Cap Watkins, lead designer for Etsy, sat in front of more than 100 of his design peers to talk about emerging product design challenges. “Designers must look beyond the ‘‘feature request,’ and instead ask why a problem exists, and what we’re really trying to solve.” Tackling that challenge, as he alluded, is more a function of ‘unpacking’ the specific problem, rather than diving straight into Illustrator to provide a short-term ‘patch.’
His comments, along with those from Josh Brewer of the Designer Fund and Shalin Amin of Uber, helped unpack a few of the many challenges facing design teams today. Notably, how do design teams think about product at scale? How does a team stay focused on its core user? How do design teams make good design decisions?
The panel, which took place at Prismatic HQ, followed our first #AccelDesign Conference in April and kicked off the first in Accel’s Design Series Meetups, to be held at a different startup each month.
Throughout the hour-long fireside chat, a few key themes emerged:
Data is an important ingredient in design iteration
Teams can’t rely on intuition alone. Early on, user data suggested just 3% of Twitter users were sending ‘direct messages’ (DMs). These were invaluable insights for Twitter’s design team, which drove a subsequent line of questioning: were DMs not valuable, or were they too hard to find within the service?
Design for scale and experimentation
Uber’s Amin noted that the original Uber app was actually designed to support up to seven different transportation choices. “Design for the future. You’ll never know how your product will expand or contract over time.” Anticipating and allowing for product flexibility at an early stage in the build process will ease design, product and engineering cycles as the product evolves.
One design doesn’t fit all, in the case of international
Creating one uniform design for millions of users across dozens of markets is a massive challenge. Amin discussed how this idea impacts Uber’s design process: “When we’re designing, it’s incredibly difficult to design for every global use case.” Design leaders must embrace specific nuances – such as language translations and typeface – which in turn accommodate unique user experiences that cleanly fit a target audience.
Design for a broad base, but focus (maniacally) on core users
While it’s crucial for companies to think about acquiring millions of users, the panelists all agreed that designers (along with the entire organization), must maniacally focus on their core set of users. This group will not only stand as your early adopters, but their evangelism will create a “ripple effect” that spreads much wider. According to Brewer, “There’s no doubt that if you’re building a product for a mass audience, you cannot underestimate how important your core group of users are.”
Design should touch every part of the organization
As the role of design evolves, there is a greater need for designers to gain access to and knowledge about various parts of the organization. At Etsy, the design team (alongside other functions) joins the support team for hands on customer-support sessions. Access to direct user feedback can be paramount in understanding user preferences, and designing with greater certainty and value.
– Vas Natarajan