Sep 21, 2020

Entering product design – Chapter 5: Soloist product designers

When I was a freelancer, the workflow was simple. The client gave me a brief and I executed it. That worked. However, I realized that it doesn’t work anymore as I transition to my in-house career.

When a product designer enters the industry, I observe they will be uncomfortable or confuse working with other people in their team.

I want to unpack some archetypes when it comes to collaboration based on my observation over the years. You can change the label as you want, but I usually break it down into four stages: 1) Soloist, 2) narrow collaborator, 3) cross-function collaborator and, 4) radical collaborator.


Soloist product designers

One time, a content strategist invited me to do a sketching session together. I was thinking, why would I do it with a content strategist? My ego arises: I’m a designer. I would be able to do it alone. So I stubbornly proceed to work alone.

I regret that attitude because I made all the decisions myself and resulted in a very disjointed work.

I would label this attitude as a soloist product designers where the product designer works alone, not even with their closest UX sibling, such as content strategists or researchers.

The consequence of this attitude is a slower pace of working. Because the product designer will spend days thinking alone in a cave, then arrange a meeting the day after that to find she misses many aspects. In contrast, if you invite people in the process with you. You will get the perspective at that moment, and you can revise the work quicker.

A limited perspective baked into the work, resulting in a weak outcome. As I mentioned before, your product must be valuable, feasible, and viable. And it’s rare that we, product designers, will have the expertise to make the right decisions in those three aspects.


What to do

You can start small. You can start to invite at least the researcher or content strategist and explore a specific problem or a question.

I’d always encourage the designer to sit together in front of the whiteboard and start thinking together. In that session, you will begin to exercise how to frame a question and explore it together. You will practice how to challenge each other. Or visualize your thinking together, which is important.

Try this, invite an engineer if you want to explore corner cases. Spend ten minutes and you’ll blown away by how many corner cases or logic she will bring to you.

Question for you:

  • Which part of your work that you can invite others to give perspective and lead to a better decision?
  • Who would be the best person to give that perspective?
  • Are you a soloist or a collaborator?
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