Don’t Design in the Dark

5 Key Perspectives Needed for a Well-Balanced Design Team

Don't Design in the Dark!

Trick question: When you assemble a team for a product development project, who needs to be at the table? If you’ve worked in the product world for any length of time, you immediately recognize this as a charged and complicated question.

Every product, industry, and audience brings its own unique challenges to the equation. And therefore, each project needs a team with its own unique mix of skills, knowledge, experience and natural attributes. The secret sauce in an exceptional product development team isn’t about the who. It’s not a question of title. It’s about howhow does your team think?

With the right balance of perspectives, your team becomes your best tool for creating a product that delivers long-term business success.

So let’s figure out what these perspectives look like and why they matter:


The Business Realist

The sad truth is that most of us aren’t just doing this for fun. We also have to deliver business results. And yes, the entire team should recognize this. But in the middle of product creation, sometimes business goals can be forgotten.

Enter the Business Realist—someone who has examined the project carefully through the lens of its business goals. They are likely to bring up big-picture questions, discuss market potential and steer the team toward what’s the goal? type conversations. They’ll also more likely bring up topics related to the industry or organization at large, rather than just the team or project.

This Business Realist has strong financial know-how and will identify different avenues for revenue (and profit) generation. And when the development budget changes , they are likely to map out pathways and leverage connections to help keep the project moving forward.

One important note: you may need to tap into the above skill sets via multiple Business Realists. Whatever works! Just make sure you’ve got this one covered.


The Stakeholder Champion

A product is only as good as the people who buy it, interact with it, and (hopefully) love it. Its Stakeholders.

You need someone with the background and skills who can get to know your stakeholders. In fact, who on the team is borderline obsessed with understanding and advocating for those people?

If you can’t answer that question, you don’t have a strong Stakeholder Champion.

At the outset, this team member is your expert in obtaining stakeholder input—planning research, capturing information from them, and synthesizing that data into intelligence that moves the project forward. Most likely they want to be there to absorb information and input first-hand, rather than have the research provided to them.

The best Stakeholder Champion is both empathetic to stakeholders and very flexible in their thinking. Rather than getting married to a particular idea, they constantly analyze it through the lens of stakeholder needs and desires.

Products slated to solve a specific problem will benefit most from this type of perspective, but every project needs it. For example, we’re now seeing increasing need for Stakeholder Advocates on complex software interfaces, where human factors and usability have clearly become paramount in UI/UX design.

P.S. Notice that we call this the “Stakeholder Advocate” rather than the “User Advocate.” This is an all-important distinction which you can ponder as you read about why User Centered Design Is Dead.


The Questioner

The Questioner can appear to be everyone on your team—after all what designer, engineer, or other team member doesn’t enjoy asking a lot of questions and thoughtfully considering options before embracing a particular approach? But a true Questioner never really embraces anything. He or she keeps questioning, every step of the way. Even (especially!) their own ideas.

There’s no overstating the value of this perspective. They help the team:

  • Identify obstacles before they ever become obstacles
  • More fully understand the benefits and drawbacks of a given approach
  • Consider other possibilities
  • Defend decisions
  • And much more

While Questioners may drive you nuts throughout the process—constantly reevaluating the approach or decisions made by the team—they may be the project’s saving grace, helping it to avoid costly mistakes or finding that tiny alteration to the product or process which will be the game changer for success.


The Maker-Doer

In some ways, the Maker-Doer is a lot like a Questioner. But instead of communicating questions with words, they explore with their hands, tools, and materials.

Maker-Doers are intensely curious, creative, and inquisitive. But what really distinguishes them is the fact that when they wonder about something, they wonder in a state of action.

As the team discusses what might be feasible, they are already tinkering in their brain, itching to get to the workshop. The Maker-Doer fearlessly:

  • Comes up with ideas
  • Creates concepts or demos to help visualize and test those ideas
  • Keeps at it until feasibility is proven out

In short, they don’t consider solutions. They build solutions.

Keep in mind that the role of the Maker-Doer is not to help you avoid obstacles. They help you stumble into obstacles head on—and early on—so that you can better understand them and tackle them.


The Supply Chain Champion

The best product concept in the world is useless if it can’t be produced, distributed, and supported effectively, efficiently and at the right cost to achieve business objectives.

This is why truly business-savvy product developers are relentless about both

  • Imagining what can be made
  • Understanding how things are made

What the Stakeholder Advocate is to the people who will use the product, the Supply Chain Champion is to the process needed to actually make, deliver and support it. They persistently look at the product through this lens.

You’ll hear the Supply Chain Advocate ask supply chain-related questions early on. They’ll talk about processes, materials, serviceability and scaling. And in the long run, they can help save you from drowning in the bathtub of value.



These 5 perspectives are not all your team needs, of course. But they are critical ingredients of a great product-development team. By ensuring that you have each of these perspectives on the team, you won’t be designing in the dark.

And sometimes you can find a few of these “people” in one person. Pay those people extra!


About M3 Design
Founded in 1996, M3 Design is a product development company located in Austin, Texas. M3 is a team of world-class designers and engineers that challenge convention to help their clients maximize business opportunities by creating exceptional products and experiences with them.

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