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How to Build a Digital Product Design Team

How to Build a Digital Product Design Team

  • Product Design /
  • Product Management /
  • Product Team Culture /

Jonathon Hensley

When it comes to creating and maintaining your digital products, it’s essential to have the right team in place with the right level of experience.

There are many genres of digital designers in the world today: web designers, interaction designers, UX/UI designers, digital brand designers — just to name a few. Specific functions and tasks on a design team may vary between the specialties, but there is one universal hallmark among digital designers. That is the ability to creatively address and resolve problems through the design process.

This article will unpack the varying features of specific teams to help you identify which type of team is needed, as well as why the different roles are vital to your success.

You need to know what your digital product problem is before you can effectively solve it

Time is the most common challenge that the majority of businesses face when solving digital product problems. When time is not allocated appropriately to identify a problem, larger problems evolve. There is not a magic formula or silver bullet when it comes to problem identification. However, when you have people that understand the common types of digital product problems that occur, the time required to solve those problems is drastically reduced. 

We’ll cover the roles that will help your organization shorten the time necessary to resolve your most pressing digital product design challenges, starting with the Digital Design Director.

Three design roles your organization needs to employ to effectively tackle today’s digital product design challenges

The Digital Design Director

The digital design director role is arguably the most important. But to fulfill this post successfully, both user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designer roles are also a must-have. Smaller organizations may get away with having a Digital Design Director as a singular point of contact to both manage and execute on design challenges. However, as teams and organizations grow, having one person to negotiate everything may not be a reasonable expectation.

Depending on the size and nature of your business, the Digital Design Director may interface with a variety of team members. Within organizations that have digital products at scale, they will most likely be working directly with a product owner and/or product manager. Respectively, product owners and product managers are tasked with overseeing and maintaining digital products. They will have the closest alliance with design-related roles.

This role is notably significant because you need someone who not only understands the nature of design, but who also has the authority to negotiate design decisions that are made in your organization. They must become digital stewards for your brand and business, ensuring that design decisions are not made arbitrarily.

Before we move on, it’s important to note and understand that the nature of design is also an inclusive process when it comes to creating and maintaining digital products. Development, engineering, and coding roles will often be part of the design process to ensure the feasibility of solutions proposed. Therefore, it is prudent that a Digital Design Director has the expertise and professional maturity to lead not only the design process. They must be able to effectively translate solutions and challenges to other audiences that will be implementing solutions to work down the line.

The UX Designer

Successfully designing the user experience behind any particular digital product requires a specific personality trait — empathy. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, the world leaders in research-based UX, “Empathy in UX is essential. It is a bridge into our user’s minds and our greatest asset as UX professionals. Empathy allows us to design with intent, introduce focus and clarity, advocate on behalf of our users, and challenge our assumptions.”

The reason for this is simple. All digital products utilize an interaction layer intended for a human audience. Humans are not infallible and often make mistakes. They may be distracted or be dealing with a heightened level of emotions while navigating digital environments. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand that many modern digital product design challenges and problems stem from the very fact that we are human.

A UX Designer works best when in a team with a Digital Design Director because getting into the mindset of the user is a time-consuming process. The UX Designer may be working on any number of things such as performing a UX audit, empathy mapping, service blueprinting, journey mapping, moderated or unmoderated user testing, and more. The UX Designer, by nature, is involved in the discovery process on a more tactical basis and therefore can compile the data needed to more accurately and accountably solve for a given digital product challenge or problem. Larger organizations may split the UX Designer role into both UX Researcher and UX Designer to alleviate the burden of one role taking on so many responsibilities concurrently. But, because supporting a larger team requires more time and more resources, this is not always the case.

The UI Designer

For many people, when they think of what a designer is and what a designer does by nature,  they often think of the visual side of design. It’s not wrong to think this way. Many of us learn things rapidly through visualization. According to Rasmussen University, “Visual learners absorb information best when they can visualize relationships and ideas. Maps, charts, diagrams and even essays work well for visual learners. When instructors illustrate or diagram their lectures on a whiteboard, visual learners may find they remember the information much better.”

While it is true that oftentimes visualization starts with the UX process with prototyping and wireframing, it’s important to note that such visualization is intended for communicating a basic idea or raw concept. When it comes to the actual branded environment that your users and customers will be interacting with on a daily basis, the UI is what they will be engaging with and judging critically.

As such, it’s important for UI Designers to understand not only the visual aspects of any given digital brand guidelines they are establishing or working from, but they must be able to employ color and shape in a way that provides a more universally accessible experience. For example, ensuring that there is enough contrast for visual interaction points to be seen by the vast majority of digital product audiences.

Secondarily, it is becoming increasingly imperative for these roles to be able to create or work from an existing atomic design system. As companies scale and grow, these systems help support other initiatives and projects by amassing reusable components that can be assembled quickly to reduce product time to development, and chiefly, time to market.

Do I need other roles?

Let’s say you have some mixture of the above in your organization. What other roles might you need for effective problem solving through design? 

The answer depends on the size, scale, and nature of your business, and how often those aspects coincide with the digital product or products you may be creating or maintaining. For instance, if your company is focused on providing services that are not contingent upon the use of a digital platform, it is simply a vehicle for allowing your customers to access your services.

If however, the digital product is innately part of the service provided, such as a SaaS product, then you may need to staff more roles beyond what is listed above.

Such roles may include but are not limited to:

  • UX Researcher: A researcher understands consumer motivation and behavior, and works with cross-functional teams such as product design, product management, and product development. They are responsible for providing answers to challenging, and often unexplored questions about a product’s design.

  • UX Engineer: A front-end engineer facilitates effective design collaboration between the design and engineering teams. Much like a UX designer, their job is to turn a complex problem into a more intuitive solution.

  • Visual Designer: They focus on the conceptual and holistic aesthetics of a website, web app, or other digital design. Some UI Designers also perform Visual Design, but not all Visual Designers perform UI Design, so it’s best to ask.

  • Interaction Designer: These designers focus on the way users interact with products and they use principles of good communication to create desired user experiences.

  • Content Strategist: While not technically a design role, content plays a critical part in the design process. Think of UX as the ‘bones’ of a house, with UI as the appearance of the house. The content is everything that goes inside the house to make it unique to the owner. The strategist works with the design team to identify the types of content that will exist in a digital product and will help them understand what to build for and account for.

What if I don’t have a team yet or need time to build the right team, but I have a pressing design problem or challenge right now?

This is not an uncommon problem to have. Hiring the right people takes a lot of time, investment, and commitment. Some organizations have the financial resources and latitude to be able to staff these individuals year round so that as problems arise they can be appropriately managed and addressed. But not all companies and organizations have this ability and are limited by quarterly budgets that require precise planning and resourcing.

This is where Emerge can help. We have a robust team of design experts that specialize in managing all modern and common varieties of digital product problems and challenges. We work with many clients from different backgrounds and industries, providing us a unique perspective into what commonalities exist, and how to create or help maintain digital product experiences that will resonate most effectively with your users and customers.

Our goal is not to become your stand-in team for life but to compliment your existing team, assist them in establishing a strong foundation, address your problem or challenge, and buy you time to find the design resources you need to manage your digital products on your own. Further, while we’re not in the business of staff augmentation, we are absolutely in the business of helping you identify the right digital product problems so the right people can join your team over time. To understand this point more specifically, we encourage you to read our article on creating effective design systems. Design systems act as a source of truth for accountability when it comes to great digital product design, and will provide the necessary materials to bring designers up to speed quickly.

If you’re gathering information to bring back to other audiences at your organization, or just want to chat informally with us, schedule a call with us today to see how we can help.

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

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