To me, product design isn't about building a cool a technology that makes someone millions of dollars or acquiring as much conference swag in my closet as possible (trust me, I've got more stickers than I could ever use at this point). Maybe these are obvious, but here are the top 5 things I care about when doing my job as a product designer and which make me feel successful if I've done these right.
1. Is it helping "the little guy"?
I think about this one a lot. So much has changed on the technology landscape in the last 20 years and yet so much remains the same. The technology revolution isn't over and with it comes much uncertainty, danger, and even exploitation of those who claim to be making a better future for us. It is imperative that product designers - those who speak for the user at the business-level - are held to high standards of moral design behavior.
There's still much to learn about ethical product design and the next 20 years will be a rollercoaster of finding the right market fit using moral principles to guide an awesome user experience. Companies that want to survive the next 20 years would do well to check their morals.
2. Does it "do unto others as I would have it do unto me"?
We know by now that product design isn't just about how something looks or feels. So many unethical products are successful precisely because they look or feel great. Yet their behavior - or the values and behaviors they are engineered to exploit in us - often bring out the very worst of humanity not because they are ugly at the visual level, but rather because their algorithms are biased against the marginalized of society, or they didn't design for accessibility first, or they designed their product around a business model that would improve their already fantastic situation while furthering the gap between themselves and those they claim to serve.
I believe my faith teaches that Christ's injunction to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12) didn't only apply to kids on the playground, but was a call for all of us - no matter our socioeconomic status - to create lasting value and better results for others, even if it means making a bit less money or costs extra.
3. Does it transform an otherwise mundane experience into something awesome?
Naturally we look to product design to transform entire industries because it has the power to make a job easier, an everyday task more delightful, and create new opportunities for jobs and entertainment. I would take a guess that many of my fellow product designers, like me, began product design because they were inspired by someone else's product, or because they wanted the future that Iron Man already had. This is the gateway drug to product design, and it is awesome.
4. Design is a team sport
Whether you're a lone designer at your company or work on a team of 20 designers, if you want to design and launch a successful product you must be a team player and work with all roles (UX, Dev, PM, Project, Business) and all job titles to deliver something awesome to the world. There's no room for prima-donas or ego here. Any of those tendencies should be checked at the door (zoom call window?). Great ideas and work happens when everyone challenges each other to do their best, contribute 100%, give critical feedback, and deliver their unique perspectives.
Some great advice I heard in a youtube video recently was that if you feel the need to design in a vacuum or have prima-dona tendencies, make sure you have a creative outlet outside of work where you can channel that energy, but don't take it to work.
5. Does it delight and inspire?
This is, of course, that we aspire to as product designers. As a kid, my brother and I would try to connect our computers to play multiplayer games by typing in IP addresses, only to be disappointed over and over that the internet wasn't delivering it's promises of awesome multiplayer experiences. Now, I can jump on a game with my brother on the other side of the country and be playing Smash Bros. in minutes.
Digital products have not only created new areas of entertainment, but created entertainment of everyday tasks. They make everyday tasks easier, yet sometimes harder (like how now I get to be disappointed when my Homepod can't turn on the lights because she's having a hard time connecting to the internet. Not very inspiring). They have the power to addict us to them, and to change our relationships with people.
Hopefully these inspire something in you and help you define what product design means to you. We each have something great to contribute to the field of product design. And as everything becomes a product or new market, it's imperative that each of us has a strong voice in shaping our future.