After working in Silicon Valley as a product designer, David Kadavy (@Kadavy) focused on teaching non-designers how to make beautiful design. David is known as the bestselling author of Design for Hackers, a blogger, and the host of his podcast, Love Your Work. His new book The Heart to Start is out on December 12th.

The Q&A below is between the user experience team from some of our portfolio companies and David.

Thoughts on “design by committee” or “collaborative design”. Are there times where it’s more helpful than others?

It depends upon what the purpose of the collaborative design is. If it’s to make sure that relevant factors from various domains are being considered, it can be useful. If it’s simply to make everyone feel included, it can be messy.

In all cases, there should be a firm leader whom it’s agreed makes the final decision. Feedback should be seen as a suggestion, never as an order to follow-through on. Those who are closest to the design usually have reasons for making the decisions they do, and communicating those decisions to potentially dozens of people is counterproductive.

There is no shortage of people who spent a ton of money learning spelling and grammar rules but who don’t know how to really move someone.

When designing a new product that is so novel that the user has no prior point of reference, how much should one listen to user feedback versus one’s own understanding of the product?

Be careful to stick to a process. Always go back to product requirements and goals. Use user feedback to refine your understanding of the users and what they want to do with your product. Then, design again from the top-down.

Resist the temptation to take user feedback literally, because feedback will often call for a specific patch that will clutter an interface and experience (e.g. “put a button here to let me do this.”) Again, use the feedback to better understand the user and the problem, not to take literal design direction from users.

With your article, Growth Hacking for Assholes, in mind, which common mistakes do product designers make and are there any general misunderstandings around what a great user experience looks like?

If I were to write an article called “Product Design for Assholes,” I think these would be my recommendations [Stefan: Growth Hacking for Assholes is a list of common “growth hacks” that are really just bad for usability]:

  1. Make lots of unnecessary updates to your software. Make sure you break something with every update.
  2. Ask your users to rate your app in the app store every time they use your software.

Most software seems to be getting better, but I’d just like to see software made better, rather than throwing more development and product design at something that works fine. My single biggest complaint about software over the previous years is simply that it gets updated too much, without actually improving.

Jack of all trades or master of one? Which is the best way forward for creators to get things done/made?

From conversations I’ve had with my readers, it seems like being a specialist is still important for larger companies, whereas having multiple skills is important for smaller companies, or in early-stage startups.

I think if you’re really passionate and willing to work very hard on one domain, by all means, be a master of it. But I also think it’s very sad when someone is fascinated by a field and holds themselves back from pursuing it just as a career strategy. That’s terrible. It’s a tragedy. You can work harder on what you’re curious about, and curiosities converge to make explosive and unexpected combinations.

When you follow what truly interests you, you’ll eventually find yourself somewhere where nobody can catch up

Most important skill for potential “creatives”? Is it, learning to write, the ability to sell, present, design (visual and UX), coding, or something else?

The answer is yes! These are all valuable skills that can be mixed and matched. If I were to pick one master skill, it would be the ability to write. Clear writing takes clear thinking and empathy. That leads to better sales skills, presentation skills, and design skills. It would probably make your coding better as well.

Don’t mistake “the ability to write” for simply knowing spelling, punctuation, and grammar rules. These are somewhat important, but they are nowhere near important as the ability to write something someone wants to read or to understand how one word or phrase will be interpreted vs. another word or phrase – even if they both essentially mean the same thing. There is no shortage of people who spent a ton of money learning spelling and grammar rules but who don’t know how to really move someone.

The previous question explained a little more how I feel about this overall.

What advice would you give to a young creative about to start their career?

Try to find your voice. By that, I mean go ahead and be inspired, but don’t forget to ignore what’s popular and go toward what fascinates you. When people get excited about the next shiny thing, they lose touch with what’s genuinely interesting to them. When you follow what truly interests you, you’ll eventually find yourself somewhere where nobody can catch up.

Which books/blogs/resources/etc. do you think all creatives should be familiar with?

I’d say read the classics. I used to go to used book sales at the public library. My rule was that if I had heard of it, I would buy it and read it. Then, read a topic that really interests you. Read the biographies of your heroes, and learn about how hard they worked, and how intentional they were about being original. Or, learn about obscure scientific things that fascinate you.

I defined classics for myself as “something I had heard of.” For me, that was: Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, The Grapes of WrathPride and PrejudiceThe Catcher in the Rye, The Dialogues of Plato – all of the stuff I was probably assigned to read in high school but was too young to really understand.

Blogs are overrated. I personally don’t read any. I fill my Kindle up with samples, and I don’t worry about how much I spend on books.

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