“As technology became a commodity, digital products and services need to be easily understood, compelling, and even beautiful. Users intuitively understand this dynamic and, accordingly, show a lower tolerance for bad design.”
— Aaron Rasmussen, Founder of Masterclass and Outlier.org
Good design is good business. More technology companies are investing in high-quality interface and experience. We’re now realizing that design is the new competitive advantage. Google has indexed over 130 trillion web pages at this point; at last, software did really become a commodity. For digital products to be even considered worth using, they’d have to be easy to understand. They’d have to appear compelling — even beautifully crafted. And to create such appealing products, design shouldn’t be just the designer’s job alone, and it must be instilled into the way teams collaborate.
Instilling design into your company starts with making design flow better and more accessible. As they say, seeing is believing, and this is especially true with digital products. Unless people see it, they don’t exactly understand how products work. And this misalignment and ambiguity could risk your team falling into deep scope creep.
Imagine you and your team spend months building the product only to find out that it wasn’t what people needed. That it wasn’t what stakeholders thought your team was building.
Design is no longer just the designer’s job alone — it’s product, engineering, marketing, and management all working together. Each function has its unique perspective. Marketing and Sales teams would know a lot more about the users than anyone else. Engineering would give you the right feasibility checks in time. Product makes sure your design meets the needs of the business. Management will provide you with a clear picture of the strategy behind the interface. And as a designer, you are responsible for combining these unique perspectives and delivering the right solution.
But without sharing and capturing design feedback early on in the process and doing it often, stakeholders will not be in the know. They will not be able to provide you their perspective. They will not be able to give you the right information and knowledge required to build the right solution.
Put visuals at the center of discussion rather than specs.
“A functional spec is make-believe, an illusion of agreement, while an actual web page is reality. That’s what your customers are going to see and use. That’s what matters.”
— Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, in Getting Real
Here’s an inconvenient truth about writing specifications to describe products: specs usually end up not being updated, not being read, and ultimately not being understood by anyone.
People think writing specs could give them a sense of alignment and stakeholder buy-in. But as the Basecamp founders said above, product specification is an illusion of agreement. Reality is far off from what specs tell you. They often paint a much different picture.
Instead of spending hours writing specs, bring inspiration to the table: the visuals. People are more inspired by visuals than specs, backlogs, and tasks. When light bulbs go on above their head, discussions get less abstract. Ideas become more concrete. When you show it, rather than just tell it, things get much clearer.
So rally your team around what they could actually see. Let them get inspired! And use the enlightenment to your advantage. Draw their tacit knowledge out and apply them to the product.
Make sure to give people an early look at the design
Sharing designs early on before committing to a production-level, high-fidelity output not only helps you to keep your team aligned, but it also helps to keep the cost of change low. You have less to lose if you share more often. What’s worse is designing a bunch of screens and later find out those screens can’t come to life.
It’s surprising to see what non-tech people could bring to the table by providing great feedback. Share progress early on so that your stakeholders could get a feel of what you intend to build. To my experience, I’ve always found their insights helpful because it made me double-check my work. They’d also show a high level of excitement and inspiration whenever I shared designs.
We had a chance to talk to a product designer who has worked at companies such as Google and DoorDash. We asked her how she drives impact across cross-functional teams through design. Her answer was simple:
“Share work, communicate, and keep them aligned through design, as often and early as possible.”
As she crafted a new screen or component, she made sure she included her stakeholders in the development process early on. She’d share working versions or work with them to land on a solution together. It wasn’t like she went out and collected requirements and produced a solution to what was needed. Instead, she included the whole team to make sure that whatever she was working on was the solution.
Design-driven collaboration keeps the team in sync and delivers solutions that people love.
I’ve noticed a trend of many teams putting design at the center of collaboration recently. This is great, and your team should too. Using design pays off. Design keeps the team informed, aligned, and excited about the solution they bring to life.