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How to collaborate effectively with product designers

Published about 2 months ago • 4 min read

This week, I’m distracted with the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. As a result, I’m writing this as I wait for the second rounds of games to start later this afternoon.

I’ve had tickets to go to the games in Omaha Nebraska for several months without regard to who was playing here and was fortunate enough that my alma mater, Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!) got seeded to play here.

It’s mere coincidence that this week’s topic is collaboration with your product team, so I won’t try to stretch any analogy between collaboration on a basketball team and on a product team.

Except to say that those basketball teams that make it far in tournaments are those that can work well together and get to where they know where each other will be on the court without looking.

This issue ends up being an extension to the issue on delivery from a couple of weeks ago. In that issue, I shared some perspectives that product people shouldn’t spoon feed their developers priorities and aren’t responsible for the delivery of their product.

If those ideas left you thinking “that’s great Kent, but If I don’t set priorities and drive delivery who will?”

The point that those articles made is you need to share responsibility for moving things forward with the makers on the product team - the engineers and product designers.

Making that happen in practice requires establish trusting relationships with everyone on your product team.

The delivery issue focused on engineers, so in this issue I want to put the focus on working with product designers.

There can be more overlap between product manager and product designer skill sets, so it’s even more important to establish clear expectations about who is going to do what and where you’ll work on the same thing together.

So read on for a collection of tips for building a strong product manager - product designer relationship.


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Advice for PM’s working with Designers

The folks from Aha! shared these suggestions for product managers working with designers.

Don’t throw your designer under the bus. The team owns design decisions, especially when talking with people outside your product team. Succeed or fail as a team in design reviews.

Set the product strategy before your team starts any designs. This helps you build a shared sense of mission with your UX folk.

Provide clear and actionable feedback. If you feel that a design is not what it needs to be, provide feedback that a product designer can act on to improve it.

Romy Misra offers some additional suggestions on how product managers can effectively work with product designers.

The best feedback is about problems, not solutions. Never say “I don’t like it,” without a reason. It’s not “I don’t like this shade of blue,” it’s “I feel like this button doesn’t draw attention enough given its importance.”

One perspective: PM should be an expert in the user, the user’s problems, and the business. The designer should be an expert in user interfaces. - it’s better for PM to describe user problems and business goal, and let designer come up with a solution to address those things

Two cases where PMs should design user interfaces:

  1. You want to create a vision mockup of a new feature or flow
  2. You don’t have a solid visual designer and need to spearhead this yourself

Advice for Designers working with PM’s

Strong relationships are a two-way street, so Adhithya Kumar provided these suggestions to designers on how to work with product managers.

Prioritize tasks - think about engineering needs and business needs to determine the right time to bring up design concerns and to prioritize design decisions. Understand the product status from a broader perspective.

Track UX debt - This is a similar concept to tech debt. Note things you want to come back and fix once you have the initial version released in order to get feedback.

Create a UX test plan - Create a game plan before talking to customers for validation. Work with the PM to structure customer calls so you can address key things you need to make design decisions.

Track actions on the product - A designer, to better inform their design decisions, needs to analyze and figure out what needs to be tracked, why you should track them, and what you aim to get out of tracking them.

Design Skills PMs should have

Remember how I said that there can be a bit of overlap between product managers and product designers? Harish Venkatesan suggested these four design skills that every product manager should have, even if there’s a product designer on the product team.

Advanced user research skills - truly understand your customers and be able to articulate their pain points, desires, and needs to other team members

Basic interaction design skills - describe users’ goals and determine product features based on those goals.

Taste - the best product people have a quality of taste. You need to recognize good design.

Elementary knowledge of visual design concepts - know design vocabulary so you can communicate with designers and understand tradeoffs and design decisions. But, let designers design.

Thanks for reading

Thanks again for reading InsideProduct.

If you have any comments or questions about the newsletter, or there’s anything you’d like me to cover, let me know.

Talk to you next time,

Kent J. McDonald

Founder | KBP.Media

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