10 qualities of a great product designer

10 qualities of a great product designer

At Productboard, we’re on the lookout for talented designers to join our fast-growing team. But in addition to the prerequisite ‘hard’ skills and technical ability, what are the key qualities we’re looking for? 

No 10. A yogi’s comfort zone 

We look for people who have spent time outside their comfort zones and who enjoy stretching themselves to learn new things. 

What does stepping outside your comfort look like? Well, it can mean different things for different people. But two examples that spring to mind are experience in startups and different cultures. In both these cases, you are forced to think differently, adapt quickly, and challenge existing ideas and processes – all of which make you a better designer. 

In general, designers shouldn’t be afraid of being challenged. Our team purposefully share their ideas and processes with our Design Advisor and Interim Head of Design, because they welcome constructive criticism and new perspectives. 

We’re also looking for people who have several outside interests and are curious about the world, borrowing from other disciplines for inspiration in the field. For example, as we have a few avid gamers on the design team, they got together to discuss some of the concepts that are used in successful games and how similar ideas could be leveraged in Productboard.

No 9. The ability to fail 

You don’t need to come from a successful startup; it’s what you learn along the way that counts. Building a feature or product in which there was no business viability is an incredibly useful experience that teaches mental resilience and allows you to bring more to the business. 

Why? Because we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. The process of trying and failing – and then trying again – teaches mental resilience and perseverance, allowing you to bring more to the business. 

In the design process, failure is very often a necessary step on the way to success. Each iteration gets us closer to the best solution. Take our timeline roadmap, for example. Our design team has redesigned it three times to improve legibility, elegance, and clarity. Only through a process of trial and error have they managed to arrive at something that delights our customers.

No 8. Love for context 

A great designer is able to interrogate the brief and look beyond the obvious. Each task is a puzzle that you can only solve if you are willing to understand the entire customer journey and consider how each design decision impacts the rest of the product and beyond. 

This is why we spend a lot of time with customers, learning about the problems they are having on a deep level. In addition to designing user interfaces, we need to understand at what point our customers use a particular solution, what drives them to it, and what value they get out of it. 

No 7. Shh… strong listening skills

Most people listen to reply, not to understand. They offer a solution before they’ve fully listened to and understood the problem. We look for the ability to gather all the information first; to really understand what our customers are saying. 

This helps us design features that people really need, not just what we (inside our product or design bubbles) believe they want. In fact, I’d say this reflects a wider quality that we look for: a truly customer-focused approach to design. 

For this approach to be successful, we need to ask the right questions. We need to go beyond what users say they want and interpret what they actually need. This sometimes means we have to be nimble in how we communicate with users – the goal is to coax out the true need behind what they are saying, without challenging them too directly.

No 6. The desire to improve…

We look for designers who are driven to improve the product, themselves, the world, everything! Paying attention to the details, noticing and making an iteration just because – it all counts. 

Soft skills are a large part of the job, and we look for those aligned with our company vision of making products that truly matter, and our core values of relentless improvement and curiosity.

How do we put these values into action? We have design critiques twice a week, which are invaluable in aligning our thinking, sharing perspectives, and uncovering blindspots, ultimately leading to better design outcomes. We also hold occasional ‘design mornings,’ where we discuss anything design-related, from product interfaces to games or architecture. 

No 5. Entrepreneurial thinking 

Are you able to consider business needs and think outside of your area of expertise? Have you looked objectively at the insights, sales, and data? How do you work with others? 

In the age of digital transformation, the product is so much more than…the product. Being curious about how your work aligns with business strategies, objectives, and other teams is invaluable for a company – especially one that is scaling fast like Productboard.

No 4. A creative yet systematic brain 

Are you able to think abstractly? A great designer has that rare combination of lateral and systematic thinking that allows for creativity and analysis at the same time, so they can identify edge cases and imagine possible alternate states.

For example, when designing our roadmap swimlanes and cards, our team elected to design and prototype multiple solutions before demoing them to various audiences, including our Design Advisor, VP of Design, and customers. They then took all that varied feedback, collated it, made sense of it, and acted on it. This combination of creative and systematic thinking allowed them to deliver a working design.

No 3. You can simplify complexity

We need designers that can handle complexity at the enterprise level. Not just because that’s where we’re heading, but because the ability to simplify is the hallmark of every good product designer. 

The aim of our work is to simplify the lives of our customers – it shouldn’t take the user 50 clicks to achieve something that could be done in five. But the process of arriving at that point is often complex. 

An example of this is our work on user permissions, where one of our designers, along with a product manager and lead engineer, broke down every possible functionality on the Productboard Insights board, split them by roles, and indicated what each role is or isn’t able to do. 

Then, they went through any feedback that pointed towards some friction and figured out what needs to be changed, what needs to be adjustable, and so on. This was a very complex process where we were designing the experience without actually designing any UI. 

No 2. The ability to empathize 

As product-focused teams, we represent those whose voices are not in the room. That’s why near the top of our must-have qualities is the ability to put yourself in another person (or culture’s) shoes. 

We look for this in small ways; for example, has the candidate traveled? Are they open-minded? Are they willing to see problems from more than one angle? Basically, we’re looking for designers who are able to think beyond themselves.

Why? Because the role of a designer is essentially to solve customers’ problems. To do this effectively, you have to understand those problems on a deep, emotional level, and this requires empathy. 

No 1. Self-drive and initiative 

Drumroll for our no. 1 quality… In some industries, it’s OK to sit in your design haven, awaiting the brief. In our product-led world, things move so fast that a designer needs to take ownership of a task and drive towards the solution, whether that’s to set up a workshop or build a new process.

Here’s an example. As our design team grew, they realized that they didn’t have any best practices around processing feedback – who should do it, how often, and how much time to dedicate to it. 

One of our designers, Zdenek, took the initiative and mapped out how different people in the company were doing it. He then defined some best practices and rolled them out to the product team. Once they saw positive results, they started communicating these best practices externally to our customers. 

Zdenek drove this task himself and did 90% of the activities related to it. He saw the need for a better process and went about finding it, because that’s what needed to be done. This is what I mean by self-drive and initiative. 

If you can tick off most of these qualities (or you’d like to develop them further) check out our openings. We’d love to hear from you!  


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