A designer that became a Product Manager?
Our two hemispheres
I have often been told that we have two hemispheres : one that is more analytical and the other which is more creative. I was capable of doing everything (or almost everything) and anything, but I would rather be creative. So I went into graphic design. The only thing I wasn’t told was that I was going to be stuck in front of my screen « working my eyes out ». But the more I worked, the more I felt like I was losing some of my thinking. « Yes, but I don’t like it so much » was the only argument for a graphic choice. I needed more. I needed to combine my two hemispheres so I wouldn’t feel I was becoming stupid. That’s where I met product management. I might as well tell you straight away it’s the Holy Grail of all brains’ thinking.
No more subjectivity please
When I started to work, I was a graphic design intern. Well yes, you have to start somewhere. This job requires empathy in order to understand what the clients really want, because they usually don’t know. They come with a desire and elements, that’s all. It’s up to you to know what they have imagined. And then when the presentation comes, you get very subjective feedback. You are told to do this « but not like that ». In the end, it’s all a matter of taste. For instance, I don’t like Coke, but maybe you do? This does not mean that Coke is good or bad. It only means that : « There is no absolute reality, but only relative realities, which vary according to perspectives and points of view » from Jean-Paul Sartre L’Être et le Néant. I ended up thinking that I needed to talk to end-users to get more constructive feedback on whether the text was readable, understandable and accessible. And no longer get feedback on personal preferences. In UX design, the choices are standardized and there are guidelines to follow, which focus on accessibility and other factors related to understanding the product. It is through such feedback that we are able to build a product that is designed for the users, not for the customer.
Without design, the user has no place
And then chance stepped in and led me to product management. As a Product Manager with a design background, I gained a deep understanding of the issues designers face and their key role in any project. I learned to pay attention to the smallest details and the importance of design in creating user-centered products. Without design, the user has no place. He cannot exist, because he wasn’t thought of when the product was built. « Design is a key element of the user experience, it’s not just how things look, but how they work. » Steve Jobs once wrote to us in Insanely Great : The Life and Times of Macintosh, the COmputer that Changed Everything. Every single one of your household objects has been designed, take your radiator for example. So why shouldn’t we think about the user when designing digital products?
Empathy is the key
I have been told there are weaknesses coming from design, especially because we lack so much expertise in business or marketing. « Think like a designer can transform the way you develop the products, the services or processes or even strategies. » Tim Brown, in a extract of his book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. Having empathy as a designer allows to understand the users and clients needs and their preference. Whereas as PM, empathy allows to understand the problems and the challenges that users are confronted to and finding the solutions. So, is it really a weakness? When from the beginning, the main quality was already empathy?
What I mostly learned, is daring to ask, to ask questions. Well, yes, I don’t know everything. And that is beautiful. I learned from others, with others. I learned in a team, and that’s how I evolved and grew. « I don’t have any particular gift. I am simply passionately curious. » Albert Einstein, Albert Einstein: The Human Side. It would be such a waste to stay aside being afraid to say « I don’t know ». Also because helping someone who really wants to understand is very rewarding for the person who answers.
Down with the prejudices
No matter what the job is, as long as you don’t follow the usual path, you see puzzled faces. But questioning the way you work, trying to find other solutions and embracing diversity is the secret to creating an exceptional product. « The stone has no hope of being anything but a stone. But, from collaborating, it assembles and becomes a temple. » from Citadelle, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is together that we find solutions. What if we broke down prejudices by valuing more the diversity of skills and experiences in the professional world, recognizing that everyone can bring a unique and valuable perspective to a project or a team?