It has been nearly a decade since I started working with digital Product Design. At first, I thought it was going to be something temporary just to pay the bills, but the allure of blending creativity with challenging problems won me over and hasn't stopped me ever since.
Throughout this journey, many things have changed, especially the way I perceive this field and the people that are part of it. Relationships, experiences, and even obstacles have helped me to develop a set of guiding principles that have become a constant to keep moving forward, so it's about time I share these with others.
1. Quality over quantity
During my time at the university, I was taught that doing hundreds of explorations was the best path to be creative. It's certainly useful when you're in the divergence phase of the creative process, but what they don't teach you is that you need to identify when quality should come before quantity.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when it became my personal motto, but it has been helpful in many different facets of my journey: Product Design outputs, team composition, and even time, they all benefit from prioritizing quality. The trickiest part is not forfeiting quantity, but pursuing quality in everything you do.
2. It's ok not knowing everything
As naïve as it may sound, during the first couple of years of my career I thought I had tons of experience and knew a lot, but boy was I wrong. The more I realized I had a whole world to discover, the more I feared I wasn't going to be able to capture everything, but I learned to apply my own principle and accept that quality was more important than understanding every single piece about this field.
Moreover, I learned to appreciate the feeling of learning new things for the very first time, accepting feedback from others, and being intentional about my learning in the last couple of years.
3. Learn something new every day
Keeping up with the learning topic, becoming proficient at something doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it occurs in small doses of learning moments on a day-to-day basis. One could argue that by reading a book in a day you've grasped a concept, but most of us don't spend our weekends devouring entire books in 24 hours or less.
That's why I love the online expression "Today I Learned", shortened as TIL, because learning can happen at any moment, with any person and any place of your day, you just have to be humble and curious to take it in.
4. Research, research, research
It's interesting how when you're working in development with an agency model, you get exposed to a wide array of unknowns in addition to your own craft. I've been completely new to markets like basketball operations, fintech, and data quality, but every time it all started the same way: doing research.
Learning from subject matter experts definitely helps to speed up the process of gaining understanding, but you shouldn't depend solely on that. With each new project or feature take that as an opportunity to do your due diligence with secondary research and understand the fundamental concepts.
You're not only expected to discuss Product Design in isolation, it should be applied to the context of the product and its business to drive decisions.
5. Keep it consistent
This principle unconsciously brings a smile to my face for a small reason: it became an association with me by others I was working with.
During my time as a Product Designer for Miami Heat, I had to deal with many moving parts and stakeholders with a deep understanding of the business. Every decision would impact the business at scale, and discussions were crucial to keeping moving forward, so I got into the habit of putting emphasis on consistency to ensure things never got out of control.
Before I knew it, some of them started to say "... for consistency's sake, as Laura would say" on conversations I wasn't even part of. I gladly took that with me to apply it intentionally elsewhere, which leads me to my next principle.
6. Modularity, flexibility and scalability
Most designers focus on aesthetics at the beginning of their careers. I know I did, but drop shadows and smooth interactions don't make successful products that change people's lives.
Systems Thinking is one of the most critical skills any Product Designer should develop, yet is often ignored and barely touched while deepening our skillset. With good System Thinking, your product has the modularity that allows for flexibility within existing features, which in turn enables scalability of the system as a whole.
This skill can be applied to all levels of any product, like a navigation pattern, a checkout User Flow, or even the buying module as a whole. The key to all of this is not only about creating the right connections but doing it consistently to naturally scale as new business and user needs arise.
7. Whenever possible, be prepared
When you're a freelancer or consultant you have to learn to do everything on your own, which means you have to be prepared because nobody else will do it for you. All those meetings, scope definitions, and milestone deliverables depended solely on me, so when the time came and I had to collaborate with a team it was like second nature to me.
As someone that values punctuality and responsibility, I wanted to lead by example with everything I was doing, like showing up on time to a meeting, being prepared to present in front of an audience, or facilitating a full week of Design Sprint for a client. Doing this consistently creates trust and reliability in you, and in turn, becoming a key player on the team.
8. Communicate early and often
It's very common to find designers and developers throwing the classic "I know you're always busy so I didn't want to bother" to excuse the lack of communication, especially during their initial years. The truth is, I prefer the opposite and have healthy constant communication with my teammates, even more so now that we're in a remote-first situation.
Asking -good- questions is a best practice that I teach to all junior designers because otherwise solutions are built on assumptions, and fixing them later will come at a higher cost. Many could fear that by asking they may seem dumb, but in a culture of psychological safety asking questions should happen early and often.
9. The sum is better than the parts
It must be clear by now how much I've learned to value being part of a team, with the keyword being "learned". As I've shared in previous articles, I wasn't used to being part of a team, I thought I could do everything on my own.
It wasn't until I started to see the outcomes of team collaboration that I noticed how powerful it is to be part of a team, each one of us bringing a different set of skills that will produce greater results than any of us could do on our own. Using music as an example: solos are great, but a tight band is always much better.
10. It's just work
We could be the best designers in the world, but if you don't take care of yourself first you're not going to be capable of performing at your best. That's why I've learned to appreciate a good coffee with friends on a weekend, getaway vacations to disconnect, and even naps to recharge. Don't wait until it's too late, take care of your wellbeing every single day.
I hope these principles can help you with your own journey, I know that I'll remind myself of them and keep them at hand to guide me for many years to come.