3 Qualities UX Designers Bring to Product Leadership

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Becky Pierson
Jan 15, 2020

UX designer standing in front of to-do list

I’m Becky Pierson, a Product Lead at Spire Digital. As a Product Lead, I work with clients to translate grand visions into a roadmap of defined stories. Then, I use an agile software development process to create effective, releasable client demos.

I chose to write on this subject because it hits home for me for a few reasons: 

  1. I care a lot about my work, and continuous improvement is always top of mind. 
  2. Being a young professional, I feel like I constantly have to prove my worth.
  3. As a woman, I feel double the amount of pressure to prove my value. 

Most (if not all of you) are familiar with constantly feeling the need to prove yourself despite success, otherwise known as imposter syndrome.  

When I started at Spire, I was a Product Designer that had never worked in an agency setting before. Since then, my role has evolved from Designer to Product Lead, and I’m now leading projects for Fortune 500 companies and creating custom enterprise software.

If you’re a designer, then the following is some ammo for your next interview! If you’re looking to promote someone on your team, then I hope you’ll consider promoting a designer after reading this. 

And most importantly, if you’re a young woman who has an eagerness to lead, then lead before you’re asked to. As a designer, leading the room, conversation and project direction is a must. Oh, and ask for a promotion despite what the devil on your shoulder (imposter syndrome) tells you. 

Without further ado, let’s talk about what skills designers can bring to product leadership. 

1. Designers are comfortable being uncomfortable

Designing is uncomfortable. There is a tightening in the chest until something looks or feels just right. Aaron Draplin, American Graphic Designer, always says, “Artboards are free.” We can copy them as many times as needed to iterate on our designs until we’ve reached the solution to the problem we’re solving. In the agency world, the next step is to show your client your work. Growing in our professional roles is just like exercise: when we are uncomfortable, we grow the most. Not to mention, whether you’re ready to be a public speaker or not, you’re tossed in front of a group of strangers presenting your ideas in the first week of design school. Welcome, designer, to every week for the rest of your professional life. 

As a Product Owner in 2020, you should practice an agile mindset. If you’re not comfortable being uncomfortable, then you’re less likely to try something new. You have to be ready to pivot and try things a different way when you recognize there is a lack in efficiency, quality of work, or team moral. Speaking up, expressing ideas, and challenging assumptions are things some might call uncomfortable. But for designers, this is a feeling we are not only used to, but thrive in.

2. Designers look at things upside down and backwards

Before I entered the world of software, I was an architecture student at Pratt Institute. There were many stereotypes in architecture school, namely that we didn’t sleep, and we only hung out with other architecture students. They were all true, but my favorite stereotype (this one is about panelists) is something I still think about every time I design something. 

Every month or so we had to present our designs in front of a panel. There was a 50/50 chance that someone would ask if you looked at your hand-built architecture model upside down. If they didn’t askm, then they probably picked your model up and flipped it upside down themselves. While this may seem silly, it really teaches three important lessons:

  1. It’s important to consider multiple perspectives.
  2. You should always challenge your assumptions.
  3. Don’t skip out on the glue.

For this reason, designers walk into the software development ecosystem with a QA (quality assurance) mindset. I’m not saying that it doesn’t take practice, but as designers grow, they become better and better at considering every which way a user might approach something. They’re already thinking about how all the choices they’re making could break before they even finish the design. This is the kind of mindset a product leader needs to have to lead a product team to success.

3. Designers communicate the why behind their decisions

Design is subjective. When designers demo work to their client, they lean heavily on the reasons behind the choices they made: why a button is placed where it is, why it’s the color it is, why a form is formatted the way that it is. We express the research behind the choices we’ve made: “We heard from your users that feature X is the most important and so the hierarchy of this page reflects that.” This shows the client that design is not just about making things pretty, it is about making products usable, delightful, and desired. It also steers the conversation from “why is that button that shade of blue?” to a more thoughtful discussion about user experience.

During the product development process, clients or stakeholders need to be educated on the ‘why’ behind the decisions being made, the processes being put into place, and the reasons behind each pivot and iteration. The more people understand, the more accepting and excited they are about change and sticking to a process. In an agency setting, it’s not just a responsibility of the sales team to express why an agile product development process will be the best thing for a client’s business. We have to remind them every week by showing them how our process is working for their business and the ‘why’ behind every pivot and decision being made.

Interested in reading another article from Becky? Check out 8 Reasons You Think You Don’t Need User Research.

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