The ability to deliver a great experience to the end-user is becoming a significant competitive advantage for the modern company. That's why design is becoming more deeply integrated into the product development process. According to the 2017 Design in Tech report, Facebook, Google, and Amazon have collectively grown design headcount by a whopping 65 percent in 2017 alone.

This, of course, has made the demand on product designer greater than ever before and is forcing the role and design skillsets to rapidly evolve. At the rate in which the design industry is shifting, having an underperforming product designer could create significant opportunity costs.

So how do you know when a product designer is costing you? Here are seven signs that he or she is falling short.

1. They never ask why.

The product designer is ultimately the steward of the experience. If he or she doesn't annoy you (and your users) with a barrage of questions the way a toddler does, it's a bad sign. It's likely the reason why your product has feature bloat or feels inconsistent when the experience is changed.

2. They have excessive amounts of notes and documentation.

Recording thoughts and data is an essential part of staying organized and capturing critical information for design decisions. But if the data is so dense and overcomplicated that you can't retrieve important information or identify patterns, then it becomes inevitably paralyzing. Nothing gets done.

If your product designer can't document concisely or synthesize in real time, it's a bad sign that he or she won't be able to make use of the data gathered over however many hours, days, or weeks of research it has taken to collect it.

3. They don't prototype.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings.

4. They have no interest in traveling.

Research has shown that an individual's level of creativity (and the open-mindedness that facilitates it) can be directly influenced by the amount of traveling that he or she does. More important, traveling affords a designer the ability understand cultures, languages, and experiences on a deeper level. 

Dieter Rams once said, "You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people." Immersing oneself into different cultures illuminates the subtle nuances that shape the way we think and the contexts we operate within. If your product designer doesn't at least aspire to travel abroad, then his or her capacity to empathize with your users may be limited.

5. They don't sketch their ideas.

Even the best, most experienced designers are wrong--and they're wrong most of the time. That's why design is more successful when it's collaborative and iterative. Being able to burn through as many ideas as quickly as possible is both a means to increase creativity and speed of feedback from you and, more important, users.

If a designer starts in a design tool, rather than using pen and paper, he or she isn't moving fast enough, wasting the time needed to learn from mistakes that will inevitably be made.

6. They don't use the latest design tools.

This seems petty, I know. But the reality is, complacency kills. If your product designer isn't up to date on the latest tools used by the industry, it's probably a sign that he or she isn't actively looking for ways to be more efficient or effective. Be honest, would you hire a product designer who uses Photoshop to create mockups?

7. They blame developers.

If the final implementation of a design doesn't look as intended (read: pixel-perfect), it's the designer's fault. He or she either lacks an understanding of what's technically feasible or didn't communicate effectively with developers to course-correcting as code was being written. The designer should be expected to create pleasant experiences, and that includes experiences interacting with teammates.

Published on: Jun 20, 2019
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