Product management: a cold shower for too much design dreaming

I’m both a designer and a dreamer, so I feel that I’m entitled to say this: designing is dreaming. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s also guessing. And both dreaming and guessing are really great and very important. But in the end, our dreams and guesses (i.e. our designs) have to be vetted and validated, otherwise at best they might just remain as dreams. Or at worst, they could become solutions to problems that aren’t even there.

I thought about all of that after reading this vintage Scott Berkun post about the myth of optimal design. When I first got into design, I thought it was all about learning how to be the most creative, intuitive designer possible. Because I mistakenly assumed that designers put on their bow ties in the morning, went to their studios, and cranked out incredible designs by sheer discipline and astounding insight. Great design was perfect design, and it was brilliantly conceived.

That’s what makes Scott’s article such a great product management article. Because now that I’m a designer in a product manager role, I accept his argument wholeheartedly. Design is rarely if ever perfect. And when it is getting close, it’s rarely due to flashes of brilliance from designers. Great design is useful design. And you only know if you have a useful design after you engage users of all kinds: users inside your business (owners and stakeholders) as well as outside your business (customers and collaborators) to help confirm that you’re on the right track with your product’s features, priorities, and design solutions.

This is the work of product management: the cold shower that is often needed to wake up from a design fantasy, and focus instead on real data and anecdotal feedback. Data and feedback that can be used to hone and shape design solutions that will solve real user needs and desires.

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