fmr VP on Product Design (Part 3)

While it’s important to understand what not to do with designers, there are also plenty of best practices will make your team more productive. Through the years, I have come up with five principles for product design that engage designers most effectively and accomplish your business goals.


As product managers, we need to realize that we’re not designers and empower designers to do their jobs. Ultimately, everyone on the team needs to leverage their strengths and understand how they play off of one another. This also applies when conducting user research. Instead of showing customers how to solve a problem, you should observe them struggling to understand how your product can be improved. In the end, it’s better to lean in than to just provide a solution.


With a new team, I like to use empathy as a bridge builder across the product team. Usually, we start by spending a day observing our customers to understand the product experience fully. Furthermore, it’s critical to share solutions with customers before you go to market. If you don’t, business results can suffer as a result. At Hotwire, one of our teams did customer research right before a major release. The new design was not well-received – and as you might expect, the conversion rate dropped dramatically.


You don’t want to overburden your designers with business goals that you own as a product leader. In other words, keep your P&L management separate from the direction that you provide to designers. For example, we introduced a streamlined three-step checkout at Hotwire that was designed to drive higher adoption. However, this process decreased the likelihood of users getting add-on features like insurance and other benefits that drove additional revenue. That said, I made sure that we stuck to driving adoption and improving the overall user experience rather than settling on our previous workflow. Ultimately, we drove higher adoption and our booking rate went up in the process.


As a product leader, it can be very scary to manage designers. Specifically, you may not understand product design language or know what truly inspires them. With this, you need to let designers inspire themselves. For example, I worked at a company where the designers got together every Tuesday for tea and shared their work with each other. In addition, they would head out to a local museum to catch new exhibits. These experiences enable designers to collaborate with one another and apply these learnings to their work in a way that boosts their overall productivity.

Design Leadership

More so than any other function, product design is the most competitive field within the tech world. With this, it’s critical to retain your designers and provide them a path to grow within their roles. As product leaders, one way to enable greater retention is to put designers at the forefront of the design review process. Most companies have a product leader or brand leader drive this function. However, when designers own it from start to finish, they feel much more connected to the process. Rather than solving problems for them, it’s best to let them take control and come up with the solution.

In summary, product design at its best is a collaborative effort that is equal parts patience and persistence. Ultimately, you need to manage up to designers’ capabilities and engage them to make a difference.


Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

About the speaker
Sarah Bernard Crisis Text Line, COO Member
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