Difficult Designers

The following are difficult archetypes within a product design organization:

A Product Designer’s job is to prepare documentation that specifies how the product will look, and how users will interact with it. These two characteristics of the product are normally bundled together under the overarching term User Interface (UI). This documentation typically includes any or all of the following formats: black-and-white wire frames; full-color static screen comps; flow charts; slide presentations; videos; and interactive prototypes. It is left to the Product Design organization to determine what type of documentation they provide. Product Design organizations may split the task of designing the product between a Visual Designer and an Interaction Designer, but this is not always the case.

Of all the roles in the SDLC, the Product Designer’s role is by far the most difficult. First, they sit between two very difficult-to-please groups: Product Managers and Software Developers; but must satisfy both of them for their documents to be approved. Second, the documents themselves are time consuming to create and keep up-to-date, as they can include intricate graphics with annotations, often needing expertise in several graphics programs to compose the final document. Third, absolutely anyone can critique their work, as it is visual and therefore easily consumable. Fourth, to do a very good job requires a combination of graphic design and usability engineering, which are very different fields. Fifth, they are difficult to place in an org chart, belonging either to a product development or a marketing organization, which leads to their supervisors at best only able to support them with only some of the issues they face.

In terms of job unhappiness and employee turnover, Designers tend to lead the pack. In addition to all of the innate difficulty of their job, they are often shown a lack of respect from the Product Managers for not knowing the business side, and the Software Developers for not knowing the technical side. Weeks of diligent and intense mental effort can be tossed away in a single review meeting by an audience that does not have expertise to pass judgement, but feel entitled to do so. After such an experience, even a perfectly qualified and motivated professional product designer can quickly transition into a Problem Personality.

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