Shipping Your Designs
Recently at Yammer…
we’ve been talking a lot about what to look for when hiring a designer. One of the traits I’ve been pushing for lately is experience shipping their designs. It might sound basic, but I’ve found it to be rarer than you would think. Many designers I’ve talked to, especially young ones, have portfolios filled with “concepts”, “recommendations”, and “ideas” that have never been seen by real users. I would equate this to a chef who’s cooked many amazing meals, but never served their food to anyone. It’s only half the battle, and it leaves out so many learning experiences. Here are a few of the things you’ll learn along the way.
- You’ll deal with constraints. Be it time, where you must reevaluate features or functionality, or technology, where you must work with engineers to build what you have designed. That custom slider menu with a perfect tween animation might sound and look cool in your portfolio, but is it worth delaying shipping for a week to make it just right? I’m not saying these are right or wrong, but until you work with constraints and learn the soft skills to navigate around them, you’re not really designing.
- Your design will fail (or succeed) in amazing fashion. There are many ways to measure success in the products you’ve built - analytics, a/b tests, usability tests, downloads, even satisfaction from your client. Some are better than others, and I’m rarely that picky when talking to candidates. I just want to know that you had a goal, built something, and measured the results. Success or failure means little, but what you learned, how you adapted, and where you went from there, does. It’s in these moments that you grow as a designer. I love hearing people discuss past projects — both successes and failures — as a precedent for something we’re currently working on. This is something we clue in on during interviews. We want to know that you have learned from past experiences, and have taken the steps to integrate them in projects that come up in the future.
- You’ll see how building great products takes a team. I’ve spoken with many freelance designers who enjoy the autonomy of their work: getting a well thought out creative brief, submitting a few designs, making some tweaks, and throwing it over the fence to be built. But in a company like Yammer, creating even the smallest feature takes a cross-functional team of designers, researchers, PM’s, engineers, QA, and marketing folks. We need designers that can work with each of these groups and sell their designs. Over time you develop the skills and expertise to know when to push back, take criticism, and still come up with a solution you and the rest of the team believe in. And frankly, that’s something you only learn through repeated trips through the development life cycle.
There are countless other benefits to shipping, but these are the ones we really hone in on when talking with candidates at Yammer. If you are a young designer, maybe even still in school, don’t fret; you can still be doing these things. Find CS majors who are building things and offer help. Talk to clubs or departments at your college who need help with their sites. And if at all possible, find an internship.
In the end, experience is key. But like most things, there are many ways to get it if you are hungry and are willing to put forth a little effort. Developing these skills is what makes great designers. There are lots of people who can make pretty pixels, but few who can successfully wade through the waters of a real life development cycle. For those who can, there is a multitude of opportunities waiting for you.