Design Isn't Everything: Foster Your Cross-Discipline Team For Product Success

As much as we'd like to say design is everything, it's simply not true. You may design a beautiful, flawlessly functioning product, but if your customer can't afford it, then it is unsuccessful. Similarly, if your product satisfies a need and is priced just right, but delivers a terrible user experience, it is a failure.


Three key disciplines play a part in developing your idea into a production-ready product design:


Researchers seek to uncover your user's needs and market opportunities.


Designers develop your product to satisfy those needs and opportunities.


Engineers ensure your product performs well and is optimized for manufacturing.


Each discipline has it's own priorities, while your product's success is dependent on the collaboration of all three. All three disciplines have the ability to affect the cost, aesthetic, quality, value, and ultimately success of your product.


Here are three ways you can foster these three disciplines to strengthen your product's overall success:


1. Thrilled Not Threatened

Designers and engineers are known to battle with one another during the product development process. Engineers say designers demand the impossible, whereas designers say engineers play it too safe. Competition between disciplines adds no value when your product's success is dependent on how well all three support one another.


Powerful product development teams include researchers, designers, and engineers, who are optimistic, creative, cooperative, and high-striving. While continuously raising their own bar to be creative in the face of constraints, each team member should also help pave the way for the other disciplines to achieve their goals.


Members of an effective cross-discipline team lean on the other members' skill-sets and industry knowledge to accomplish what is outside of their own area of expertise. They understand it is the only way to achieve a goal bigger than themselves.


Each discipline should appreciate and value the contribution of the others on the team. Seek out and hold onto team members who are not threatened by the other disciplines, but rather empowered and inspired.


2. All Aboard!

It is very common to wait to include each discipline only during their respective phase of the project, almost on a need-to-know basis. This means that engineers are often brought into the mix AFTER design concepts have been chosen, when their expertise could've guided the designers away from costly solutions sooner.


Research, design, and engineering hold equal importance and should be involved simultaneously in the project from the very beginning and throughout.


Including all disciplines at the start allows each discipline to:

  1. Share their discipline-specific goals and concerns

  2. Ask questions to gather the information needed for their project responsibilities

  3. Experience and understand learnings first hand

  4. Share knowledge & give feedback on the progress of the other members


Findings, insights, development progress, goals, story, and even emotions must be carried throughout the product development process. If each of the disciplines are involved from the beginning, they will believe, and subsequently be motivated to fight for your product's mission. Minimal momentum will be lost if everyone is actively involved in the process.


3. Closer Collaboration

I too often see these three disciplines utilized in sequence, one after another, passing the baton of their project progress with a presentation or file hand-off.


This fails for two reasons:

  1. Knowledge from each discipline is needed throughout every phase of the development process. Project costs and timelines grow when a discipline's input isn't available until after big decisions have been made.

  2. Each time the baton gets passed, there is opportunity for project information to get lost in translation. Each pass often DRASTICALLY dilutes the information's clarity and resonance.


A seasoned team understands that design compromises are not only inevitable but also invaluable to your product's success. Rather than compromises that fall out of disputes, or worst yet, after-thoughts, disciplines should overlap to seek smart compromises. Smart compromises mutually benefit both disciplines and most importantly, support what is best for your product's overall goals.


All of your team's disciplines should be accessible, involved, and cooperative throughout the entire project. The success of your product lies at the intersection of research, design, and engineering, so allowing for closer collaboration maximizes your product's chance for success.

Conclusion

Fostering cooperative experts, involving them all from the start, and then allowing them to collaborate closely will maximize your product's potential for success. The key is how aligned all three disciplines are to your product's mission and how hard they are willing to work together to deliver the best possible solution. The more supportive your cross-discipline team is of one another, the more desirable your resulting product will be.

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