Guide #001: How to become a better team player as a product designer

Design is a collaborative sport. Ultimately, communication is the skill that will enable your team to win.

Communication skills will eventually outweigh design skills

Beyond a certain point, the most important part of your role will shift from designing (i.e., making things) to communicating. This is especially true on product teams where collaboration with other roles, product teams, departments, etc., is essential to delivering features and products that work. Be proactive around organizing conversations that address issues and concerns. When in doubt, it’s much better to overcommunicate than to under communicate. At times you will be more of a facilitator than a designer.

Work within constraints but also show a vision for the ideal

Recognize that the best solution may not always be feasible within current constraints. When presenting solutions, show a phased approach that segments what is possible today and what is ideal. Even when your vision goes beyond the scope of the current project, showing a potential roadmap will give leaders within your organization tangible tools for future planning/goal-setting conversations.

Build strong relationships so that you can communicate more openly

Build comradery and personal bonds with your team to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable communicating openly with each other. Use criticism to gauge how well your team communicates. Pay attention to who gives it, how often, and how well it’s received. Spend time building relationships and a communications style where you can express and receive criticism without offending the other person.

Get input early and often

Don’t be afraid to share your work. Adopt a mindset that prioritizes continuous feedback over showing work in a “ready” state. Take the long view — today, you might not be presenting the most amazing experience, but it will be in a state you can be proud of two months from now. Create low fidelity or even “rough designs” with the goal of getting feedback.

Become comfortable with inviting others into your working files

With the rise of Figma and other design/prototyping tools, the design file has become a space for collaboration, communication, and presentation. Become comfortable with granting access to the innards of your working files and working synchronously with others on the same file. Invite engineers and product managers to work more collaboratively with you by using Commenting and other features.

Create your own resources and project management tools

Create your own repository of key documents, research, presentations, schedule templates, etc., that you can reference when starting a new project. Share these resources openly with anyone that might be interested. Doing this will allot some of your time to project management, but it will significantly increase your value as a team player.

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