Being a designer is a tough but fun job. As a CEO, I unfortunately do not get to spend as much time on the product as I used to. A byproduct of leadership, doing my job as a CEO means hiring better engineers and designers to replace me. Because of how rarely it happens, I was pumped when my team let me take control of the design department for our upcoming launch.
Working with designers who were more talented than me, I questioned how I could help move our design project along. What I learned was that a lot of what goes into great design is organization and preparation. Below, I'll talk about the three keys I learned about great design while working with our team. If you are looking to improve your design department, try applying the tips below.
1. Open communication
It's important to communicate with the entire design team when you decide on the user flow, colors, and experience. Many times, the design team in startups is one person making all the decisions. This becomes tough because you don't have anyone to check your ideas. It also can be frustrating when you get advice from people on the business side of the company or some of the engineers.
One of the biggest differences in design compared to engineering is that with design, anyone can throw in their opinion. A salesperson can come over and say the product should be this color, and this button should be this big. As a designer, it's tough to deal with being direct but keeping other opinions in mind.
To help with this, one of the things we did as a design team was explain why we chose the designs to everybody. Over-explaining helped people be comfortable with our work and move it to engineering much faster. The business team got behind the product, and we were able to rapidly move from the wireframe stage to the mockup phase.
2. Don’t rush wireframes
When I started designing, I used to breeze through the wireframe stage as fast as possible. I didn't enjoy building out wireframes. In fact, I hated it. To me, they were just an obstacle to what I loved doing, building mockups.
When I looked at where we needed help in our design department, I found out that we weren't taking advantage of the wireframe phase. We were making our wireframes way too broad, and then rushing the edits our development and business team wanted. This ended up causing us problems down the road, because we designed beautiful mockups that still needed to be edited. By the time our project was complete, we had wasted hours building amazing screens no one would use.
To fix this process, I forced our design team to take twice as long developing our sketches and wireframes. I then made periodic checkpoints where we would present our wireframes in Invision to the entire team for feedback. This helped us get to the point where, when we began making mockups, we no longer had to worry about any of them being edited or thrown out.
3. Understand the user
By far, the fastest way I've found to be more efficient with design is to understand your user. Too many times, our team will tell the design department to build a feature. The problem with this is designing features takes a deep understanding of the customer. Without this, you will get mediocre design.
To do this right, you should ask yourself basic questions like, who is your customer? Get down to the gritty details with this. What do your users care about? Why are they using your product? Once these questions are understood, designing the product becomes much easier and more effective.