3 must know tips for a remote product designer

I’ve been a remote product designer for almost 5 years. People often say to me that ‘I have the dream job’ or question if I really work full-time…

Remote work comes with it’s challenges. Of course there are many personal benefits to working as a remote product designer but working remotely also comes with it’s professional challenges.

I’m going to give you some remote working tips that i’ve picked up during my time as a full-time remote product designer working with a hyper-growth startup.

Thoughts on being a Remote Product Designer

There are the obvious benefits of working from home. There is a lot of virtual ink spilt on the subject since COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head.

Not being embedded in a team full-time comes with challenges. As a freelance product designer you’re often jumping between varying freelance contracts that have a limited scope and timeline.

Here, I’m going to talk about some specific benefits of being a full-time remote product designer working within a large team.

01. Be disciplined with time

Working from home as a remote product designer means you’ll either work too much or too little.

Personally I fell into the ‘work too much’ bucket. This meant I started earlier than I would in an office. As I was primarily working with a US based company i would try an start as early as possible.

Often I’d get in the zone on a project and didn’t take breaks or lunch. I’d keep working on whatever I was doing and before I realized it was 6pm!

If I wasn’t finish my activity or mentally switched off i’d just keep working.

Depending on what time I started, I was often doing 12-14 hour days.

I’ll continue this topic in another post but for now, my point is that you need to force yourself to take breaks and be aware of how long you’re working for.

SOLUTIONS

  • Set a timer for focused work
  • Add break times to your daily schedule and TAKE THEM.
  • Stop work everyday within 30 mins of your usual finish time.

02. Over communicate

As a remote product designer your team communication will degrade. People wont talk to you as much and you’ll find you won’t talk to them as much either. If you work in different timezones (As I did) this will be even more of a challenge.

You will need to replicate the communication and collaboration you have as a co-located team member as much as possible.

This means daily stand-ups, being open to slack (chat) interruptions and making the time for your team mates when they need you.

Share your work progress and/or status often. Use tools that enable commenting or feedback so people are free to leave feedback when they are available.

The right team mindset is essential. As a freelance product designer it’s up to you to involve people in your decision making process and keep the team aligned on the problem you’re solving.

You don’t want to harass your work mates but don’t feel shy about asking an engineer or product manger to jump on a video call to run them through your thinking.

SOLUTIONS

  • Give a team progress update at the end of each day
  • Share your work in a tool that allows feedback to be given (Google docs, invision, Figma etc)
  • Over involve rather than under involve your team.

03. Stay true to your process

If you work with technology or a digital product it’s likely you huddled with your team mates around a whiteboard making it rain different coloured post-it notes and drawing an excessive amount of boxes and arrows.

Much to my dismay, as a remote product designer this experience no longer happens.

Back when this was part of my day-to-day activities I considered whiteboarding a fundamental part of ideation, scoping and team alignment.

Stay true to the activities that you always used in a co-locate team. Use digital tools to simulate what you got from post-it notes and a whiteboard.

Use tools like trello to simulate post-it notes or Google drawing to run collaborative sketching sessions. I use an app called Awwapp to sketch on the fly while talking. (You do need a tablet for it to be truly effective)

Working as a remote product designer at home, by yourself, in front of your computer, it will become much easier to cut corners as far as your process goes.

Back when I started working remotely I found I’d jump strait to hi-fidelity mockups as it was much easier to get feedback and show perceived progress.

It’s way easier to get ‘buy-in’ on something that looks polished than a story map in trello or user flow in google drawings but starting at high-fidelity never ends up in a good place.

Details we missed. Engineers had to make UX decisions on the fly and userability testing was never going to happen.

Stay true to your design process. it will be more effort to wrangle the team for the feedback you need but that will be less work that cutting corners.

SOLUTIONS

  • Use post-it notes and a whiteboard in your remote office. Point you camera towards it to share with your team or digitize afterwards in a photo. (Type up and add to trello/google drawings if you need interactive input)
  • Explain your process to your team mates and/or stake holders. Tell them what the result will be and why you need their valuable input. (Don’t expect people to get excited over a vague “brain storming session” or “Strategy session”. Be explicit and set an agenda, goals and outcomes.

Remote product designer tips conclusion

So that’s my top three tips for staying sane as a remote product designer. Typically the role comes with a lot of face to face time with customers and team mates. Times have changes and we need to adapt. Do these three tips above and stay focused. It took me 5 years to get to where I am working remotely so I hope to be able to give back some of what I’ve learnt.