3 steps to great product design

*Step 1*: Find the best, most experienced, most professional product designer you can.

*Step 2*: Ask them what to do.

*Step 3*: Do what they say.

Profit! Ok, maybe a little more detail would help.

For *Step 1*, your goal is to find the person with the most experience designing products that will work with you. This may or may not be someone with the title “designer”; if you find a “product manager” or “engineer” who has successfully led a dozen projects to good results, that might be the best person to trust. You’re looking for quantity of past work (remember [the ceramics class](http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2007/02/quantity_equals.html)) and quality (defined by whatever metric is most important to you and the project–innovation, aesthetics, market success, reliability, etc). Whatever their title, you should make it clear to everyone on the project that *this* person is the lead designer.

Don’t know any great designers? Ask everyone you know who their favorite designer is, then ask that designer about the best person they know. Repeat until you run out of time and/or money.

*Step 2* is pretty straightforward but often forgotten. In the heat of the moment, most people revert to voicing their own answers rather than asking questions. Designers work best when their opinion is sought out, not when they have to shout to be heard. Their job is to make design decisions, so bring them everything you can. A good designer will be humble enough to say they don’t know when that’s the case.

The wrong way to interpret *Step 3* is to assume every lead designer should act like a dictator–shouting orders and demanding obedience. A great designer will first set up a design process that includes everyone on the team in the right way. They’ll probably ask more questions than give answers (see Step 2), and will want to understand all the various options and known constraints.

But at some point decisions have to be made (specified in that process) and at that point you have to follow the person you’ve entrusted with design authority. A project where only half a design is followed can turn out worse than one with no design. A great design is holistic and integrated, and if you choose to compromise it–through impatience, penny-pinching, or simply lack of appreciation for the design quality–your product will not be great. On the other hand, products that do fulfill their designed form and function are a breath of fresh air and a shock to a world accustomed to mediocrity and imitation.

Three steps. Easier said than done…but worth trying.