AMA with Pavel Samsonov, Product Designer at Bloomberg Enterprise
Last month on our UX community Slack channel, we hosted a live AMA with Pavel Samsonov, Product Designer at Bloomberg Enterprise. These are the highlights from his one hour chat.
Pavel Samsonov is a Product Designer at Bloomberg Enterprise, the market leader in financial and business information. Interested in collaboration between human and machine actors, Pavel is currently designing expert user experiences for Data License products across the GUI, API, and Linked Data platform.
Pavel studied Visual Design and pivoted to UX through the Master of HCI program at Carnegie Mellon. He is also interested in Product Management, as a means of asserting end-to-end design ownership over products. Among many sources of inspiration, he values the innovative interaction techniques, user journeys, and team dynamics that come out of tabletop and video gaming.
Here Pavel answers questions on articulating the value of design within organizations, what makes a great design portfolio and an attempt to untangle the confusion around the titles of Product Manager, Product Designer and UX Designer.
(Please note, some edits have been made for spelling and clarity)
Is there an appropriate way to brand oneself as ‘UX Designer + Product Manager’? I’ve been a UX Designer for 3+ years now, and I enjoy the high-level strategy, which seems to be more in a PM’s wheelhouse. But I still also like actually designing stuff. I know from following your twitter that ‘Product Designer’ is a loaded term that should be handled with caution — so I’m hesitate to label myself as that. Is there a phrase or label you’d recommend?
Titles are… problematic in the industry. You’re definitely spot on that most orgs give the things UX designers would like to do to their PMs instead. ‘Product manager’ is honestly as confused a title as ‘UX designer’ is, since many orgs confuse them for Product Owners or Project Managers. You wouldn’t want to sign on to a company as a PM and then find out that most of your work is rearranging the backlog and chasing dependencies! And of course, you wouldn’t want to be stuck as a ‘strategy only’ PM (more of a business analyst, really) who can never get a chance to do anything concrete.
I don’t think changing your personal branding will help you at all. Mostly, companies will see you through their own lens, interpreting your title in their way, so you’ll have to change your resume every time you apply. Keyword-ism is very important to get roles in orgs with low design maturity!
My recommendation would be to seek out organizations that already have a design culture, to some extent. Being part of a design team would help you maintain a healthy amount of design work (and leave the ‘pixel perfect’ work to UI/Visual designers rather than overloading your scope) while still participating in the strategic conversations.
There’s a really good article by Jonathan Korman on the subject of PM vs UX (or what he calls Interaction Design, which in the Cooper perspective is very different from UX): https://www.cooper.com/journal/2004/9/where_do_product_managers_fit
What is the key difference between a UI/UX Designer and a Product Designer?
Oh gosh, this is quite a dicey topic! I typically don’t hold titles in much regard, since they mean different things to different orgs.
I consider a Product Designer (in the software world) to be someone who can ship product. That means more than just being end-to-end (from research to UI) – it means being able to own the strategy and work with stakeholders. Product Designers know that a product that’s not shipped is no good, so they know how to work with engineering to make designs that can actually be built with the time and resources available.
‘UI/UX’ is a bit of an odd duck, since they are really two separate fields. A UI designer’s project scope begins with “I got this content” and then has some iterations until the visual is complete. A UX designer’s portfolio might have no visuals at all; I actually really like customer journey blueprints as a way of mapping UX impact.
Do you then think as a digital designer, I should be labelling myself as Digital Product Designer? To dissociate the industrial designer label?
Just like a user experience, your branding is only half the picture, and the other half is the user (or in this case, the hiring company). They will complete the picture in the way that they understand it. A software company won’t expect a hardware designer to be applying – and might see ‘digital’ as kind of old-fashioned.
I’ve been reading a lot about how a lot of designers struggle with articulating the value of design where they work. What have been your experiences in successfully doing so and how can most of us improve?
