Navigating products to market without overspend

How do you work with creatives to ensure your products get to market smoothly?
25 November 2022

Get the best experience out of your designers through empathy and clear communication.

When you’re bringing products to market, no company has money to burn just for the sake of it. In Part 1 of this article, we sat down with Rex Chekal, Principal Product Designer at TXI, a product innovation firm that specializes in digital health products, to explore the pitfalls of product design – and how not to spend an unnecessary fortune on the way from ideas to marketable products.

Rex highlighted the importance of spending money on research to ensure there was a solid market for the idea, and how crucial it is to ensure clear lines of communication between designers and decision-makers.

While we had him in the chair, we asked him how to navigate the communication pitfalls in product design, and to keep control of costs once the process has begun.

The need for empathy


Imagine a company has a distinct idea, and a strong reputation. How do you maintain trust while telling truth to power if your analysis doesn’t support the design they want to go with?


You go in with understanding. After all, if they’re a domain expert, maybe they started their business 20 years ago and had great success.

The trouble is that there is a founder fallacy kind of happens in those circumstances, where if you’ve succeeded once, you believe you’re going to continue in the same vein.

Those are some of the most difficult clients to work with. But you have to refocus their energy to get them enthusiastic about testing their ideas. Do they still have their finger on the pulse? You can use that engagement as a teaching experience, or if necessary a humbling experience? Go in with empathy, so that you can change their perspective culturally around where ideas come from and who owns them.


So there’s almost a kind of mutual job interview where decision-makers and designers try to find a meeting of minds?


Yes – when we start to engage with a client and explain our process, some of the things that I’m looking for and I want them to be looking for in us are the company culture. What do their teams look like? What are the values on teams? How integrated are their teams, especially in the product design space? All of those things start to speak to the hierarchy in the value systems that a company has. So I can start to understand how I can best negotiate these waters, and do my best work.

Corporate Tinder?


So – at least when we’re dealing with two companies – getting a match of company culture is vital to streamlined, on-budget product development?


More or less. Technology is everywhere. You can hire firms all over the world, you can have a company in India just build whatever you tell them to build. But to get down and do real hard work, you need to really focus on the company’s culture and how that’s going to work. Do they value diversity of opinion, do they value user-centered research? Those are the things that are going to make or break a relationship between decision-makers and product designers.


So just as the product development process is going to go much more smoothly if you research hard before you begin, the communication relationship is going to go much more smoothly if you feel each other out before you decide to work together, so your ideas on how to work together are in sync?


Pretty much. The more levels there are between the designer and the decider, the more scope there is for feature creep, which tends to cost the company money it hadn’t intended to spend, and for distortion of communication, and the lack of buy-in that can cause.


You said it was important to go in with empathy. Is that important for the communication that makes for effective, on-budget product development?

The perils of efficiency-driven business


Yes, but it’s tricky. I feel like corporate business is failing at innovation, and it’s because of that lack of empathy at the top. More empathy generally leads to more innovation, because you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their goals for the product you’re developing.

I think that lack of empathy comes from the majority of businesses being driven off shareholder value, and efficiency gains. That’s why companies like Twitter or Facebook, these big tech monoliths, are in an acquisition strategy, rather than an innovation strategy. It’s easier to buy a startup that started a new product that was based on human-centered need than to do it within their own company, because they have obligations to their board.

The pathway to progress


If we’re talking about communication, and we’re talking about clarity, and we’re talking about empathy, what needs to be done? What should companies ask their product development partners before they begin?


They should be asking their partners about their culture and trying to understand how they work on teams. What does their process look like? This is the equivalent of a corporate first date, so the idea is to get a mutual idea of the culture, the team, and the things that drive them.

That two-way process will establish any red flags, any likely difficulties with communication, receptivity to ideas, and any syncing issues between the approaches of the designers and the decision-makers.

Get that right, and do the research before the project begins. Establish an ability to communicate, and ideally, open yourself up to the idea that even if you have a lot of experience in the product area, you may not know enough to guarantee a win on a newly developed item.

Do all that, and you should be on course for a strong, positive relationship between your decision-makers and your designers. And once that’s in place, your products should have a streamlined, cost-effective path to market.