Who is this for: Engineers, Product Managers, Designers. Basically anyone, who wants to bring in design thinking at their workplace.

It has been a little over two years since a Design team formally came into existence at Capillary. From focusing on putting elements together in a more efficient way to solving design problems at the system level, we had a long but interesting journey. We worked on challenges such as managing perceptions on design, implementing a process in an engineering driven culture, building and growing a team, which most designers are not taught in school. We made a good number of mistakes on the way, but we quickly learned from them and moved on.

This post is about sharing a few insights, some from mistakes, some from observations and others from experience. Paying heed to these insights will help your teams reap the benefits of design much better.

1. Design is how something works, not just how it looks


Growing up, I almost always heard the word ‘design’ used to talk about how something looks. I’m quite sure that this is the case with the most of you too. Unfortunately, this definition that most people know talks only about a tiny part of what design is. After spending time trying to define it better, we’ve come to love this definition given by John Zeratsky of Google Ventures.

“Design is the process of figuring out what a thing should be, what it should do, how it should work, how it should look, and what it should say.”

Please read it again. Trying to control and define everything around us is design. In fact, it is what we all do, many at times without realising it, every single day of our lives.

2. Design is not (magic+art) done only by Designers


Prior to our design team’s first knowledge sharing session a few months ago, we spent time to understand what engineers and the product team wanted as part of the session. A few said that they do not know how we make decisions, and asked if we can make it more transparent. During the same conversation, we also realised that a good number regard design as synonymous to art, and the decisions we make as based on taste.

From then on, at every possible avenue, we communicated that design is not art, and that its foundations are based on reason. Designers use a process to come to the solution that they recommend, and the process starts with an understanding of the problem, exploration of potential approaches, rational identification of the best approach and then arriving at the solution. We will leave the details of our design process for a future post.

Over time, we noticed that the way most engineers understood our work changed, and now they approach us with a problem rather than a solution.

3. Design thinking can & should be practised by everyone

Design thinking can & should be practised by everyone and not just the designers. If one spends time to understand it, design thinking is not rocket science. All it says is: understand the user’s problem, explore the available options, decide on the best option and then focus on it. It’s that simple. Empathise with the actual user who’d be clicking the button you made or downloading the file you formatted.

Designer’s Talisman:
Whenever you are in doubt, or when you are not sure whether what you’ve done is use centric or not, apply the following test. Recall the face of the most annoyed user you have seen using what you’ve built, & ask yourself, if what you’ve implemented is going to make his/her life easier. Will he/she be able to use it without a tooltip or help?
Then you will find your doubts melt away & you shall arrive at the most usable solution.

Good products can only be built when every member of the organisation (especially the engineers) is focused on creating value for the end user. Wear a design thinking hat & question things!

4. Decide on a common philosophy, and align with it


Having a philosophy to which Product, Engineering and Design are all aligned to is critical in a growing company. A common philosophy clearly explains stakeholders the goals of the company and their prioritisation when it comes to building products. Similarly, it allows designers and engineers to be more intentional when it comes to making decisions, with a common goal of creating value for the end user.

It took us more than an year to realise the importance of a philosophy, and another six months to close in on the goals. We are still in the process of aligning ourselves well with the philosophy. This is one area we wish we had executed faster. Do not make that mistake.

5. Ensure your suggestions are not just your personal views

5A long time ago, one of our co-founders said this – Design is something on which anyone can have (and usually have) a perspective. So, it is important to objectively look at advice, even when it comes from someone with more authority. From what we’ve seen, it is one of the most difficult things to do.

As someone with authority, understand that even though your intention in giving feedback is right, it has a huge impact on what the designer feels he/she is empowered to do. If the designer, after spending so much time going through the process has a difference of opinion, there may be a reason worth your time. Another point we’ve realised is that disagreements usually arise because of a difference of goals. Communicate well, and you will see the difference.

As a designer, when you have a push, explain your approach with reason but also understand the others’ perspective. It is quite possible that you are missing the larger picture, which is making the other person think in a different way. Ask, and not guess. Also remember that saying ‘I am the designer, and so I get to decide’ is unacceptable. Use reason, and people will cooperate.

6. Thinking beyond constraints can lead to surprisingly simple results


An year and a half ago, while solving the point redemption on a microsite experience, we took into account the potential constraints based on the engineer’s experience even before deciding on the best approach to solve the problem. The result was haphazard and needed more than six steps and an almost equal number of screens to redeem a customer’s loyalty points. It was a compromised solution from the set go, and the result validated it.

Re doing the exercise, we reminded ourselves that what we are here to do is solve the user’s problem, and if our solution does not let the user achieve his/her goal, it is a waste of time for all parties involved. This time, we pushed ourselves more, and the new solution needed exactly two steps and three pages.

Design has to consider constraints, and rightly so. However, understand that constraints being a starting point will only lead to a suboptimal solution.

7. Get the right kind of designer


Growing a team is crucial to continuing the momentum and quality of work you do, and it is important to hire right, even if it takes time. As difficult as it is to find a good designer, it is even more difficult to find someone who is a culture fit. It’s possible that you miss an otherwise great designer, but it is better for both the designer and the organisation in the long run.

Above and over these two points, understand that there is no unicorn designer. Designers have their own strengths, and interests. Find someone who is a fit for the kind of work you do. If the designer does not have significant prior experience, at least see if the interests align. Always hire someone who is better than you in at least a few areas.

End note

Bringing in design thinking is an ongoing activity and we clearly still have a long way to go. If you have been/were in a similar state, let us know your learnings in the comments. Sharing helps us all learn faster and better.

P.S. If you know someone who wants to work as a designer, full time, please put the person in touch with us at design@capillarytech.com