Design – an overloaded term in product management

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides the following as the essential meaning of the word design

  1. to plan and make decisions about
  2. to plan and make something for a specific use or purpose
  3. to think of; to plan in your mind

When people talk about ‘design’ in product management, most of them, in my experience refer to visual or interaction design. They refer to the look good, feel good aspect of the web application, mobile application or a physical product. But, design is more than that. The company Ideo has already popularized the concept of design thinking. Google uses design sprints in its product development process. Design sprints follow six phases: Understand, Define, Sketch, Decide, Prototype and Validate.

Understanding the problem to solve, the users for whom the problem is being solved, the different ways in which the problem can be solved and then implementing a prototype, testing the prototype with the user to assess how well the problem in hand was solved are all aspects of design thinking.

Design, in general is more than background colors, avatars, buttons and drop down menus. It is the way you solve the problem. Technology and UI components are a means to an end. It is essential for product leaders to recognize this. I have seen organizations creating design as a separate entity within an organization and delegating all ‘design’ tasks to that entity. This is not the right approach according to me. An eye for design and understanding of best practices of wholesome design must be imbibed into the entire product team. All goals, be it technology, visual design, marketing, or sales must connect with the product goals as a two way street. The product goals themselves must connect with the organization goals as a two way street. An organization and its brand is nothing but the product or service itself. In fact, it so happens that many a times, the name of the product or services is more popular than the name of the parent company.

There are some people who are more creative when it comes to visual design, interaction design, etc. Such talent can always be included in product teams as product teams in agile are self-organizing teams. But, creating silos within organization for design will impact the product negatively as there will then be ‘more chefs in the kitchen’. On my reading list for 2022 is this book titled ‘Creative Confidence‘ by Tom Kelley and David Kelly. Hopefully, I was very good at painting and drawing in my school days. Somehow, I did not nurture that skill in the long run. And again, design is more than painting and drawing. But, it is this aspect of visual design that I want to add to my skill set: knowledge of colors, typography, interactions, etc. There are tools like Adobe XD, Figma, etc. that I want to use to unleash my creative potential as far as visual design is concerned. As for the rest, I believe I already have a good handle on design thinking, an eye for visual and interaction design, etc.

Also, the next time you speak about design in your conversations with you team, make sure you qualify it enough so that the other person or persons understand what aspect of design you are talking about!


About guptasudhir

Sudhir is a product leader with a decade of experience creating economic value using innovative products and services through a human-centered design process. He has proven experience working with teams of all sizes, from startups to large enterprises. Sudhir has the perfect blend of engineering and managerial skills arising out of his research in computer science around machine learning and image processing and entrepreneurial experience of founding an e-learning company. Find out more on LinkedIn: or visit the website:
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