Building products whilst staying happy as a designer

4 tips to stay aligned with your team, handle feedback and progress steadily.


Nicolò Arena

3 years ago | 3 min read

Design critique at TransferWise

Originally published on Medium

As product designers, it’s always tricky to find the time to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come. We always tend to focus on the next important thing, in order to ship meaningful features to make users happy.

But what is that makes us happy, and keeps us strong and motivated in delivering the best work we can?

I’ve identified 4 scenarios I found myself in a few times in the past and decided to unpack them to give you my take on how I’ve learned to act and behave in such situations.

1. Take your team on a journey with you 🚋

It goes without saying, product designers are at the heart of a product team and work closely with everyone to produce an output.

One thing I got familiar with, is to share ideas as early as possible, even before I felt comfortable sharing them. This will help create alignment across disciplines naturally and make everyone accountable for the same output and outcome to be achieved.

Get comfortable with sharing work-in-progress ideas and don’t get attached to any solution specifically, unless that solution is worth fighting for because it’s backed up by strong evidence.

2. It’s not always your fault ⚠️

During my career I found myself working in a dysfunctional team where I struggled to create a good relationship with my product team.

Automatically, I thought it was my responsibility as a product designer to fix that big mess and make it work. What I didn’t realize early enough is that a dysfunctional team needs to be addressed and fixed at a higher level first (aka from the top).

I ended up thinking that I was failing, and this started affecting my mental health and the quality of my work.

What I didn’t see was that I had already tried everything to make it work, and as a consequence, it simply wasn’t my fault. Sometimes it’s just not up to us alone to fix things that aren’t working, simply because those things are far too big to be fixed by a one-man job.

I’ve been lucky enough to spot the issue and get support from my manager to move teams and get set up for success. And guess what? I haven’t had any issues ever since.

If you find yourself in this situation, do not let anyone label your struggle in a dysfunctional team as your own failure: this shouldn’t be used against you as a reason to slow down your progression.

3. Feedback culture — but filter it 💬

Feedback-culture is a big part of most tech companies, but can also be damaging for designers as it can quickly turn into designing by committee. The last thing you want is to become a mock-up monkey🐒 to please your product team, especially if you don’t think it’s the right thing to do for users.

An overly reactive feedback culture can knock you off-course when not targeted and pragmatic. It’s up to you to filter out feedback you don’t need, so you don’t end up dealing with a bunch of fluffy ideas and only focus on the ones that matter.

As much as this could create tension and friction within the team you’re in, you’ve got a bunch of things you can do to avoid this from happening. Simply don’t mock up other people’s ideas: instead, let the other person communicate their idea in whichever way they want: a sketch, a list of keywords, a diagram. Then unpack it and explain what you think works, and what doesn’t.

When you get to the point where you’ll need to make certain decisions and cut others, ground your decisions in strong rationale and build a case to support your point. You’re not convincing anyone here: it’s just a matter of clearly breaking it down so that people outside your brain can also see why option A is better than option B. Document those reasons widely so that you can refer back to them.

4. Set personal OKRs & track your progression proactively 📈

In all of my past roles, I’ve been in the position where I was pushing for better compensation and promotion. What I’ve found useful was to put together a deck listing personal OKRs to get to where I wanted to be. I’ve been opening up this document during my weekly catch-up with my lead to discuss it, tweak it, and check against the progress I was making.

You’re the only one who knows where you want to get: make sure you pinpoint what you want to achieve early so that your lead knows too and can give you the best support.


Created by

Nicolò Arena







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