Years ago, I worked in television news. And now that I've been working at ZURB, I'm beginning to see that product design and news production aren't all that different from one another. After all, a news producer is sorta the designer of a newscast. And like a designer, a news producer has to rely on others to help create a viable product.
Consider this ' a news producer sketches out the workflow of a newscast, timeboxes the entire production, and has to work with a support team to ensure the product makes it to its audience. During my time in news, I noticed that some producers, however, weren't willing to talk to directors or camera operators to see what could and couldn't work, dictating rather than communication. This caused confusion and chaos, nearly bringing an entire newscast to a grinding halt. Problems wouldn't get solved, pieces of the newscast would fall apart.
Like television news, product design is a collaborative medium. Different people need to talk to one another to solve problems and achieve a goal. However, it's easy for designers to get so caught up in their work that they forget to communicate with the rest of the team, especially those folks who aren't fellow designers. But that can't be, says David Kelley, IDEO founder and chairman.
Open The Lines of Communication
Designers can't work only with other designers, says Kelley. The problem, he says, is that design students are often isolated and aren't trained to work with other aspects of a business, such as the Head of R&D, Head of Marketing, or Head of Business Development. He says, however, that designers need to pay close attention to those roles and can't view them as the enemy who will hinder their creative juices.
More than that, as pointed out in this recent video from the folks at Extra Credits (as seen on Penny Arcade TV), designers have to be able to communicate well with the marketing guys, the R&D guys, and the business development guys. Check out the video below, noticing how a designer who can't communicate well can undermine a team's effort.
So the question becomes, how do designers work with and communicate with these other aspects of the business? To answer that, let's take a closer look at a couple of points in the video:
- Don't assume you have the right answers. As the video points out, you have to be willing to listen to other people's ideas. Admitting that you don't know all the answers quickly opens up the lines of communication. By doing so, you also open up the team's ability to delve deeper into a problem, ask a lot of questions, and look for innovative solutions.
- Learn the money side. One way to learn how to talk with those folks who aren't designers is to invest yourself in the money side of the business. As the video points out, designers can quickly make themselves irrelevant by focusing solely on the product instead of what's best for the business. Is your product aligned with the company's mission? Does it create value? If designers aren't willing to contribute to the business decision-making process, they risk being left out of it completely.
Communicating with everyone on the team, especially those who aren't designers, is just as important as communicating with customers. By not talking with those marketers and business development guys, you risk your product becoming a flop because they couldn't properly do their jobs in getting the word out.