There are two schools of thought. Jared Spool makes quite a compelling case here: https://articles.uie.com/why-i-cant-convince-executives-to-invest-in-ux-and-neither-can-you/
Alan Cooper, on the other hand, will tell you that it’s not the designer’s job to explain the value of design to management. Managers should understand the value of designers, or not hire designers. This view is somewhat less helpful if you’re not willing to ditch the company where you currently work – so if you’re interested in staying and advocating for design culture, Jared’s strategy is more helpful.
The main challenge that designers face is really articulating the problem that they are solving, in a way that makes stakeholders care about it. Frame the problem in either metrical terms or through value provided to a customer-facing org (Sales is complaining and this will help them).
What are your favourite learning resource to become a better Product Designer?
[Product Designer] is a fairly amorphous title, [but] in general, UIE is a good repository for design wisdom. I also greatly enjoy Christina Wodtke’s writings at https://medium.com/@cwodtke and John Cutler’s product thoughts: https://medium.com/@johnpcutler
What additional qualities would you expect to see in a senior UX or Product Designer compared to a mid-weight?
Senior designers need to engage outside of their desk. This means both within their team (mentoring juniors) and beyond the team (working with stakeholders and improving the maturity of design culture within the org). Senior designers should understand what it means to own a product vision, and how to align stakeholders’ interests with it.
The gap between an intermediate and senior designer has almost nothing to do with how good they actually are at arranging pixels. A senior designer thinks in systems.
Do you remember specific examples of a very good UX portfolio? How did those look or what made these great?
I really like Simon Pan’s portfolio, especially the Amazon case study: http://simonpan.com/work/amazon-prime-music/
It’s certainly not perfect – lack of a summary/table of contents area, and the large number of big images make it hard to skim – but the content is 👌
In a portfolio, what’s the right balance to strike between words and visuals; brevity vs. explaining details?
The eternal question!
I agree that most people will skim visuals, so it’s important to have good visuals for non-deliverable artefacts (such as maps/models/diagrams) as well as pull quotes for key points.
Sarah Doody periodically does seminars on portfolios, could be worth a shot. My general thinking on them is:
- Summarize the outcomes up front
- Describe the problem state and context (gap between desired and existing state)
- Describe your research process and insights
- Describe how your design used those insights to address the problem.
- Describe your outcomes in detail – use numbers if you have them, such as speed of completion, error rate, etc.
I like this strategy for visual notation:
Never ever present just a wireframe.
Always progressively contextualize:
• Content Hierarchy
• Feature Annotation
• Journey Map
• Motion Design pic.twitter.com/NkSH3s26LW
— Maxim Leyzerovich (@round) March 14, 2019
What was the hardest challenge you faced while you worked on a design system including accessibility requirements for components and standards?
There are quite a few different standards and different angles to accessibility! Non-designers tend to focus on color blindness, but one of the biggest impacts comes from, well, making things bigger (to account for poor vision/mobility issues with hitting links).
Unfortunately, since I work in Enterprise, our interfaces are very dense and scaling things up presents a big logistical problem. Those teams are loathe to adopt UI patterns that make their content even bigger. And if a team won’t give the system their backing, it’s as good as not having one. Good luck getting it adopted across the org!
Do you work with your customer service team much? And if so how do you maintain that relationship with them? Do you use them much for customer feedback/interaction?
The CS team is the most valuable resource of an overworked designer, especially in an environment with low design maturity! When I was at a smaller org, I actually taught them how to capture basic user breakdowns after a call (what the user tried to do, the correct thing to do, expertise level, any quotes, and so on). Even having access to their ticket logs is valuable.
As with any intermediary between you and the user, you should take their information with a grain of salt. CS folks tend to be more focused on passing on customer requests, since they are very busy and often don’t have the time to really dig in to the root problem. Use their information as a starting point, and then follow through to figure out what the problem really is.
There’s no secret to maintaining the relationship – just go introduce yourself. If they have the time to spare, involving them with some design research activities such as synthesis is nice, but always be considerate of their time.
When working with stakeholders in general, remember to consider – what will get them promoted, and what will get them reprimanded? CS colleagues want clients to say “my problem was solved” so try to help them do that. Some clients will be happy just to know that the product team is on the case, so keep your CS folks updated with the general status, if not necessarily nitty gritty details.
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