What the Tech?!

Shashaank Srinivasan.jpeg

Shashaank Srinivasan

Product Designer at Nylas

Interviewer: Isabella Enriquez

Q. In your opinion, what are the most important qualities for a successful product designer?

I think the most important thing a Product Designer can bring to the table is a sense of curiosity. The best designers I know aren’t necessarily the best problem solvers (though that is an essential skill as well) but intensely curious about the problem.

This is a valuable skill in this field as it's crucial to investigate who you’re building for, what problems they are facing, and the context of this problem. This sense of curiosity about both the user and the problem is the most valuable quality a designer brings to the table.

 

Q. What is something you enjoy about being a product designer?

For me the most fun aspect about being a designer in general is the ability to have a glimpse into the way our world was built. Be it noticing the way curb cuts make sidewalks accessible for disabled peoples, or the fun little sound the elevator in my building makes to indicate a floor selection has been registered. Everything in our physical and digital environments are designed, and as a designer it's awesome to know the thought (hopefully) that was put into designing these experiences.
 

Q. What are some examples of day-to-day tasks one might do as a product designer?

The day to day work of a product designer can vary pretty substantially based on the size of your team, the stage of your project, and your role. But more often than not you’re spending time doing one of the following:

  • “Problem Definition” – What is the product challenge and who is being affected by it? This could take the form of user interviews, collating research insights, or collaborating with other folks on your team like PMs and Developers to craft users stories and define how you could potentially tackle a product problem.

  • “Heads down design work” – For me this is the most fun part of design, where you dive in to validate the hypotheses you made in step 1. This often involves putting together a variety of concepts and prototypes that could be potential solutions to the problem.

  • “Getting validation → Iterating → Getting Validation” – Once you tried your hand at solving the problem, it’s time to take it out and see how close to the mark you really are. Early on this means shopping your work around with folks within your team and soliciting feedback. However, as you progress in this cycle, you then take it out to your users and get feedback directly, which often helps you uncover fault lines in your designs that you hadn’t even realized were there.

 

Q. What is a common misconception of being a product designer?

There’s often this myth of the designer working late nights on a drawing board trying to get their idea just right. But the reality is good design, particularly good product design, is a collaborative activity. Yes, like any other role, you need to be able to put your head down and get things done, but your job is not necessarily to create the ideal solution, instead it’s to create artifacts that help facilitate the discovery of the solution with your team. This means piecing together the right user insights, the key product objectives, and the existing tech constraints and ensuring and then creating potential solutions and iterating collaboratively with your PMs, Engineers, Technical Writers, and Data team.
 

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges of being a product designer?

The one challenge most designers face regularly is the old adage “Rome doesn’t get built in a day” and neither does that cool, exciting product you’re working on. So more often than not your idealized version of a feature, or experience won’t be what is launched. But that’s okay! A real living feature that users actually interact with is far more rewarding than a beautiful mockup that is collecting dust in your Figma archives.

 

Q. Is there a difference between being a product designer and being a UI or UX designer?

This again depends on your org and specific role. But more often than not, UI and UX are two of the many facets of your role as a product designer. When thinking from a UX lens you have to be the advocate for your user in the room, be it bringing forward well-researched insights regarding their needs or abiding by established UX principles to ensure they have a delightful experience. When tackling the UI, as a product designer you need to have a refined eye to ensure you’re creating visually compelling, consistent, and engaging interfaces.