Five Lessons for Product Designers from Google Ventures

Braden Kowitz, a Design Partner at Google Ventures, gave a great presentation at the the 2015 Prototypes, Process and Play conference consisting of five pieces of advice for those that do product design work.

  • Work with management and redirect their energy like an akido master. Don’t fight when their design ideas aren’t great; instead, figure out a way to be “facing the same direction.”
  • Focus on working through the risky elements of your product or service first, and don’t be surprised if it pulls you out of your personal comfort zone. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be risky!
  • Avoid spreading your design team too thin by setting priorities with senior management. Make sure to include a choice for teams to complete less important projects without design, and communicate what that means.
  • Set tight “learning deadlines” to avoid over-polishing a given idea. It’s not always obvious when designers should put their pencils down.
  • Design activities should be done by everyone on the team—at least a little—to instill the sense that design is everyone’s job. Developers can watch usability tests and go on site visits, for example.

At the end of the session, there was a brief Q&A in which someone asked about how to balance science with art and go with your gut. I really liked Braden’s answer, which I’ll paraphrase:

When there’s no hard data available, make decisions by identifying who has the best instincts for that type of decision, whether they be a visual designer, sales rep, support agent, or the CEO. Let that person decide, and call out the fact that you’re in subjective territory.