Poornima Vijayashanker

Femgineer’s Design Roundup


Design often takes a backseat to engineering because people just want to get things to work and then ship it!

It’s not until after a product is in the market that the lack of design thinking and its importance becomes obvious. Design can give a product a competitive edge and increase adoption, and incorporating design thinking into a product development process consistently can make a team and company run smoothly.

I was one of the fortunate software engineers who was introduced to design early in my career and saw the numerous benefits to incorporating it early on into a product’s lifecycle. I also learned how to work with designers, and have a fully integrated product team, rather than engineering vs. design vs. product.

Over the past few years, I’ve been keen to showcase a number of these benefits and keep a watchful eye on new trends as they have emerged. I’ve showcased them on my weekly web show Build (formerly known as FemgineerTV).

Here’s a roundup of the previous episodes on the Femgineer YouTube Channel. You can also listen and subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes here.

Product debt: What it is and why you need to prioritize paying it down

You’ve heard of “tech debt,” the technical debt that gets accrued when a team races to ship a product and has to take shortcuts in engineering to make it happen.

The same holds true for a product. Over time, a product accumulates “product debt” as a result of cutting corners on the design, often prompted by the engineering team pushing back on what is and isn’t feasible given the timeframe, and how much rework or additional work it is going to cost in engineering. As this happens again and again, a product starts to exhibit clunky workflows, affordances that are inconsistent, onboarding that may be nonexistent, or features that get buried.

As a product continues to grow, it impacts how users perceive the product—and interact with it.

Paying down product debt needs to become a priority to ensure a friendly user experience and product adoption. In this video, we talk about how to prioritize paying it down in every release.

Product redesign: What to do before you redesign your product

It’s tempting to want to jump into redesigning a product, especially if it’s laden with product debt, or if you are trying to re-position your product or brand in the market.

However, a redesign is something that needs to be planned out; otherwise, it can become a runaway project.

In this video, we explore the following things you need to consider before doing a redesign:

  • The hidden risks of jumping into a redesign and how to avoid them
  • What happens when we redesign too many pieces of the product
  • The type of metrics you need to be tracking for each piece of the product you redesign

Design sprints: How they help fast track your ideas and how to get your team to adopt them

These have gained in popularity over the past couple years thanks to Jake Knapp’s book Sprint. They’re a great way to make sure we’re designing for the right problem, test out a feature, make sure it’s well scoped, and then put it out there for customers.

Despite their popularity, there’s still a lot of pushback around adopting them. In the following two videos, we discuss:

  • What design sprints are
  • When it makes sense to use them
  • How they can benefit your overall product development process
  • How to get your team to adopt them whether you’re working at a startup or larger company
  • The #1 benefit to doing them

Striking out on your own: Becoming a freelance designer

There may come a time where you are tempted to strike out on your own, give up the comforts of a company, and decide to become a freelance designer. Of course, the transition brings up a lot of fears like being good enough, consistently attracting clients, and paying those pesky bills.

In this video, I interview Jessica Hische, who shares the following:

  • Steps you can take early in your career, such as how to reach out to people or companies you want to work for and learn from
  • Why a day job can be immensely valuable and how to find one that is nurturing
  • Why you don’t have to run a 10-person design studio or a 100-startup, and can be a solopreneur
  • How to reconcile your client’s vision with your own creative desires
  • How to get compensated fairly by conveying the price and value of your work
  • Why learning tangential skills as a creative can be helpful when it comes to hiring
  • Balancing side projects and attracting work with the day-to-day work that pays the bills

How practicing creative confidence can help you embrace risk

When you design and share your designs with others, like coworkers and clients, you open yourself up—and that can be scary. You fear criticism, rejection, and failure.

To get over it, you have to get comfortable practicing creative confidence. In this video, Maria Molfino and I discuss the following:

  • Why the fear of failure is bigger than actually experiencing failure
  • Why we’re sensitive to feedback and how to remove the sting of it
  • How to deal with criticism from ourselves, bosses, peers, and loved ones
  • Why it’s important to create space between yourself and your creative work
  • How to reframe self-promotion

Creators can become company leaders

There’s a growing trend of traditional CEOs being replaced by a new breed called design executive officers (DEO), who embrace design thinking and imbue their company culture with it.

Whether you’re a leader or aspire to be one, this episode will help you learn how DEOs:

  • Are different from traditional CEOs
  • Evaluate and take risks
  • Are systems-level thinkers
  • Use their intuition to guide their decision making
  • Have cultivated a high level of social intelligence
  • Care about getting shit done
  • Co-create with their teams and manage different roles
  • Give employees permission to fail
  • Influence and shape a company’s culture through their unique leadership style

How to use empathy to build software products

Designers know the value of empathy as it relates to building products. But there are still a lot of misconceptions and misuses. In this video, Indi Young and I explore the various types of empathy, and how to practice it.

We dig into the following:

  • Why Tom Gruber, the designer and cofounder of Siri, believes empathy is crucial to getting things done in tech companies
  • Why empathy isn’t limited to just building products but extends to processes and building teams
  • Why we’ve fallen in love with quantitative data, but it isn’t enough to develop a deep understanding of our teammates and customers—we need qualitative data, too
  • Why empathy is a skill that can be learned and practiced
  • How to translate our learnings from practicing empathy into actionable insights for our business

The art vs. science of UX design

Why do some products stand out and others just get the job done? Is it about who designs them, or is it something else?

In this video, we explore these questions and discuss the following:

  • Why it’s hard to differentiate your product if you fixate on features and the science behind them
  • Why most companies fail to make a meaningful connection with users
  • A simple four-step framework that helps you clarify your design and speeds up development time

What are some topics that you’d like to see me cover in future Build episodes? Let me know in the comments below!

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.