Product Management
April 14, 2022

Things I wish I knew before I started in design & product

Things I wish I knew before I started in design & product

Things I wish I knew before I started in design & product

An ADPList group session took place on Mar 30, 2022, with over 300 RSVPs. Eva Li, a former UX designer, turned Product Manager and now running her startup, ImmiSearch, shared her lessons and things she wishes she had known before she started in design & product.

This is a special group session in which all attendees co-created the design guide to share their insights with fellow designers and product folks. Credits to those who contributed to the Figma jam board: Victoria Kim, Hsu Ka An (Robert), Kh Rakib Ul Islam, Victory Aghazie, Lhurve Davies, Daniel, Devanshi Ray, Scott Pessoa, Stephanie Le, Flora Jin, Marisa Black, Sam Smith, Kelly Wong, Ryan Chiu, Aaron Newman, Angelique Kim, Kate Drummond, Abrar Fahim Rahman, Arun Kumaar Sreenivasan, Lauren Pruitt Eugene, Carolina Torres Arzamendi, Nishar Multani, Tanya Garg, Polly Yang, Gonzalo Alfaro, Victor Molina, Selina Li, Nicole Gao, Xinxiu Zhong, Ginny Hung, Larissa Tang, Amish Gadhia, Aftab Qureshi, Clarissa Hyun, Kristen, Michelle Kang, Keva Hosozawa, Zabrina Margono, Gabrella Priska Assa, Jessica Keatting, Manuel Ogomigo, Yvonne Weng, Yatong Wang, Anthony Cao, Sneha Lakshman, Clay Hoover, Lavanya Seshadri, MJ Chen, Victoria Cheng, Amber, Bebe Barberson, Kimberley Kadila and more!

#1 Mistakenly, managing stakeholders means pleasing them

“If you try to make everyone happy, no one is happy.”

Stakeholders often have conflicting interests and opinions. I used to think managing stakeholders meant pleasing them. I prioritized features based on votes in a lot of meetings. I ask for stakeholder feedback and get them to vote on ideas. However, the idea that gets the most votes is not always the best choice as you are likely to be the only designer in the meeting. This means you have the least number of votes, to begin with, and are less likely to “win.” Don’t let stakeholders dictate your design decisions, or let the loudest voices swag your design thinking.

“Treat stakeholders as a source of data and a way to get feedback.” — Eva.

Other juicy insights from other designers:

  • No feedback is bad feedback. Stakeholders could have a differing point of view that may not have been thought of! — Ginny Hung
  • Understand the stakeholders’ concerns and driving forces, but don’t be afraid to share data-backed research findings that may not be in line with the stakeholders’ opinions. — Larissa Tang
  • There are no dumb questions. It’s just dumb not to ask.— Ricardo Zea.

#2 Not having a design/product voice

The second mistake I made was not having a design voice or not having a product voice. I felt insecure, especially when other stakeholders are the domain experts in the industry and have worked in the company a lot longer than I. In most product teams, you are likely to be the only designer for your feature or product. If you are not advocating for users, it is easy for the team to overlook the importance of usability. Sharing your design voice is not about being right or wrong. By voicing your design opinion, you’re educating your team.

You are not hired as a prototyping technician and shouldn’t only do what is told. What differentiates a junior designer from a senior designer is how well they articulate and stand by their design voice. More experienced designers know how to navigate design conversations and know when to push.

Insights from other designers:

  • Document the project from start to finish, especially why you made your design decisions.
  • Connect with more designers, engineers, and PMs, and learn from different perspectives.
  • The best idea/solution might come from someone other than you, even if you are the only designer on the team.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding design decisions or voice your opinion even as a junior designer.
  • Articulate the business impact/value of the design decision/approach. Make the team aware of the UX tradeoff of a “‘cheaper” solution.

#3 Don’t know what agile is

It still surprises me that schools don’t teach designers how to work in an agile environment and collaborate with developers, product managers, etc.

Why is it important to learn about agile and how to work in a team? Unless you know how to work in a group, the end-users will never get to enjoy the great design ideas you have, even if you’re a super designer because those solutions never get implemented.

What is agile? Agile software development is the iterative approach that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster.

Examples of agile manifestos

  • Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools.
  • Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation.
  • Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation.
  • Responding to Change Over Following a Plan.

Scrum is a lightweight framework used to organize teams to work together to deliver value quickly. This framework works closely with agile manifestos. If you are not familiar with the term, I recommend reading more about it before starting your design job.

Scrum diagram by netmind

What other designers have to say about working in a team:

  • Be as detailed as possible in the documentation. Pretend like the other party has zero context and don’t assume that they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about! — Ginny Hung.
  • Host agile design reviews and updates to keep the team posted on the design progress, between big design milestones — some feedback might change the direction, and it is better to hear it sooner.
  • Have regular informal follow-up as much as possible when the dev team is working on your design, so you can have better control over your design.

#4 Thinking BC2 & B2B companies are the same

When I got my first job, I didn’t give much thought to the industry or the type of company. I took the job because I liked the team. Despite the importance of the team’s culture, I wish I had known that my first job would significantly impact my future opportunities.

Why? The companies want to hire people who have experience in the field. When you have experience working in a fintech company, you have more transferrable skills and knowledge for another fintech company. While it is not a hard requirement to work in the industry before joining the company, you can see how a candidate would stand out if they did.

B2C vs B2B?

Here are some very general differences between the two. You should take this information with a grain of salt because every company is different.

B2C (Business-to-Consumer)

  • Higher expectations on usability and UI designs because end users have less tolerance for bad design.
  • More access to the end-users for feedback and interviews.
  • Quicker launch cycle to be able to test your solution more iteratively.
  • Accessible design patterns. For example, the e-commerce checkout pattern is well established.

B2B (Business-to-business)

  • You can build long-term relationships with your customers because they are invested in your product for the long haul.
  • You will have a massive impact on your customers since some may use your product every day for hours.
  • You may not be able to recruit users for feedback as quickly.
  • Longer launch cycle.
  • Design patterns for B2B products may not be as easy to find online as B2C products.

Insights from other designers:

  • “Being creative and pushing the design envelope in most large, bureaucratic companies is incredibly difficult.”
  • “Follow the K.I.S.S. principle to keep your sanity and job — Ricardo Zea.”

#5 Not finding a champion early enough

What is a champion? Usually, this is called a customer champion. In the B2B sector, you need to work with a customer to implement a solution. This person is usually profoundly invested in your product and is willing to advocate it in their own company. For example, if you want the whole design team to use Figjam and are the contact talking to Figjam on how to roll it out for your team, you are Figjam’s champion!

Similarly, we need an internal champion. Ideally, this person is your product manager because the product manager interacts with many stakeholders and can help you build relationships much quicker. You want to have a champion to bounce ideas off, get introduced to other stakeholders and recruit customers for interviews.

How to find this champion, especially if you are starting? Grab a coffee with your team members and get to know them as people. At the end of the day, we want to work with people we enjoy working with.

  • “There is always someone who can help you navigate professionally and grow creatively. If there is absolutely no one to connect around you -I work as a single designer right now- your mentors can be your champions.”
  • “Had a mentor call on ADP list a few days ago — absolutely eye-opening and incredibly valuable.”

Thank you to all attendees for the great energy and contribution to the blog. The full session recording can be found here.

What about you? What are some of the things you wish you had known?