Originally published on my Medium. Before getting into Product Marketing, I ran a Product Design and Strategy Consulting firm called doer.studio with Shyam Kumar. This post is from then.
I have been working with small teams and startups to help design digital products, for a couple of years now, and some of the products have done seemingly well in their target markets.
However, over time, the exact nature of my work has gotten both increasingly specific as well as fuzzy, and this has led to, what seems like, a complex offering from my end. What does a Product Design Consultant do? Where does Product Strategy fit in? While the title might not mean the same deal to everyone, I’ll try to explain what my work entails, and why that is.
Basically, here's what I do for a living.
There are many definitions out there for Product Designer and that’s just fine. I’ll try to expound on what I do under that label.
Classically speaking, Product Design caters to one overarching mission — ensuring the product looks, feels, behaves, and is structured in a way, that would encourage users to keep using the product thereby ensuring higher profits for the company. The Product Designer’s primary responsibility is to help translate the objectives of the company into usable, data and heuristic supported, design. This often means finding the perfect balance between the KPIs of the Product Manager and the creative abilities and aspirations of the designers. Depending on the requirement, a product designer’s work could various one or more of the following design forms.
What Startups Need
Most of my clients are startups with reasonably good engineering capabilities but very low investments in design. The reason for that is the abundance of easy-to-use and time-saving design resources and frameworks that allow developers to come up with decent looking interfaces as long as they write proper code.
Templates, Libraries, UI Kits etc. are everywhere and they make the process easier for small development teams, and a lot of product owners or entrepreneurs will not flinch before investing in them, so long as the MVP is good enough to raise funding, or the Alpha version can start reeling in prospective users.
Here’s a curated list of design resources for startups —
Design for startup
Curated list of useful articles, tools and resources about startup design for designers, developers and non-designer startup founders.
But here comes the challenge — if the developers use popular design languages like Material Design or Polaris, they run the risk of looking like every other product created using the same design language, and if they use smaller design kits, they could end up not having a scalable design structure for themselves going forward.
Additionally, mindless design could result in design work being reduced to nothing more than a few Dribbble posts. Product Differentiation has started to become a function of Product and Growth strategies, as opposed to simple aesthetic visual design.
Read this fantastic article on the topic —
The Golden Age of UX is Over
During the Golden Age of UX, designers were given a free pass on understanding the intricacies of the business behind the product they were working on. In the Golden Age it was enough just to deeply understand the needs of the "user".
So what are cost-conscious startups to do? Design is important but good designers are expensive, developers are choosing frameworks that are far too common, and who knows if our design will even scale serve us well in the long run?
Enter the consultant
I work with product managers and engineering teams to create unique design systems, with available or chosen resources, taking into consideration business objectives and product strategies. This gives companies a unique scalable aesthetic while allowing them to build, test and deploy quickly.
Over the years, I’ve created my own process and my approach to each project ends up being a subtle variation of the same. I discuss business objectives and product strategies with the product owners or entrepreneurs, understand resource skills and limitations, and conduct extensive sprints and workshops.
Through these workshops, I enable engineering teams to solve customer problems by thinking like designers, and come up with design systems that fit their requirements. Often times, I’ll hear about challenges and issues that I might not have considered and coming up with solutions together only fuels the process further in the right direction. Of course, considering the requirements, I could potentially be involved in anything ranging from creating rudimentary wireframes to creating JS components and putting them up on Storybook.
Simply put, Product Strategy usually includes coming up with Product Roadmaps and Lifecycle management considering Customer Requirements, Competitor Analysis and Market Conditions. However, given that I mostly work with startups, Service Design, Pricing, Resource Management and Operations also into the picture, albeit to limited extents.
I’ve been using Roman Pichler’s wonderful Product Canvas and Product Roadmaps to aid my efforts. Plotting points on these also helps in putting things in perspective for the entrepreneurs and product owners.
The Product Canvas | Roman Pichler
Roman's Product Canvas helps you create a product with a great user experience and the right features. It combines Agile and UX by complementing user stories with personas, storyboards, scenarios, design sketches and other UX artefacts. The canvas replaces a traditional product backlog. It's designed for Lean Startup, Lean UX, Business Model Generation, and Scrum.
GO Portfolio Roadmap | Roman Pichler
You can learn more about using the GO Portfolio Roadmap by attending Roman's Product Planning Strategy and Roadmap course. The course teaches you how to effectively apply the tool and how it relates to other product portfolio management techniques. Book the Course
A lot of my work involves interacting with current and prospective users, looking into analytics and usage data, and making short and long-term projections. This allows me to take a closer look at how the users are interacting with the products and come up with creative ways to enhance usage. This, coupled with everything I’ve learned working with startups across industries, and prior experience in Business Development, have given me some level of ability in assisting entrepreneurs and product owners come up with better Product Strategies.
I’ve also spent the last year pursuing an Executive MBA at the Indian School of Business and a lot of what I’ve learned helps me understand, analyse and deliver better on some of these aspects. However, admittedly, given the scale at which I operate, my strategy consulting work is considerably more informal that my design consulting work, and I’m looking forward to changing that in the future.