To create a successful product, three functions must come together: engineering, design and product, much like a three-legged stool.  If one function is broken, you are unlikely to have a great product.


For this partnership to work, each function has its role.  It’s the Product person’s job to articulate the “why”, and Design and Engineering to figure out the “what” and “how”, respectively.  Some tension is natural.  My philosophy is that some heated debate is healthy.  No one should take things personally, since debates push more clear thinking and help flesh ideas out.

In terms of Product’s “why’s”, it’s the Product person’s job to answer a few questions:

  • Why are we building this product?
  • Who are we targeting?
  • What is the market landscape?  Who are the players in this space?

It’s Design’s role to articulate the “what”.

  • What’s the overall user experience? In the case of a mobile app, this ranges from the onboarding experience to navigation to rewards to sharing with others.
  • Visual design – from color palette, font selections, etc.

It’s Engineering’s role on “how” is to determine the technology stack that can accomplish said product.  Engineering should be primarily concerned with performance, scalability, and flexibility (tweaking features as a product finds product-market fit).

I mentioned three functions above, not three people.  In some cases, it’s necessary for someone to take on multiple roles.  This is often the case for new products, when someone has a new idea and wants to prototype a product, or even launch an MVP.

I’ve worked in a number of startups and bigger corporations that don’t have a designer on staff. I take on the role of an interaction designer and then seek out the support of a visual designer.  That’s never ideal but is necessary to move projects forward.

While I did not explicitly include a QA lead in the paradigm, this role is often combined with engineering.  Bringing a QA lead into the discussion early is always helpful as he or she often helps identify failure use cases based on experience with other products.

Regardless of how many people you have to get started on a project, having a strong Product person who can articulate a clear vision on “why” we are building this product is crucial.  Without one or someone to take on that role, you may not be building the right product to begin with.