Let’s face it, software product design often takes a backseat to engineering: people just want to get things to work and then ship it!
It’s not until after a product is in the market that the lack of design thinking and its importance becomes obvious. But design can give a product a competitive edge. It can increase adoption. And incorporating design thinking into a product development process consistently can make a team and company run smoothly.
Fortunately, I was one of the software engineers, who was introduced to software product design early in my career. Hence, experienced the numerous benefits to incorporating it early on into a product’s lifecycle. Furthermore, I learned how to work with designers, and have a fully integrated product team, rather than engineering vs design vs product.
I’ve been keen to showcase a number of these benefits and keep a watchful eye on new trends as they have emerged.
Below you’ll find a roundup of Build episodes covering themes like: people looking to work with designers, become a designer, work on an existing software product’s design, or improve their team’s design process.
Theme #1: Product Debt — What Is It And Why You Need To Prioritize Paying It Down
You’ve heard of “tech debt”. The technical debt that gets accrued when a team races to ship a product and has to take shortcuts in engineering to make it happen.
The same holds true for a product. Over time, a software product accumulates “product debt” as a result of cutting corners on the software product design. This is often prompted by the engineering team pushing back on what is and isn’t feasible given the timeframe. Moreover, they evaluate how much rework or additional work it is going to cost the engineering team.
As this happens again and again, a product starts to exhibit clunky workflows. There are affordances that are inconsistent. Additionally, on-boarding maybe nonexistent, or a product’s features get buried.
Moreover, as a product continues to grow, it impacts how users perceive the product, and interact with it.
Hence, paying down product debt needs to become a priority to ensure a friendly user experience and product adoption. In this video, we talk to Leslie Yang who was formerly a Senior Product Designer at Pivotal Labs, about how to prioritize paying it down in every release.
Theme #2: Product Redesign —What To Do Before You Redesign Your Software Product
It’s tempting to want to jump into redesigning a product, especially if it’s laden with product debt, or you are trying to re-position your product or brand in the market.
Planning out a redesign avoids it from becoming a runaway project.
In this video interview, Leslie Yang is back and we explore things you need to consider before doing a redesign like:
- The hidden risks of jumping into a redesign and how to avoid them
- What happens when we redesign too many pieces of the product
- Plus the type of metrics you need to be tracking for each piece of the product you redesign
Theme #3: Design Sprints — How They Help Fast-track Your Ideas And How To Get Your Team To Adopt Them
These have gained in popularity thanks to Jake Knapp’s book Sprint. Sprints help design for the right problem, test out a feature, make sure it’s well scoped, and serve as a forcing function to put the product out for customers.
- What are design sprints
- When it makes sense to use them
- How they can benefit your overall product development process
- How to get your team to adopt them whether you’re working at a startup or larger company
- The #1 benefit to doing them
Theme #4: Accessibility — Why Accessibility Needs To Be Prioritized In Software Product Design
When designing products, we often think about usability: how easy to use a product is. But we often overlook another aspect of software product design: accessibility.
Why do we overlook accessibility? It’s seen as a challenge to prioritize it given a company’s size and resources. Therefore, we may think accessibility makes sense for a big company. However, a startup that is getting off the ground just doesn’t have the resources to incorporate it. Well, actually that’s not true…
In fact, accessibility maybe just the differentiator you need when it comes to software product design that is going to give your product a competitive advantage and increase adoption!
In the follow videos, I interview Laura Allen, who is the Accessibility Program Manager at Google for Chrome and the Chrome operating system. You’ll learn:
- What accessibility is and how it’s different from usability
- How accessibility influences user adoption of products
- How companies will benefit by incorporating accessibility into product development process, priorities, and core values
- Examples of common accessibility issues that impact all of us at various moments in our lives
- How to do an accessibility audit for your product and the 4 important principles to consider each time
Theme #5: Striking Out On Your Own—Becoming A Freelance Designer
Tempted to strike out on your own? But worried about giving up the comforts of a company, by becoming a freelance designer? Of course, the transition brings up a lot of fears like being good enough, consistently attracting clients, and pay those pesky bills.
In this video, I interview Jessica Hische, who shares the following:
- Steps you can take early in your career
- Why a day job can be immensely valuable and how to find one that is nurturing
- Why you don’t have to run a 10+ person design studio or a 100+ startup, and can be a solopreneur
- How to reconcile your client’s vision with your own creative desires
- How to get compensated fairly by conveying the price and value of your work
- Why learning tangential skills as a creative can be helpful when it comes to hiring
- Balancing side projects and attracting work with the day-to-day work that pays the bills
Theme #6: Creative Confidence—How Practicing Creative Confidence Can Help You Embrace Risk
When you design and share your designs with others like co-workers and clients you open yourself up, and that can be scary. You fear criticism, rejection, and failure.
Hence, to get over it you have to get comfortable practicing creative confidence. In this video, Majo Molfino and I discuss the following:
- Why the fear of failure is bigger than actually experiencing failure
- Why we’re sensitive to feedback and how to remove the sting of it
- How to deal with criticism from ourselves, bosses, peers, and loved ones
- Why it’s important to create space between yourself and your creative work
- How to reframe self-promotion
Theme #7: The Rise of The DEO—Creators Can Become Company Leaders
DEOs (design executive officers) are replacing traditional CEOs. The main difference: DEOs embrace design thinking and imbue their company culture with it.
Whether you’re a leader or aspire to be one, this episode will help you learn from Maria Giudice a VP of Experience Design at Autodesk, how DEOs:
- Are different from traditional CEOs
- Evaluate and take risks
- Are systems level thinkers
- Use their intuition to guide their decision-making
- Have cultivated a high level of social intelligence
- Get shit done!
- Co-create with their teams and manage different roles
- Give employees permission to fail
- Influence and shape a company’s culture through their unique leadership style
Theme #8: Empathy—How To Use Empathy To Build Software Products
Designers know the value of empathy as it relates to building products. But there are still a lot of misconceptions and misuses. In this interview, Indi Young and I explore the various types of empathy, and how to practice it.
We dig into:
- Why Tom Gruber, the designer and co-founder of Siri, believes empathy is crucial to getting things done in tech companies.
- Why empathy need to extend to processes and building teams.
- How to translate our learnings from practicing empathy into actionable insights for our business.
- Why we’ve fallen in love with quantitative data.
- Why we need need qualitative data too — a deep understanding of our teammates and customers
- How empathy is a skill that can be learned and practiced.
Theme #9: The Art vs Science of UX Design
Why do some products standout and others that just get the job done? Is it who designs them, or is it something else?
In this video, Pauly Ting and I explore these questions, and discuss:
- Why it’s hard to differentiate your product if you fixate on features and the science behind them
- Why most companies fail to make a meaningful connection with users
- A simple 4-step framework that helps you clarify your design and speeds up development time
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What are some questions that came up or future topics related to design that you’d like to see me cover in future Build episodes? Let me know in the comments below!