Let’s start with an example of communication skills: they are important for any profession, and you expect any professional to have a decent level. However, excellent communication skills won’t make up for the lack of core expertise. Imagine a plumber who is a great communicator (just look at his sense of humor!), would you still hire him if he was a terrible plumber? Nope.

The same goes for software and visual design — it’s good to have your app looking great, but it won’t make up for the lack of core functionality or bad experience. If I’m comparing two products that are otherwise almost identical, I’ll go with the one that has a better design. But visual design is not a silver bullet — if a product doesn’t function properly, not usable or even worse, does something no one cares about, no amount of special effects will save it. …


I spent 2020 in design hiring — first half as a candidate and second as a hiring manager, and went from trying to fit to “industry standards” to realizing how little sense they make to assess product design skill set.

Twenty-thirty years ago, when most of the designers were graphic designers, assessing design work was as easy as judging its looks. In most of the portfolios, you’d see the design itself, a brief if you’re lucky, and some community appreciation, whether it’s an award or number of likes on a platform.

With the growing complexity around digital products, it became clear that a lovely image is by far not enough to know if the work is good. We need to know how well it serves customer and business needs, and is it the best solution to customers’ problems in the first place? In fact, how well does the designer know who the customers are? …


Deciding to hire your first start-up designer is not easy, but it’s only the first step in the hiring process. With product design going far beyond “making things pretty” and even “making things usable”, how do you find the right person with the right skill set to help your business grow? From user research to UI design and coding, here’s a short explanation of what to look for in design candidates.

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“Just make it pretty”

Why would you care?

You can play safe and aim to hire a strong generalist, but with everything that is normally required for a typical design vacancy, this will decrease the chances to find the right person and increase the needed budget. …


Product decision-making scale
Product decision-making scale
The two extremes of product decision-making

Out of all the cultures out there, I’ve had the luxury to experience (and survive) both extremes of the decision-making spectrum:

  • Decision-making driven by opinion (mostly HiPPO) — a big boss decides what a team (department, company) is going to do, and good luck dealing with it if it doesn’t make any sense. Working in this environment isn’t very pleasant unless you’re the one making the decisions.
  • On the opposite side of the scale, there is decision-making driven by data. Sounds great since supposedly anyone can propose a change given the right set of data (and very often they can). …


Imagine this: you’re presenting a complex, well thought-through design (which was just updated based on feedback during a usability test). Five minutes into the presentation someone noticed that you used an old 4px border-radius on a button, where he thought everyone agreed to use 5px… Half an hour later you’re still trying to steer the conversation back on track.

Sounds familiar? Apparently, this is so not uncommon that there’s a term for it: meet bike-shedding.

The term is coming from an example of (an imaginary) committee who needed to approve plans for a nuclear power plant and spent the majority of time on unimportant but trivial issues like employee bike shed while neglecting the design of the powerplant itself.


Sport climbing in Todra Gorge, Morocco
Sport climbing in Todra Gorge, Morocco

Sunny November day in beautiful Todra Gorge, my partner is climbing a route and I’m belaying. She takes a fall and next thing I know I’m knocked out, lying on the ground.

It turned out a broken hold caused the fall and landed on my head. It left me with 2 small holes (a few stitches each and a bad haircut for the next 12 months). The interesting part though is that I was wearing a helmet, so it’s easy to imagine the outcome without it.

I shared the story with a few friends and moved on — after all the takeaway is obvious: always wear a helmet. …


There’s a number of tools and methods for the circumstances when you don’t have time or your team’s support but still want to move forward with your discovery process (mostly for optimizing products that are already live).

My goal here is not to create a comprehensive insight collection guide but rather to highlight a few options for which one has relatively easy access.

Finding the right problem to solve/opportunity to address (often called discovery) is a fundamental step to make sure you’re building valuable products that achieve business goals. Whether it is to optimise conversion rate of a product page, or to increase user’s engagement with your platform, looking at various data is a good place to start.

What data is there to help you, and where to find it

Roughly speaking, there are qualitative and quantitative research methods, which means you’ll be either looking at data or talking to users in one way or another. First helps you to see what’s happening, second to see why. …


How to understand people better, accept yourself, appreciate differences, stop running around and finally find focus, be brave to push through with your decisions and learn from your mistakes.

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1. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

by Dan Ariely


Sometimes we tend to use complex language to emphasise the importance of design within our organisations, but we don’t have to. Here’s my attempt to simplify it, which hopefully helps to communicate with non-technical stakeholders.

Product design process
Product design process
No diamonds involved

Here are the steps:

  1. Find what problem to solve for your (potential) users
  2. Explore possible solutions and commit to one (and maybe test)
  3. Define how the solution should work (and maybe test)
  4. Define how it would look and feel (and maybe test)

I organized the steps this way because making sure your product is serving some purpose is essential — it’s the basis. No matter how beautiful UI is or how smooth animations are, if you’re solving the wrong problem, the product won’t fly. …

About

Elena Borisova

Product, data, decision-making, philosophy| Learning from everything that went wrong | Digital Product Designer | elenaborisova.com

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