This blog post is Unfiltered
As a designer, it’s difficult to balance the scale of initiatives: Design too small, and nobody is excited or can understand the direction things are going. Start too big and everyone on the team may be too intimidated to start. ThinkBIG is a way of utilizing designers’ natural skillset to balance the iterative nature of engineering with the visionary nature of design.
Here are 5 signals that you should switch up your style and Think Bigger:
1) Every milestone is spent only prepping the next
We’ve all been there. The next milestone planning issue is starting to get filled out and you, the designer, are realizing how many issues need design in order to be ready. As the priorities shift, you know the last two weeks of this milestone will be spent desperately trying to design mockups for engineers to start working on days later. I like to call this “Feeding the sharks”. It describes a certain level of panic some designers feel every milestone: If I don’t deliver enough, I might get chomped!
ThinkBIG focuses on creating a larger-scale vision that can be iterated on as we go. This means that each design you put together leads to many independent issues engineers can work on. For a designer, this increases results by delivering one design worth many issues.
2) Engineers are asking a lot of questions
Have you ever started a new milestone and as engineers get started, they have a million questions detailing every possible state, permutation, and example that they should account for? This line of questioning means you, the designer, now need to make a myriad of new designs with only minute changes between them. This is not an efficient use of the designer’s time.
First off, all these questions are valid and decisions that need to be made. By Thinking Bigger, engineers are better prepared to handle all the edge cases independently because they walk into their work with a fuller context of the impact on users. This enables empathy-driven engineering, allowing engineers to lead the conversation around edge-cases with solutions in mind, instead of needing it to be defined ahead of time. By pushing the edge cases further down the product development lifecycle, there is also a unique opportunity for product, design, and engineering to collaborate on delivering value to customers while still working iteratively.
3) Nobody agrees on what the “MVC” actually is
Picture it: You’ve worked hard for weeks refining and distilling a big feature ask into a nicely designed MVC. It’s small, delivers value, and is beautiful to boot! You’ve convinced your PM to prioritize this beautiful little gem and it’s going onto the planning board. Everything feels amazing until… devastation!
After engineering looked at it, they came back and said it was too large and would need to be broken down further. Now you’re at the end of your milestone and you’re swiftly picking away at your beautiful design into a shallow imitation of its former glory.
However, there is a simple way to keep this from happening: “Iteration is a team sport”. The designer shouldn’t be the only person on the team compromising for the sake of MVC. With ThinkBIG, you have multiple chances to bring engineering into the fold early and with the full vision in mind. This means devs are part of the conversation from the start, able to craft a valuable iteration and your designs become the conversation piece of deciding “What can we do next to deliver an amazing experience to our customers?”
4) We’re working so hard but not getting anywhere
Working iteratively is incredibly powerful and at GitLab, we can see the value of an iterative approach. We’re able to change our priorities at a moment’s notice and the work we actually have to deliver is reasonable and manageable while continuously delivering new value to customers. There is, however, a small drawback: When you’re only focusing on the step immediately in front of you, it’s easy to get lost along the way.
As a designer, we have a unique opportunity to be the navigator for our teams. Using the ThinkBIG model, designers are empowered to hold responsibility for the Vision. From here, the Product Manager/Product Designer relationship becomes a balance between the vision and the strategy. Designs based on the large vision are used to keep the team on track for hitting the targets that bring value to customers while allowing for collaboration with the rest of the team on what tiny steps we take to get there.
5) Engineers are reworking a lot
My engineer and I are excited to work on a new effort. I’ve designed the first iteration and successfully passed it to them. While they’re building, I’m working on the design for the next iteration. A few weeks later the new changes are merged, the next iteration designs are ready, and customers are already seeing value. Your engineer looks at the next iteration and painfully mutters “Well, I’ll have to rewrite what I wrote the last milestone to account for this.”
In a highly iterative development lifecycle, it’s not uncommon to have to rework things as the product evolves. However, it shouldn’t be happening every time. With ThinkBIG, engineers are informed of the long-term goal as well as the short-term MVC iteration. This extra context allows them to deliver the iteration while architecting their code in an informed way of where it will go.
Start Thinking BIGGER!
Are some of these signals sounding familiar? Then switching your design style to ThinkBIG may be for you! The simplest way to make this change is to move iteration breakdown to after the design phase. It immediately shows engineers where we want to go as a product or feature, opens the implementation breakdown (MVC) conversation to the whole team, and provides incredibly valuable insight to everyone on the team. This model of working helps designers be more efficient, deliver results, and foster a tight collaboration with the broader team. To see this process in action, check out a Package ThinkBIG around the dependency proxy design and research. For more information, check out the GitLab Handbook on ThinkBIG to learn more.