The Product and Design Partnership by Google Director of UX

Editor’s note: You’re about to read an extract from “Ship It 2.0”. You can get the full book here.

Abigail Hart Gray has an architect background, before moving to a digital agency and then eventually becoming a self-proclaimed Product Design Obsessive at Google. In this chapter, we’re going to explore what Product Managers can do to help Design be successful, and therefore the product can be successful.

Abigail Hart Grey

Going over a brief history of product design, it’s clear how the early way of thinking (introducing design in the last stage) was detrimental to the product.

Not having design thinking involved early on meant the engineer would hand over to the designer and essentially say, ‘pretty it up’ with no room for them to ask questions and recommend changes.

Things are different at Google now, as Design has a seat at the table from beginning to end.

Who’s Who in Design?

Design is experiencing a moment right now. A moment that began with the first iMac. This was the moment that the ugly grey boxes that people hated looking at but loved working on became objects of joy. This is when Apple discovered that people liked their computer more if it comes in a candy-colored shell.

Paint swatches design

To help Product Managers understand Design better, let’s go through the different types of designers that make up the team.

UX Designers: Wireframes are their bread and butter. They might work under different names like Interaction Designers or Information Architects. They focus primarily on information hierarchy, flows, interactivity, and helping the product team map all of that out.

Visual Designers: The ones who make it a branded experience. A great visual design team helps make your product unique, and make it yours instead of someone else’s.

Content: The people who write the words on the page. Often overlooked but incredibly important. If your users don’t understand something about your product, or get confused trying to use it, the directions the content team put together will fix the problem.

Research: The people who tell you the What, Why, and How to make sure the product is successful.

When you have a really good design team, it helps the Product Managers to be more efficient. Most product people are incentivized by the number of launches. Launches are great, but if the product flops when it’s in the market, if people aren’t engaging with it, and it isn’t doing anything to increase revenue, then it’s not worth much. 

So if you do it right up front (with a great Design team) you’ll be much more efficient in the long-run. It can feel counterintuitive, but you’re going slow to go better.

Paint swatch

What Does Great Look Like?

The InVision Design Maturity Report is a comprehensive study looking at what a design team can bring you and how to know if you’re interacting with your designers well.

According to the study, playing the long game means you are helping your designers to be business owners with you. 41% of companies sit on the bottom rung of the graph, in the zone of ‘we know we need Design, we can’t get away with not having it, and they do what we want with no push back.’ This counts as low maturity in terms of how the company has adopted design.

When a company has design maturity, they experience a drastic increase in revenue, cost savings, time to market and valuation. This proves that design maturity is good for business. InVision’s investigation looked at companies across industries and ranging in size, so the data can be applied very broadly. 

Harvard Business Review also did a lengthy study over 10 years, showing that companies that were design-driven – which they defined in 6 different dimensions – outperformed the stock performance by 228%.

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The Perfect Triangle of Data

How can designers do more to work with product? Firstly, focusing on analytics is a great building block for ensuring your designers can be good for your business. After all, numbers tell good stories. They tell you where to look. They tell you what your next release should be. When you begin to measure everything, you can find what’s important and design towards that.

Let’s moves on to what analytics can give you:

  • The What: what people are doing.
  • The Why: qualitative reviews done by different researchers (which is why design teams can sometimes be quite big).
  • The Will: predict the future with A/B testing, surveys, concept testing at a larger scale, etc.

These three things create the perfect triangle of data which will take you to market with the confidence that your launch will be successful.

Paint design

Start Small

You need to start with something small, which as mentioned before can feel counterintuitive. Some designers will want to go after the biggest impact project, but starting out like this will be a flop. When Abigail worked at Northwestern Mutual, she and the product team went after the customer dashboard, which at the time brought in no revenue as not many people were on digital at the time.

With the improved design, the teams created value where there was none before. The new dashboard got people to do some of the things the company cared about, like signing up for e-billing instead of paper, aggregating their accounts from outside, and people came back.

There was almost no change in functionality, all they did was make clickable things look a little more clickable. She did the same thing again at AOL, by changing the design of the mobile app, which had a direct impact on how people used it.

Discerning between designers who will help you move up the maturity ladder, and the designers who just want to make things beautiful, involves more data. 

paint brush

Often engineers will have much more information than the designers, and you need to share that information with them. The designers who take that and use it to make decisions are the ones who will drive your business. Look for the thing that has potential but is not performing at all, and you’ve found your place to start.

Data-driven design is exciting and the key to success, whether you’re in a big company or a teeny-tiny startup. The partnership between Product and Design is what drives success.

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