How Product Designers Help Build Brands
To learn how product designers help brands succeed, we spoke with Sabika Nazim at Amplitude, Rachel He at Anchor by Spotify, and our own Daniel Demel.
When you think about what makes a company successful, you might not focus on the importance of design, but it turns out designers, and product designers specifically, play a huge role in helping brands succeed financially.
The Design Management Institute conducted a study and found that over a 10-year period, design-led companies outperformed the S&P by 211%. More recently, McKinsey tracked the design practices of 300 companies to link design strength and financial performance. They found companies that excelled in design “outperformed industry-benchmark growth by as much as two to one.”
To understand more about the role product designers play in helping brands succeed and what it means to be a design-driven company, we spoke with Sabika Nazim, head of product design at Amplitude, Rachel He, a product designer at Anchor by Spotify, and Daniel Demel, our own product design lead at Frontify.
Understand Customer Problems
When it comes to product design, it isn’t just about making a product look good. At design-driven companies, it’s about talking to customers to understand their problems and designing solutions to solve them.
“When you think of design, people have this tendency to think about visual design, or even in UI and UX, thinking about more interactive design,” says Nazim.
But with product design, the design is figuring out a solution that benefits customers.
“Customer discovery is a really, really integral part of product design. Early on in the product development life cycle, it’s a huge part of the day-to-day, understanding the customer, defining the problem space, actually creating a hypothesis, and then figuring out what that solution looks like.”
Understanding your customers’ pain points is key to finding solutions.
“At Anchor, we really try to understand what our creators’ pains are,” says He. “What is the most frustrating part of the long-term creator journey? Where have you felt the most anxious? Where have you felt the most alone as a creator, and what helped you?”
And even when you’re an avid user of the product and have good instincts about what the right solution might be, it’s important to support your instincts by talking to customers.
“As designers, we all have a good gut feeling about what might work or what might not work,” says Demel. “To make sure we stay user-focused, we still need to talk to users, and we should take their feedback into account to reinforce our gut feeling.”
Think About Solutions That Help the Business Succeed
While product designers are focused on helping customers, they also have to prioritize solutions that help the business succeed.
“As a design leader, it’s my job to make sure that I prioritize the problems that my team is going to help solve because I care about the business,” says Nazim.
“I have to care about the bottom line of the business. And in many cases, it's not tangential. It goes hand in hand that if you solve these ten problems, that is going to have a positive impact on the business as well. But what's the biggest impact on the business?”
Sometimes the best choice for the business is to not answer every request.
“It's nice to be idealistic, but it's also important to have a successful business. There may be times when one or two customers ask for something that doesn't have an impact on the rest of the customer base, and you have to say, ‘No, I think that we're good right now.’”
Work to Perfect the Product
For design-driven companies, the process of finding solutions never stops and often takes experimentation.
“When I talk about design-driven companies, it's not only making beautiful products and looking after your customers, what they need to fulfill their needs, but it's also about having this mindset of try things, experiment, and learn,” says Demel.
“You see if it works, and if it doesn't work, you change the plan. The perfection will happen through the process of iterating and improving.”
And this process requires moving quickly.
“I think that with design, one of the questions that I'm always asked is, how do you balance quality and velocity?” says Nazim. “My answer is you are what you ship. If you want to create quality, you create it through velocity.”
“Ship fast and learn from our customers, learn about the problems and solve the right problems for our customers. It's okay to get it wrong sometimes, but that's where velocity also really matters. If you've made a wrong assessment, it's better to learn about it sooner rather than later.”
Support a Brand’s Rebrand
On average, a company rebrands every 7-10 years, and product designers have to bring the new brand to life within the product for its users.
Anchor revealed its rebrand at the end of January and spent months incorporating the new brand identity into the product.
“On my end, there was a lot of implementing color, type, all of these different visual brand assets but also trying to make Anchor feel a little bit more grown-up, a little bit more mature,” says He. “Even though Anchor is free to use, we want the experience to feel like a premium one.”
We also recently went through a rebrand at Frontify to support our mission of being a home where all brands can thrive. Of course, that meant updating our product’s visual appearance, but we also consider how our new brand will shape our product design choices.
“When we last did a rebrand, and our mission, values, and brand's personality were stated, that was a starting point to think about how does it apply to us as product designers?” says Demel. “We formulated our own design principles that were derived from our brand's mission and our brand's values and personality, and these became guiding principles for all design at Frontify.”
And a new rebrand means revisiting our principles to see how they should change to reflect the new brand.
“We're going to look at how our brand changed to reshape those principles.”
Collaborate to Create Consistency
The McKinsey study found user-centric design shouldn’t be a siloed function. It should be everyone’s responsibility. At Amplitude, Anchor, and Frontify, it is.
“So I think that the collaboration between brand and product design can result in really great things,” says Nazim.
“Our CEO is being mindful that design can be an edge, it has been an edge for us, and it will be an edge for us going forward. So how do we make sure that we provide the most consistent, seamless experience across the board?”
For her, it’s about meeting to get feedback and opinions on deliverables before they’re done.
“It also creates a shared sense of ownership because now everybody's involved because they've all given that feedback. They also feel partially responsible for the success of those new things that we're about to launch.”
“At Anchor, we try to make the process as collaborative as possible,” says He. “We go to engineers, product managers, and brand designers for their advice. We also have weekly meetings with all the designers where we come together and evaluate our work and collaboratively jam on ideas.”
Demel also believes collaboration is crucial for success.
“Collaborate with the people, talk to people, communicate a lot. Include other people from other teams into your work.”
Help Brands Grow & Plan for the Future
Product designers don’t just think about short-term goals; they also focus on where the product and brand should be in the future.
“Anchor is an immature product,” says He. “It's kind of in its awkward teen phase, and our job is to bring it to the maturity of something like Spotify, where it is in its adult phase as a product and also as a brand. To me, the exciting part of product design is being part of that transformation and growth in the product.”
Part of growing is finding ways to empower your users.
“I think that good designers are generally optimists, and sort of the way to think about it is that we've helped our customer solve X problem, so now how do we empower them even more?” says Nazim.
“We have a ton of features around how to enable power users to explore deeply or learn deeply about their users and their behaviors inside their products using Amplitude. We're really good at that. And that's why we have all the success that we have.”
Now Amplitude is looking at how they can expand their product for the future to help customers who aren’t power users.
“We've been doing a little bit of a visioning exercise about what the product is going to be in three years based on some of the personas we’ve learned about.”
And at Frontify, product designers are thinking of how to make the product more accessible to support our new mission.
“In the near future, it's surely going to change how we navigate our product,” says Demel. “If you have a promise from your brand to your customers, you also have to reflect it in how the product is built and what the product will offer.”
Product Designers Should be Part of Your Brand-Building Process
With a unique insight into a company’s customers, product, and brand, product designers are crucial to helping brands succeed, and data backs this up. Your product designers should be a part of your brand-building process, but our State of Brand Ownership report found that brand ownership is predominately owned by C-level executives and the marketing team.
Since branding is something that flows throughout an entire organization – especially a brand’s product – it’s important that companies democratize their brand-building process and break down silos.
By making design an equal partner in your brand, you can reap the same benefits as other design-driven companies.