A product manager is responsible for maintaining the product’s vision. As a product manager, your role involves guiding your team – engineers, and designers together – towards a common goal which is to make sure your product solves the problem it set out to solve. In this effort, design can be your secret weapon. Design consists of UI, UX, and user research and the program manager has to be able to communicate with the design team effectively in order to drive the design in the right direction. Here we lay out the basic design principles that a product manager should know in order to achieve these goals – whether you have prior training in design or not. So let’s get started.
Why does a product manager need to know about design?
The designers on your team are the ones directing how the interface will work in a user’s hands. Design is crucial to the product development process. A product manager has to know how to communicate with designers in order to explain what he or she is looking for. They also need to be able to differentiate between good and bad design in order to give the designers feedback.
Basic Design Principles
Predict and direct user experience
A good designer should put himself or herself in the place of the end-user and think about what kind of experience they want to have with the application. Then the design should be done to give users an optimal user experience that fulfils their needs. In fact, good design should go a step beyond predicting what the users will think and tell them what to think. The most successful apps and websites are designed thoughtfully to prioritize information and make the user experience easier in a way they might not have thought of at all. They use machine learning to give the users more than what they thought they wanted.
Most people who try a new product don’t subscribe to it if they can’t understand how it will add value to their lives within the first 5-10 minutes. Good design makes users engage with a product and invest time in learning it. The design should also be self-explanatory enough that users can learn how to do basic navigation on their own without needing to watch a long introductory tutorial video. As a product manager, it is important to incorporate ease of use and understanding from the beginning in the process of design.
Minimize cognitive load
The user experience should be simple and your design should make the user think as little as possible. Too much clutter in the design will confuse the users and they might quit the application before taking the next action. The design should be centered around the user’s core action and get rid of all the clutter. This will provide the users with a cleaner emotional experience when interacting with the product. Product managers have to make sure that the designers don’t have too much of a free reign over the product design and don’t end up overdesigning the user interface. Designers are creative and ambitious, which are great qualities to have, but they might overcomplicate the design to an extent where the function may suffer. A fine balance has to be maintained between design and usability such that the product is not underwhelming and neither is it over the top.
Number of clicks
This refers to how many times a user has to click before they get to the core function of the product. Some tools allow you to immediately start using them while others may require a sign-in. All of this affects the effectiveness of the user experience. Product managers should make sure that every core action should take no more than three clicks to complete.
Options that are generally present on apps and websites often use vague terminology without any context that makes a user spend more time than is necessary before making a choice. Error messages or dialogue boxes generally expect you to read a message first and only offer options like ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Cancel’, ‘Save’ or ‘Exit’. We have all had the experience where we have accidentally clicked on the wrong option. Good design incorporates context in the form of verbs and phrases instead of vague terms in the option itself. This reduces ambiguity and choice overload and helps users make decisions faster. For example, instead of “Do you want to save changes before exiting – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”, a simple, “Save changes? ‘Yes, save changes’ or ‘No, delete and exit’” adds context and makes navigation much easier.
Minimalism and white space
One of the most basic design principles is the addition of white space in a product that makes it go from looking clunky to looking polished. White space has been shown to ease the emotional experience for users. It helps to focus the brain on only what you want the users to see and leaves enough room to breathe.
Taste is subjective and different people might experience the same product differently. But there are a few core ways in which design evokes an emotional response that will more or less be the same across the spectrum. A product manager should develop good taste and develop a good design vocabulary so as to provide adequate feedback about the product design. For example, a banking app should evoke security among the users while a social media app should be instantly eye-catching. In order to develop this taste, a product manager should expose himself or herself to as many applications as they can and save the ones they think have good design. They should also look at apps that are loved by users or have won awards, what is being published on design platforms, and read design blogs.
Design is about experimentation
As frustrating as it is, product managers have to remember that design is an iterative process. A well-designed product is usually the result of multiple versions and a lot of testing. The product design team has to keep collecting feedback and improving the product before it is ready for release. But product managers also have to make sure that the team does not get caught up in improvements and overshoot the timelines or budgets. As long as the product incorporates all the aspects of good product design – functionality, reliability, usability, and emotional design, it should be ready to launch.
What is important to remember as a product manager is that design is an ongoing process. There will be a lot of back and forth between the teams before the final product will be ready. The product manager’s job is to carefully navigate the ship through these choppy waters and make sure the team reaches its final destination. The most important design advice a product manager can take to heart is to let designers design. Respect their vision and give them the freedom to use their creativity. Product management is a subtle art where you will drive the team to success from behind the scenes.