Fuse disciplines in the team

Agile practices emerged in the 1990s, and the Agile Manifesto was drafted in February of 2001. It took some time, however, for design and product management to evolve and become the integrated disciplines that they are today. For example, Henry Dreyfuss wrote one of the first industrial design books that focused on the experience of an individual with a product (Designing for People, 1955). The 1970s brought us graphic user interfaces for personal computers, and Don Norman wrote The Design of Everyday Things in 1995, which promoted designing for function and usability over pure aesthetics. It was with the release of the iPhone in 2007 that Apple shifted the software landscape by demonstrating that powerful, complex applications could have elegant, simple, and usable experiences—thus charming millions of people into adopting the product. This marked the beginning of the customer-centric era for software.

The majority of literature about software product management, Agile delivery, and Lean methodologies to date has focused on building technical teams, yet the practice of design often sits outside of software organizations—and therein lies the problem. Designing the experience is the responsibility of the whole team—not just the design team. Teams that blend the practices of design, engineering, and product management lead to better experiences for the customer, sooner. In 2015 we started to see a major swing in the nomenclature and thought leadership around what product teams should look like, especially around how design fit within the context of a product org. The product designer was an individual who could combine research, design systems, and data-driven decisions to inform and shape the outcomes. Instead of getting stuck on labels we decided that a product designer should be aware of and practice some or all of the below:

  • Visual design
  • Interface design
  • Experience design
  • Service design
  • User research
  • Usability testing
  • Accessibility
  • Prototyping

Integrating product management, design, and engineering leads to several key benefits. Design research informs the team of what the product should be before and during the delivery process. It may include user research, service mapping, user testing and other exercises that bring the product closer to desired outcomes. Engineering should be vetting interface design decisions to weigh technical feasibility, impact to delivery goals, and benefits to the user. Features that have already been developed can be visually QA’d by the design team to deliver higher aesthetic quality. Finally, team members who work closely together and have shared understanding of multiple disciplines create better outcomes. For example, designers who have a fundamental knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript make better design decisions, produce higher quality products, and reduce the amount of churn inside the team.

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The Secret Source by Aurimas Adomavicius

About the author

Aurimas Adomavicius is the president and co-founder of Devbridge. When not in the trenches working with clients, Aurimas is an active speaker and writer on product design and engineering best practices.

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