Design Team Structure: Key Factors for Successful Product Design Collaboration
“Great design will not sell an inferior product, but it will enable a great product to achieve its maximum potential.” – Thomas Watson, former chairman and CEO of IBM
Coming up with a great business idea is only the beginning of the product development process. The real challenge starts with developing and executing that idea to meet the ever-evolving demands of the market. This is where effective product design plays a vital role.
Designers now perform a variety of functions. They not only create visually appealing products, but also contribute to the strategic planning process. By inspecting personas, analyzing user behaviors, and creating product vision and strategy, designers play a crucial role in ensuring a product's success.
However, successful product design is not a one-person show. It requires a team approach that brings together expertise in marketing, engineering, usability, and more.
In this article, we'll delve into why a team approach is crucial to successful product design, and how collaboration between diverse talents enables the execution of a successful product.
Why hire a product design team?
While a company may boast great technologies and lofty business goals, it's crucial to prioritize the user. With a team of skilled product designers who are adept at observing and listening to people, you can ensure that your product is a practical solution that truly resonates with your users rather than just a technical feat.
Designers bring a wealth of design thinking techniques and expertise to the table, enabling them to create products that are tailor-made for users' needs. Through empathizing with customers and actively seeking solutions to their problems, designers can develop products that align with users' preferences and thus reduce the likelihood of them seeking alternatives after a disappointing initial experience.
In fact, our observations have shown that users may not give a product another chance if it fails to impress them the first time around. Therefore, prioritizing product usability right from the outset is crucial to ensure a satisfactory user journey.
After acquiring customers, it is essential to focus on increasing their engagement and loyalty. This is because existing customers already have a relationship with your brand, and you do not need to invest in additional communication channels to reach them. Communicating with existing clients is also easier, as the cognitive load required to capture their attention is lower than that of new customers. Above all, returning users usually spend more time and money on your products.
It's important to remember that visual aesthetics are just one part of your product. While an attractive visual layer may capture attention, it alone won't foster user loyalty. Visuals may help attract new audiences, but true engagement is built on the overall product experience.
The product design team serves as a key driver in creating a positive and compelling product experience that keeps users coming back for more.
At the end of the day, product design is a complex and multifaceted process that requires a diverse skill set, technical knowledge, and expertise. Given the importance of getting product design right, it is essential to tackle the job with the right people on board.
In simple terms, the reasons to hire a product design team are as follows:
- Tailor-made product solutions that align with users' preferences
- Reduction of the likelihood of users seeking alternative products
- Increased user engagement and loyalty
- Improved overall product experience, leading to increased customer retention
- Multifaceted skill set and technical knowledge for a complex product design process.
A product design team takes care of the whole process
A cross-functional team provides a holistic and collaborative approach to product development. Each member can bring their unique strengths to the project, ensuring that every aspect of the user experience is considered.
It’s challenging and often impossible for a single member to cover all design roles equally well, but that’s exactly where a product design team can thrive. Having a product design team in place gives you better control over every step of product creation, resulting in a comprehensive and well-designed product.
Benefits of hiring a design team:
- Time optimization – With a dedicated team of designers, you can avoid the time-consuming process of hiring and training individual designers for different projects. On top of that, a design team working in a coordinated manner ensures the timely delivery of design assets. A team of experts can take care of more tasks at the same time, shortening your time to market.
- Cost optimization – Onboarding product teams can help you save time and money. A skilled design team will focus on creating the most useful and crucial features, and not develop excessive ones. By communicating in real-time, they can make more informed decisions together, avoiding unnecessary work.
- Improved market fit – Hiring a design team can help you better understand and cater to your target market. Different designers can conduct market research, carry out user testing, and gather feedback to inform the design process about what should resonate with your specific audience.
- Enhanced creativity and innovation – Hiring a design team brings together diverse talents, experiences, and perspectives, leading to a higher level of creativity and innovation in problem-solving, conceptualization, and visual aesthetics.
Putting this all together, a design team will make sure you are able to maximize your product user experience and sales.
Qualities and processes of successful product design teams
One of the most important aspects when hiring a product team is to understand the qualities of successful product design teams and have them set the right process for you. This way you can ensure each team member works effectively with others and your product will be well taken care of.
So, what defines a successful product design team?
Understanding mutual goals
When the whole team is up to date with product vision and business goals, it's much easier for them to go in the right direction, find proper solutions for different problems, and build a valuable product.
The process of forming good cooperation includes establishing a workflow and clarifying doubts regarding the product. This will help you reduce the risks of miscommunication and avoid unnecessary work.
A successful design team knows how to create a product to meet customer needs. This can be achieved by, for example:
- Using analytical tools which evaluate users’ goals and pain points
- Conducting user research
- Holding user interviews
- Performing usability testing
Other teams can also make their contributions by sharing insights from their experiences with customers. Don't hesitate to bring on board product marketing team, sales team, and customer support team members.
A cross-functional team works best when there's room for diversity. Different skill sets, backgrounds, or even cultural differences can prove to work to your advantage. A diverse team creates space for a brand-new range of perspectives and product ideas.
Communication and collaboration skill set
Another very important task is to ensure that your team members communicate effectively. Working groups need to have clear and open communication in order to avoid misalignment. Learning each other's work dynamics, roles, and expectations can help team members work productively and not waste time on misunderstandings.
