Hacking your way into the local ‘product’ design scene — A cheatsheet

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Hacking your way into the local ‘product’ design scene — A cheatsheet

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

Over the past couple of quarters, it’s been great to see tech and the startup scene in Pakistan pick up pace. Even with a mutating virus not making our lives easier, we see a new wave of product based startups getting empowered via international investors and firms. More importantly, a lot more is happening and the pipeline seems to be thriving at a motivating trajectory.

Design, in parallel, is also playing catchup. Various folk are switching industries and their software design agencies to give product a chance and play a more closer/ deeper role with a single ‘client.’

In a similar light, this article is a list of reflections/ feedback based on the your existing situation and where you see yourself headed, with action items you might find helpful for your journey.

A lot of it won’t even be about design. It might not even have the right categorisation. Here goes…

If you’re a student, exploring this space and aiming to learn more

  • Start searching and compiling a list of local startups. Learn more about the amazing products we have.
  • Research about problems you’re interested in. What are people across the globe doing to tackle it. See if anything’s happening locally.
  • Try to understand their business models. What works for them. How do they differentiate. What can you learn about them.
  • Learn about people. A startup can not survive for long without a team. Learn more about the founders. Get to know their early battles. Learn about culture and how they’ve scaled.
  • Lookup basic definitions of some of the buzzwords.
  • Read. Read. Read. Can’t emphasise this enough. This has been the differentiator for me personally, and a habit I wish I could have developed years ago.
  • Talk to people. Send that message. Act.

If you’re a junior designer trying to get the hang of product

  • Make sure you’ve covered the basics of design. This will help you put your best foot forward and get the right attention.
  • Showcase your work and have evidence that you are a do-er. Thinkers are great, but you need to build that case for design and the value you will provide. You are powerful and they need you. Remember that, but work for it to make it count.
  • Read the above pointers, but look at the best product design teams. Also read about different models. Lookup design leaders. Understand how design teams work. Learn how they are structured.
  • Premise of product companies and design needs to be around impact. Spend time understanding ways design delivers values. Start building your portfolio accordingly. You may have a lot of things already, it might be just about how you package it.
  • Learn the basics of tech, how do thing work. How does a business function. Watch a few episodes of Shark Tank / Dragon’s Den. Understand the format. Research into the new keywords you learn.
  • Tell your story. Learn how to share. Focus on communication skills as a muscle.
  • Personal branding is essential. Pitch yourself. Tell them how you’d deliver value as someone who is part of the product team.

If you’re a senior designer and seeking greener pastures

  • We need you to speak up. Your voice matters. The community would love to hear your advice and what you’ve learnt over the years.
  • Making the switch to product may seem difficult. Have an open mind.
  • Unlearn. Learn again. Repeat.
  • Figure out connections in product companies. Start approaching them. A simple conversation can turn into a collaboration within a few messages. It can even turn into a role in a few more messages.
  • Seek your allies. There might be people who are non-designers but do appreciate good design. Partner with them. Explore the space together. Learn from each other’s weaknesses. Help yourself by helping them. Keep sharing.
  • Collaborate.
  • Your portfolio possibly needs a bit of rework. Lookup case studies and experiment with projects. As you get senior, recruiters will expect projects where you will have to prove the value you’ve created by the work you’ve done.
  • If you don’t have anything solid. Work with non designers to create something from scratch. Doesn’t have to be profitable. You need to live the product journey and instances of it.
  • Keep at it. You’ll get there. It’s a small world, and an even smaller community. Reach out to people starting out or early teams.
  • Read. Understand the concept of Zero to One. Learn business.
  • Focus.

If you’re a non designer but would like to represent design in your org

  • You are amazing.
  • Research product teams and where design fits in. Understand the touch points where you need to build the case.
  • Preach. You are our interpreter for the rest of the org.
  • Start things off with small projects. It will not happen overnight.
  • Please be a bit patient with us. We’ve not been used to collaboration as a default.
  • Work on projects together with us. Doesn’t have to be about work.
  • Trust us.
  • Treat us as partners. Good designers will genuinely prove their value without you even asking for it.
  • Talk about problems, and focus less on solutions. We’ll get to those eventually.
  • We’ll do it together.

If you’re working on a startup and/ or plan to set one up

  • You’re a rare breed. Not a lot of people have the guts you have.
  • The earlier you get a designer’s lens on the figurative table, the sooner you’ll see the value of design.
  • We love prototypes. Collaborate with a designer. We can help you visualise your ideas.
  • It doesn’t have to be someone with the label of a designer. It’s the mindset of being user-problem focused.
  • “Org Design for Design Orgs” is an amazing read if you want a playbook.
  • Please think of us as problem solvers, and let us prove we’re more than pixel pushers.
  • You’ll probably have to do all of the above, and more.
  • Ask for help, there are amazing people out there. Reach out.
  • I’m cheering for you!

Fostering and actively engaging in the local design scene should be everyone’s responsibility. It’s a steep journey to the top, and we will need all the help we can get.

I’m sure I may have missed something, and would love to get feedback. For any queries, feedback or even a casual chat, feel free to reach out. Let’s get started.

That’s all for now, until next time.
Happy hacking!


Hacking your way into the local ‘product’ design scene — A cheatsheet was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.