Don’t drive your designer up the f**king wall

ImageMost designers secretly or publicly hate their managers. It can be a CEO in a startup or a product manager in a larger company. They hate us all. Some of it has to do with the fact some of them are just precious flowers and their work can not be criticized by regular humans but often, it is only our faults.

Here are some dos and don’ts that will make your designer much more productive, and therefore creating better products:

  • Your “gut feeling” about the design is not important: We all watch baseball matches but don’t think we can play professionally. We all watch hospital dramas but don’t think we can operate on anyone. We all use  web products but we DO think we can design them better than the designer we hired. Your design expert is the designer you hired. If he/she are not good enough, replace them. You are unlikely to be better than them.
  • “I am the target and if I don’t like it, no one will”: But you are not. You are a product manager or a tech executive living in NY or San Francisco. You are involved in the product 24/7. You can’t possibly be the target market (unless you want the market to be = 1)
  • I showed it to my girlfriend/best friend and she hated it”: don’t ever bring the girlfriend to the discussion. Everyone knows that she is not objective and you are not objective in translating her views.
  • “But the competition built it this way”: so what? how do you know that the feature is successful? Why would it work for your different product? Copying is always risky as you can never copy the thought process, only the feature in isolation.

The above doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opinion about design. Of course you should. You just need to use different tools to explore if your “gut feeling” is right or wrong:

  • Ask questions, don’t share opinions: It is possible that your designer didn’t get the use case in full. It is possible that her thought process was wrong and if she is a good designer, she will be happy to improve on it. Telling her that you don’t think the design will work is nothing she can work with. Ask questions like: “What did you try to achieve in this design”? “What do you think the user did before he got to this page?” or “What is the most important thing for the user to do on this page and how does the design support it?” . Through these questions you can understand if strategy and design are aligned and it gives the designer a real feedback she can use when iterating on the design, instead of simply redoing it.
  • Don’t argue, measure- you still don’t see things eye to eye? run a test. Instead of getting into a fighting match (that you are very likely to “win”), design a test or run an A/B testing. There is so much technology that can be used to run those test that arguing became almost a non viable option.
  • Challenge the designer to experiment- even when you are right, there are ways to convey it. I solved an argument on readability on a mobile app by asking the designer to load the designs on his phone and go out in the sun and “use” the app while walking. He came back and changed the colors/type weight on his own. It was much more powerful than saying “I don’t think users can read it”.
  • Send then out- product managers and executives like and need to be out, interacting with users and getting feedback. In many cases, designers don’t like or are not pushed to do the same. Take them out with you to set an on boarding test in a coffee shop and spend couple of hours buying coffee to people and watch together how they experience your product. It will give your designer direct access to feedback and in your conversions on what you’ve just seen you can learn to work better together.

It is always better to manage by asking rather than telling. For most, it is a natural thing to do when you have no knowledge in an area. The trick is applying the same methodology when you do.

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Don’t drive your designer up the f**king wall

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