design principles for product managers

by Latif Nanji

Essential design principles for product managers – About 50% of all design firms sold in the last ten years were acquired in the last 24 months. And they weren’t bought by Amazon or Facebook or Google. They were bought by the banks and consulting firms — the BIG financial institutions. These organizations don’t have the most innovative reputations (after all, they’re referred to as “laggards”), so when even these companies are adopting design firms it says something drastic. It says: design should be a product priority.

Design is a specialized skill, and as a PM, it can be intimidating — especially if it’s not your natural inclination.

Having spent most of my career as a product manager, I’ve stated clearly — and to a lot of pushback — that design should always be a priority for product managers. Design is a specialized skill, and as a PM, it can be intimidating — especially if it’s not your natural inclination. (Plus, there’s usually a design team to deal with that stuff, right?) But that mentality is a missed opportunity; it’s equally important for PMs to keep design top-of-mind when making decisions.

Product design was one of our key differentiators when we founded Roadmunk. As I’ve previously written about, we didn’t necessarily have the data to back up that decision at the time. But look at these new statistics and tell me design isn’t rising in importance.

The laggards are waking up and savvy PMs are talking about how crucial design has become to the product development process. Now it’s time to integrate some concrete methods for bringing design more deeply into the PM process.

There are seven product design principles that I believe all product managers should follow. Blending my first-hand experience and observations, these are the essential design principles that I think every product manager must internalize and evangelize — especially if design is not your forté.

1. Tell users what to think

This first principle is an evolutionary design concept from engineer Steve Krug. It states that when designing, we should listen to our users’ needs to the point that we know and tell them what they should be thinkingBasically, you should understand your users’ workflow so much so that you can determine what they’re attempting to do. (Like an *actually* perceptive fortune teller!)

This example might help you visualize what I mean. Below, you’ll see flight search engine Kayak. It’s really well-designed, simple and easy to use. The problem, though: I’m not sure where exactly to focus.

While the UI is fantastic (the important things stand out, like the calls to actions and filters), I can’t confidently say the same for the user experience — which is just as critical as the UI. I see way too much competition between the various colors, equal priority given to all the filters, multiple lines of information in each section… It’s a lot.

Enter Google Flights. On an aesthetic level it doesn’t compare to the best websites you’ve ever seen — let alone Kayak — but they’ve done a really important thing: they’ve established the priority in which they want you to think about things.

You like nonstop flights? Bam! There they are at the top of the list.

Price is a big influencer for you? Awesome — here are the lower prices first.

Airlines and WiFi are deal breakers? Okay then, here’s that information upfront.

They’ve taken into account what they already know about their users and told them, “This is what we know you want.”

Google Flights is showing what matters. They’ve reduced the clutter by honing in on the key user needs and hiding/putting aside the other features. The filters are all still there; they’re just greyed out or lightened to improve the user experience. This to me is a great example of a company knowing their users and empathizing with them thoughtfully.

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