannot be a rigorous technocrat.
One needs to walk in the user’s shoes, get the hang of habits and characteristics, without breaking the key product’s principles.
Simply put, it’s all about empathy and understanding that you can always retrain people.
Dictatorship with both coworkers and users is unnatural for a product designer.
Articulating issues and assigning the right tasks requires close communication — with your team, product managers and team leaders. You will have to analyze sketches, discuss functionality with engineers, talk to copywriters and go over the UI.
Listening and hearing in this position is vital. A “reserved genius" style will not work.
Methodologies and work strategies form the basis of the work process in the IT environment. Principles of design thinking guide product designers.
What we’re talking about here is the approach to innovative developments, where people and their needs are at the core, and technical means addressing them.
It’s an uneasy path: first, you need to define the problem, then analyze possible solutions, build a prototype and evaluate its effectiveness.
Each step demands careful reflection and creativity. Therefore, in product design, a person is always more important than the process, though, from afar it may seem that the work is proceeding "on a hunch".
The product designer’s work does not stop at the point the product enters the market. Actually, it’s quite the opposite — this is where the fun begins. In addition to prep, a product designer also needs to evaluate the real effectiveness of the work done.
Welcome to the world of metrics and constant monitoring!
No matter how hard you try, there is always something to fix. The main thing is to keep an eye on the feedback and important indicators.
A product designer needs immunity to trend noise. If minimalism is in fashion, this specialist will recall Einstein’s quote: “Everything should be done as simple as possible, but no simpler”.
And vice versa, one will need to double-check and make sure the user is not overloaded with options or visual effects.
The main product designer’s guide is rationality and the usefulness that a product should bear. The actual value is above design trends.
Programmers are sometimes compared with mathematicians, while designers are compared with creators. It gives authority. What about product designers? The job is not that easy, and anthropologist is its "academic" analogy. Not to be confused with an archaeologist!
Other than the origin, anthropologists study human behavior and its change under the influence of socio-economic and natural factors. Product designers are a little more specific, but the perspective is pretty much the same.
The analogy, of course, is not perfect. Comparing designers with artists is a convention. The main idea is that such a position is not a whim of the digital era.
Imagine an iPod without the famous click wheel, offices without Aeron seats or the auto industry without the Model-T Ford.
No need to explain how much all these inventions have changed everything.
All of them have a thoughtful product design, even if it is usually reduced to ordinary ingenuity or simplicity. Product designers create a user experience, and there is nothing more important than that.