Designers, expanding your expertise can anchor you more–the irony is real.

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Designers, expand your expertise. It’ll anchor you.

Character illustrations by Harini Kannan

Specialisation is the name of the game. But, what if I tell you, paying closer attention to adjacent fields will make you better at what you do? No, this isn’t the antiquated debate on whether designers should code. It is, however, an encouragement to find parallel interests, and then devise mental models to connect the dots back to design.

You might sculpt yourself a lethal USP that makes you a more valuable and influential contributor.

The parallel to product design that piques my interest most is Business. While I’ve worked on many products across stages, primarily while being a founding designer for a SaaS product– Pause, is when I managed to appreciate the direct impact of business on design. While wearing multiple hats– designer, product manager, sales associate, content writer, and customer service rep– my instincts around business-driven product-building grew.

Here, I aim to share some considerations that anchored me, so that it may give you areas to peek at as you navigate your design process.

Business ⚓️’s for better design

While business is a broad area, we will look at 4 aspects that impacted Pause’s design and roadmap the most and how. What can you expect?

  1. Staying laser focussed through customer segmentation
  2. Defining a USP despite a competitive market
  3. Pricing as a test to decide what and how to build
  4. Building a two-way bridge between product and marketing strategy

1. Staying laser focussed through customer segmentation

“When you try to be everything to everyone, you accomplish being nothing to anyone.” With an area like leaves management, it’s easy to fall prey to building yet another generalised tool that solves an old problem in a junky way.

But, organisations are changing. There is an opportunity to reinvent the perception of leaves management, and perhaps find underserved areas.

👉 Who wants us?

For Pause, we spent weeks identifying our beachhead market– SMEs with employees ranging from 10 to 100 people, who’re looking for a lightweight solution. Through countless conversations, we looked at organisation structures, team-level patterns, and attitudes around leave policies, along with any unrequited pain points.

All of these seamlessly came together when designing our core product. We could be opinionated about our leave policy feature and optimise our team's page for companies with fewer, but dynamic teams. We brought holiday calendars for remote teams to the front of the roadmap and pushed the less applicable features to Backlog.

Character illustrations by Harini Kannan

You’ll still often find us using phrases like, “In the real world…” or “Company X spoke of…” while designing so that we might anchor our decisions in real-world patterns.

All of these lead to quicker and more accurate decision-making and have also crept into my demo calls. Bonus!

2. Defining a USP despite a competitive market

Leaves management has a defined set of table stakes features. All products need a USP, but Pause also belongs to a deep-red ocean market, uh oh! So, how do we differentiate, especially keeping our customer segment in mind?

👉 Finding our voice

Stemming from the problems faced by our parent company, our approach from the get-go has been to build– as I like to call it– a slice of work-life tool that is untraditionally lean and lightweight.

We focused our USP on team communication and wellbeing, having understood the unrequited needs of potential customers like ourselves and our beta users.

Our primary principle, ‘employee-first’ permeates through every product decision to keep the usability crisply anchored to our vision. Along the same lines, we baked feature nudges for burnout alerts and unlimited leaves for menstrual cramps into the product, that’s always available for use.

Character illustration by Harini Kannan

We also prioritise features accordingly. We invest effort into areas like our Slack integration and customisable notifications to elevate team communication across distributed teams.

👉 Going over & above

To remain competitive, we invest disproportionately in popular product areas like our Slack and Calendar integrations to make it bigger and better. We include more than what the market offers and customers expect to increase acquisition and retention. The Slack integration, in particular, has begun to organically convert potential customers into convinced users.

3. Pricing as a test to define what and how to build

Whilst a leaves management system is inherently complex to build, the playing field is peppered with fierce competition for us to be anything but competitively priced. Pause is therefore sold for only $1 per user per month.

Birthed from a decade-old design consultancy, Pause’s product standards are high. However, the building costs need to back the product’s pricing in order to be sustainable. So how do we use pricing to our advantage?

Character illustrations by Harini Kannan

👉 The $1-test

For any decision or scope that requires a trade-off, we ask ourselves, “Is the investment and development cost needed to build the ideal solution justified for a tool that costs $1”. If the answer is no, we cut scope and build the next best alternative.

While we build features to be user-optimised, at times we’ve left out the optimum solution due to its expensive undertaking. Examples include complex features like timezone integration for public holiday calendars or systemic decisions like how to allow a user to change their leave cycle mid-year.

👉 Evaluating new features

As a bootstrapped business, we have to approach growth frugally. This is why we use research practices like rapid prototyping to evaluate ideas cheaply and deftly. We save on costs by building conviction early and rejecting ideas that don’t satisfy our pricing constraints. Exploring a capacity planner view fell into this category. When we explore new features like that, we ask ourselves:

  1. Can this feature justify increasing the cost of Pause to $2 or $3 or more per user per month?
  2. Will our customers agree to pay for this increase?
  3. Will the incrementally increased price cover the development costs of the feature, whilst still leaving healthy margins for profitability?

In the end, the answers are glaring at us with refined clarity.

4. Building a two-way bridge between product and marketing strategy

Given our budget constraints, our biggest marketing tools were our website and SEO focussed content, in addition to our Twitter, Linkedin, and Reddit presence.

👉 Website as a product

We use thoughtful storytelling across our website to promote our features, pricing, and vision. What we are mindful of most is that each aspect of the sales funnel is met through what we include:

  • Demo video to raise awareness of the problem and our solution
  • Blogs and feature stories linked from social media to pique interest
  • Detailed feature pages with crisp copy and clear visuals for consideration
  • Feature demo videos and a list of our roadmap to garner intent
  • Testimonials, a list of beta customers, and a 24/7 chat to help evaluate
  • Easy access to ‘Get free trial’ CTAs across the site to enable purchase

👉 Powering our content strategy

SEO marketing is a powerful tool, that’s no secret. While building our content strategy, we choose to harness the two things most important to us as a founding team– product building and healthy workspace culture. We’ve channeled our knowledge of building Pause into features stories and a playbook to drive home the reality of an uncharacteristically, easy-to-use leave tracking tool, that is people-first.

How did this translate to design?

For one, we used the interest in our stories to keep features like birthdays and work anniversaries in the product (instead of discarding them). More importantly, it took us articulating our product strategy to nit-pick on and improve our onboarding flow among other features. Onboarding onto Pause went from being 21 steps to just about 3, all-inclusive. Yeah, it’s super-efficient now!

👉 Being inclusive and friendly

As a slice of work-life tool optimised for remote teams all over the world, we take cultural inclusivity and relatability seriously. Our website and all its content include names from different regions, while our copy is playful and friendly! There’s nothing like ‘too delightful’ now, is there? In fact, this ethos made its way back to our Slack notifications as well! Here’s a glimpse:

Character illustration by Harini Kannan

To conclude,

Keeping close to other verticals of business like customer service and sales has armed us with more ammunition that’s made its way to our product roadmap and even told us which features to rethink. As a designer specifically, it has helped me put my work into context and infuse more value into the path ahead. I am a better-informed designer because of it.

For those of us in product design, inspiration and constraints can be eclectic– engineering, visual arts, psychology, and so on. Being in an ever-evolving field, we can harness the best of any world, draw serendipitous connections and translate it into something novel.

So, what’s your cusp?

Designers, expanding your expertise can anchor you more–the irony is real. was originally published in Muzli – Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.