On the surface – strategy, communication, collaboration, facilitation and adaptability don’t sound like core skills of a product designer. To create impact as part of cross functional teams requires breaking out of stereotypical moulds. But these skills aren’t emphasised enough in the design profession. At Made by Many we want to change that.
There is a big gap between the skills and mindset that education equips designers with and what's needed to forge a resilient career in product design.
But as design professionals we widen this gap by fetishising the end thing, rather than what it takes to get to the end thing. That journey requires the right people, skills, mindset and grit through the often long and hard slog to achieve great outcomes.
Knowing what you know now
"Soft skills are by far the most important thing"
"Doing the work is only half the job - the other half is communicating what you've done and why"
"Helping to facilitate a group of people towards a common goal"
These were a handful of answers from the product design team at Made by Many when answering – "What skills are most important to your job that you wish you'd known when you first started out?”.
It’s common practise to lump these kind of things under “soft skills”. But doing this doesn’t do them justice. These are core design skills – especially if you want to influence and create change within a company.
Put your knowledge to good use
At Made by Many we're passionate about bridging this skills gap and furthering the narrative around what it means to think product first, rather than design first. We've been doing this through initiatives like Flipside - an industry led training and development programme we co-created. Flipside teaches individuals the fundamental principles of product design, communication skills and how to foster a growth mindset.
Our own internship programme is now in its 5th year and is all about bringing together a product team of a designer, developer and product manager to work on a live client brief. (You can read about our current interns progress here). Alongside our own initiatives, we have outreach programmes with London College of Communication, Central Saint Martins and D&AD New Blood to further bridge these skills gaps earlier in designers careers.
The product design skillset
Outlined in our career ladders and professional development programme – product design at Made by Many brings together four qualities. Collaboration, creation, consultancy and craft. We actively help designers to grow their skills and experience into someone who:
Thinks & acts strategically
Understands how design can be used when working within the product, team, business and industry context.
Is a collaborator
Seeks ideas and opinion from others; whether from contact with users, stakeholders or other disciplines.
Makes things real
Has the ability to make abstract concepts real; enabling others to understand, build upon and rapidly get things into customers hands.
Is an expert communicator & facilitator
Can convey complex ideas or rationale regardless of audience and guide the thinking of others to get to the right outcome.
Is adaptive in their approach
Copes well with ambiguity and adapts their approach to changing project needs or new signals from the business, user or team.
It’s a potent mix that enables designers to move at incredible speed, eliciting information and expertise from others as part of cross functional teams. The five skills above covers off the qualities of collaboration, creation and consultancy from our professional development programme. But it’s also important that our product designers have the craft skills to iterate prototypes into expertly designed and built products that redefine categories.
It all sounds like a lot. It is.
What this looks like day-to-day
Embodying these skills, here are a few examples of what our product designers are working on right now. Some might not seem like a designers job at first glance:
- Continually collaborating with a clients market sales teams across Europe to scale a new service proposition.
- Designing and delivering bespoke training and workshops that enables those market sales teams to onboard new customers.
- Communicating product vision and business proof cases to executive and leadership teams.
- Connecting the dots between many disconnected products and services across an organisation and turning that into a compelling North Star from a customers perspective.
- Designing and running workshops with executive teams to untangle thinking around a complex business and system problem.
- Creating scripts, storyboards and art directing product videos to showcase a new service.
This is what we mean when we talk about product design. The totality of the thing and all the steps necessary to get teams there. Many of the above examples push at the edges of the responsibility of a ‘designer’. They go deeper than the layer that everyone sees. But all are important, culminating in our collective ability to successfully bring new products to market.
Because product design is far bigger than pixels. It's about people, principles, culture and ways of working. That's why we’re proud to be product led, rather than design led.
If you’re excited by the idea of growing these kinds of skills or getting to work on this broad spectrum of design; we’re looking for a Senior Product Designer in London right now.
Defining Design Generalists
A brilliant article by Molly Nix, Design Lead at Airbnb that highlights the importance of many of the skills covered in this post.
What is design, anyway?
Isaac Pinnock, Founder at Made by Many unpacks how the design discipline has evolved at Made by Many.
What is a digital product, anyway?
William Owen, Founder at Made by Many provides a jargon-free guide to digital products, how they work, why they matter and what they do for customers and business.