How To Build A Killer Product Design Team

A good product design team can do a huge job in making your product successful. They can make your product easier to understand and easier to use. A good product design team can make PO's and PM's life much easier. If it is so useful, how can you build one?

Building a great product requires a team effort. But from what team?

Developers might be the first ingredient that comes to mind, but visual designers, UX designers, UX researchers have a huge added benefit to the product team and to the final product.

UX research can deliver essential customer insights about the target users. Don’t forget about usability tests either. Design workshops and prototyping can improve communication within your team and help in building an agile environment. They are also great for problem-solving.

In this post we cover:

  • What is a product design team?
  • What are the 3 most important ingredients

What is a product design team?

Let’s start from the beginning. A product design team is what gets you from early-stage product ideation to having a working AND useful product. Useful, from the users’ point of view.

Product design is the process of identifying a market opportunity, a niche. Defining the problem that needs to be solved, developing a solution to that problem and validating the solution with real users. The solution being the digital product.

A product design team usually uses design thinking methods to design the product and get it to its most desirable state.

The 3 most important ingredients of a product design team

The most basic thing is to have designers and researchers with the right skill-set.

A product design team has 3 major components (yes I will simplify things a little bit here):

  • UI design: so someone who can draw the pixel-perfect, beautiful screen designs
  • UX design: someone who can build wireframes and prototypes, and define the most important structures and flows, communicate with other players, brainstorm and run workshops
  • UX research: someone in your team must be able to test your designs with real users, validate feature ideas, do interviews, evaluate analytics, build personas, and deliver the necessary customer feedback

That doesn’t mean you need 3 people. In many startups, it is a one-man show, which is a quite risky thing.

Research is very time consuming, so if you have a one-man product design team she is probably too busy to do research and thus the most important part, the feedback from the end users is missing from the machine.

At UX studio we have product designers, who can go through the whole design process from UX to UI design, and they work alongside a UX researcher, who is helping them with user feedback.

You can further extend your product design team’s skill set with these roles:

  • Interaction Designer
  • Information Architect
  • Copywriting / UX copywriting
  • Content Strategist
  • Illustrations / Visual design
  • Audio Designer
  • DesignOPS

We recently wrote an ebook: “Product Managers’ guide to UX design”. Click here to download!

Workshop with a product design team

Get your product design team structure right

There are many team structures in use when it comes to product design teams.

You can opt to:

  • combine UI design, UX design and UX research or separate them
  • use an internal or an external team

To dive deeper, read this post about UX team structure.

Whenever you think about structure in your product design team, make sure to tailor your thoughts to your situation. The optimal solution for a team structure is highly dependent on your resources, product, even industry.

The magic is in the design methods

So you got the right ingredients, but the recipe you use is also very important. You need the team to use the best methods you can find.

You need a design process to make sure your team will be able to deliver the results and improve the performance of your product sprint-by-sprint.

The process defines how you start designing a new feature with sketching and prototyping, how you iterate and how you deliver the pixel-perfect result. And you have to teach this process to everyone involved.  That makes the difference between junior and senior guys.

(If you want to learn about the specific UX designer skills we look for, this blog post gives a great summary.)

Senior people know these methods, they have real-life experience and know what you should do in your specific project. So, hiring a junior will probably do more harm than good. Hiring a senior guy with a junior to help might work.

Train your product design team

It’s also important to improve the methods your team uses continuously, and provide learning opportunities to your designers. At UX studio, we do 9 different things to help our designers to improve themselves.

We have an intense training program where we teach these methods. Above that, we invite designers from other companies to talk on every second Friday. We have mentoring, common sketching sessions, and every designer gets weekly feedback from 3 different sources (from research, from her designer mate and our clients too).

It’s not a surprise, that they learn very fast in this environment. And as a studio we have experience with many different products and clients, so we know what works best in each case.

A product design team's UX process

Put the pieces together in a design sprint

At UX studio we work in week-long design sprints. It makes it possible to move fast and iterate. We start every sprint with a design meeting, where our designer and researcher meet with the business leader and the technical leader of the product.

On these meetings, we show the designs we made, and the research results we got. We also make the important design decisions together and agree on the tasks for the next sprint.

Design sprint pf a product design team

Finally, you need a good product manager who can support the design team. Her most important job is to emphasize the business goals, give feedback and make sure the design team will get whatever they need to do their job.

Stakeholder buy-in is also important, so in many cases, the product manager has to convince the top management to hire and run a product design team.

Building up a killer design team is not easy, and it is a totally different job from building dev teams. It’s not something you can do in a few weeks. If you don’t have time for that, we can help you out with an experienced product design team working just on your product.

They can work closely together with your team and establish a design culture in your company.

Even companies with in-house design teams are hiring us when they don’t have enough resources, or they want their teams to see the best methods in action.

Summary: How to build a killer product design team

1. Have the following skillset: UX design, UI design, UX research

2. Use specific design methods (like design sprints) to make the best of your team

3. Get your team to work together and combine their knowledge

This article just ended. But don’t go yet!

If you would like to know more about related topics, we have some fun ones. For example, we recently wrote about UX team structure and designer-developer collaboration.

Product owners just getting started with user experience design should check out our free e-book, Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design. Download it now!

Need more in-depth information on designing digital products? Read about our philosophy in our Product Design book. Now with worldwide shipping!

If you need a design team don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at the bottom of this page.

Founder and CEO of UX studio. Author of the book Product Design, TEDx speaker, one of Forbes 30 under 30. Enthusiastic about self-managing teams, new technologies and human-centered design.