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What should designers ship?

One of the product design principles we have at Intercom is “What you ship is what matters.”

But what do you ship? It’s a fundamental question that every product designer needs to ask themselves.

Click to enlarge.

There are three potential answers:

  • “I ship design.”
  • “I ship a product.”
  • “I ship a business outcome.”

Designers who say that they ship design might often feel frustrated. In a lot of cases it seems like all other disciplines are working against them – engineers don’t care about pixel perfection, product managers always present them with business constraints, and so on.

“Shipping a good product is a constant balancing act between different constraints and the limitations of the real world”

“Oh, these people just don’t understand how important good design is!” one would say. But this design-centric perspective is limiting, as our SVP of Product Paul Adams explained in this great talk.

Designers who say that they ship product understand that design is just one of the ingredients. It’s neither more nor less important than great engineering, great marketing, great sales, great research or great product management.

Shipping a good product is a constant balancing act between different constraints and the limitations of the real world. Designers who ship product understand that design doesn’t exist in the vacuum.

As our co-founder and CSO Des Traynor often points out to us: “A mediocre product can win big in a great market. A great product can lose in a bad market. Market always wins.”

“Design is not an outcome in itself, but rather a tool for producing results for business”

Designers who say that they ship business outcomes understand that great design and great product are important, but there are businesses that succeed without those two being great.

Shipping a business outcome means thinking from a business perspective and that is a perspective of measurable and quantifiable results. After all, design is not an outcome in itself, but rather a tool for producing results for business. This is when design can prove itself valuable, strategic and truly meaningful.

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