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Head Of Product Design Reveals Three Unique Lessons He's Learned At Facebook

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/03/2016 Quora
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These questions originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.Answers by Luke Woods, Head of Product Design, Facebook, on Quora.Q: What are the most unique lessons learnt from designing something as ubiquitous as Facebook?

A: I've learned a lot of lessons while designing at Facebook. Three of the most important are:

1. Be Bold

When you're making a product you can take a more bold or a more cautious approach. There are benefits to both and each can be the right approach for a particular situation. When designing for over 1 billion people there's a risk of becoming overly cautious. What if I make a mistake and it affects so many people? I look at this differently. Because we have such an important mission and reach such a large community we have a special opportunity to make big changes happen. And if we're not bold then our community might miss out.

2. Data improves design

Sometimes people think of data and design as in conflict with one another. I don't see it that way. I see data, testing and analytics as an exciting new resource for designers. We can learn more about how the products we make are really working for people now than ever before. Embrace data in your design process and you'll be able to ship better products.

3. Products are never finished

When making a physical product there's a clear state of completion when the designs are sent into production or the product hits the shelves. When making digital products we're really never finished. Many of the things I've designed have already changed--and always for the better. The things that haven't changed in as noticeable ways can always be improved to work better for people in different contexts -- say on networks with low bandwidth and intermittent connectivity. People's expectations also keep changing as technology changes and as new products come to market. That's one of the reasons we say that out journey is only 1% finished at Facebook.

Q: How valuable is a traditional design education in digital Product Design?

A: On the Facebook design team we have folks who went to traditional design schools as well as those who are self taught. Design school is not a requirement for being successful in digital product design. Personally, I loved my time in design school and believe that it is valuable for setting product designers up for success.

In design school one can learn a lot of things including how to:

  • Identify people's needs
  • Work hard
  • Develop a critical eye and sense of craftsmanship
  • Offer and receive criticism
  • Create lots of variations and select the most promising
  • Iterate and refine solutions

These learnings are highly applicable to product design. There are other skills though that are important in product design that one might not pick up in design school. This includes things like the latest tools for prototyping, the constraints of the digital platforms today or how to think about conversion rates and A:B testing. I think there is opportunity for design schools to offer more here to students. These skills can also be picked up on the job.

I went to college at the University of Cincinnati, which has a cooperative education program where one is able to do a series of internships alternating with semesters of school. For me this was a great way to get the benefits of school and the benefits of learning while working.

Q: What advice do you have for managing and coaching young designers?

A: I love working with early career, high-potential designers. When coaching designers at this stage, it is important to help them channel their passion and energy on productive directions. I like to provide them with new challenges and opportunities to see how far they can push themselves. When this happens it is amazing how much a young designer can accomplish.

Young designers may be less aware of their own limits, what energizes them vs. what saps their energy and when to push for things vs. when to let go. I think it is important to help them consider these questions, in-particular because there is a real risk of early career designers burning themselves out.

Personally, I like to provide context and ask questions that encourage designers to consider issues vs. tell people what to do. My hope is to help them make informed decisions after having thought about situations from multiple angles.

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