Agility and flexibility
Introducing a new feature on the spot? We all know that sometimes working on a product means things can change fast. Product design team members need to stay flexible in order to adapt to shifting priorities, applying various requirements, or implementing new product features based on ongoing user feedback.
Passion and commitment
Several factors (such as working on the same design for countless sprints or introducing new features every week) mean working on a product design can be challenging at times, which is why passion for the work is crucial. In order for a product to be successful, designers need to stay focused and keep pushing toward the goal.
Successful product design team modus operandi
Process of providing design language tips, aka introducing a style guide and a design system
Setting the right tone and rules for your product design team is essential for achieving the desired outcome. Good practices, visual guidelines, and language tips are what make the final product consistent, unique, and attractive. Here, the two most common and useful documents are a style guide and a design system.
A style guide is a document consisting of all the elements of your product’s visual style. It contains essential information about various brand/project design elements such as typography, color palettes, iconography, and imagery. Style guides are beneficial for customers as well as UI/UX designers, product managers, product owners, and developers.
A style guide can help your company by providing you with:
- Consistency and cohesion – A unified visual style of brand elements ensures consistent communication with users across all touchpoints.
- Shared library – A document shared across multiple teams makes it easier to work on the product, as designers can reuse predefined elements of the design and, e.g., seamlessly hand over the project at any given time.
- Smooth onboarding – Thanks to a single document, there’s no need to guide new team members through every single visual aspect of the product because the doc will do it for you.
A design system, on the other hand, is a much broader concept. It’s a comprehensive document – a designer's go-to – with guidelines for visual design, interaction design, user experience (UX) design, and other design principles.
A design system speaks of the way elements function, interact with each other, and can be used in different contexts. In some cases, it may also contain information on code snippets, patterns, and ready-to-use components that can be adapted across different projects to guarantee efficiency and coherency.
In general, it's best to use a style guide when you need to define the visual elements and branding guidelines of a product, or a design system when you need to create a consistent and scalable user experience across multiple products and platforms. However, the two can also work together to create a more holistic approach to design and development.
Product design team roles and responsibilities
Digital product design is a very broad domain. It requires extensive knowledge of both UX and UI design, multidisciplinary skills, and a flexible approach. There are visual designers, designers devoted to business analysis, and designers whose specialty is designing motion and interactions.
To better understand the different roles of designers in the product team, let's start by discussing the three most essential design roles and learning what values they can bring to your company.
A UX designer is an expert who decides on the most crucial flows in the product; the professional who builds wireframes and prototypes. Upon necessity or demand, they are the ones who can also create user stories, run workshops, and host brainstorming sessions.
Responsible for creating a visually appealing interface, UI designers are the ones who are in charge of the visual side of the product. They choose the right typography, color palette, and layout. They're also the ones who establish the design system. Together with UX design experts, the UI design team ensures that designs are accessible, responsive, and consistent with the product.
UX research is part of the design process that involves studying the market. UX researchers conduct user interviews and build personas to better personify and represent the target audience.
After the designs are ready, the UX research team also tests the designs with real users. These experts evaluate user feedback and make sure that user needs and business goals are aligned properly.
Apart from the three key design roles, other team members, who can make valuable contributions to shaping the product include, for instance:
A UX writer is a member of the product team who decides on the language and the tone of voice of the product. A UX writer is primarily focused on creating written content that enhances the user experience of a digital product or service, such as websites, mobile apps, or software interfaces.
This includes crafting clear and concise text for buttons, labels, error messages, onboarding instructions, and other user-facing copy that guides customers through the interface.
Another common role in the product team is the brand designer. They are the ones who craft the visual identity of the brand by designing a logo, choosing typography, selecting colors, and using photography.
Together with UI designers, they are responsible for the most important design elements of the product.
Illustrators help the product team create unique illustrations or icons to translate messages and ideas in order to make the interface more appealing to the user.
Product design team structure
Depending on the project, the design team structure can differ. Below you'll find some of the most common design development team arrangements.
In this case, both the UX and UI roles are given to one person – the product designer. If the designer is keen on both, then this can be an optimal scenario for small and short-term projects.
One professional per stage
Here, all the design roles can be involved in the project simultaneously or at different time frames. Each one of the team members is responsible only for their own tasks. This kind of structure can be applied to all kinds of projects.
Multiple professionals per stage
This approach is similar to the previous one, except several professionals of the same or different roles can work on the same stage. This happens if the amount of work on the project is rather large and there's a need for teams to work simultaneously.
Custom design team
As we all know, every project/product is different. That's why there's also another option – a customized team. Depending on the given project and its needs, other designers can be involved at different stages or all at once. For example, your company could hire only UX and UI designers, or a UX researcher and product designer.
Product design team as the key to successful product
A product design team led by a knowledgeable product manager is crucial to successful product development. It ensures that the product's design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also meets customer expectations, is technically sound, and can be commercially successful.
To make the work effective, make sure that all product design team members have the right understanding of the product and the design process itself. To achieve your goals more efficiently, consider knowing your customer, working collaboratively in a product team, and making sure your team stays up-to-date with documentation and other resources.