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The Producer’s Guide to Navigating Product Design Reviews

When a marketing client asks, “Can you take a look at our product?” naturally, you say yes. After all, your agency is known for its design capabilities and talent. Maybe your creative team has recently hired a designer well-versed in buttons, forms, and design systems. Besides, isn’t a product design review just another design review? What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, many agency teams find themselves in challenging situations after diving into clients’ product designs without fully understanding what they’ve gotten themselves into. Often, these agencies:

  • Fail to grasp how products differ from digital designs for marketing.
  • Assume they can handle it like a regular design review, basing their feedback primarily on aesthetic judgments and personal preferences.
  • Underestimate the depth and breadth a true product design review demands.


To help you avoid these pitfalls, it’s crucial to understand precisely what’s at stake and arm your team with tools (such as our playbook) that can help turn these challenges into opportunities. Done correctly, a product design review can build trust with your client and pave the way for more meaningful design work. Successful teams recognize that the review is the first step in the design process, not just a task to get out of the way before the “real work” begins.

So, what exactly is a “product”?

Identifying a product is easy. Your client might have an app, a piece of software, an e-commerce platform, or another digital tool somebody, a user, interacts with to get something done. On the surface, products might resemble other digital campaign work. They use familiar design elements like images, copy, videos, buttons, forms, and navigation. However, while campaign work is rooted in brand strategy and creative vision, products have a broader foundation that sets them apart. Key differences include:

  • Products aim to address a user’s challenge or meet a specific need. Without comprehending the user, their context, challenges, or reasons for using the product, it’s impossible to know if they work well or not.
  • Products are dynamic, containing multiple design states. Their appearance and functionality can vary based on user status, past behaviors, or internal algorithms. Without understanding these states, you risk overlooking significant portions of the user experience.
  • Products are technically intricate. Their underlying software could be off the shelf, proprietary, or a mix. Every system has unique constraints and capabilities, understood mostly by its developers. Without understanding the client’s development situation, design recommendations are easy to dismiss.
  • Products are systemic entities. They’re not merely an amalgamation of visual design components. They’re integrated systems liaising with teams of engineers, researchers, product managers, IT professionals, customer support, sales, and marketing personnel. Evaluating any product necessitates an appreciation of the organizational structure supporting it.
  • Products are systems and are integrated. While products utilize design systems defining buttons, widgets, and reusable UI components, that is only the surface-level system. Products involve entire teams and tools of engineers, researchers, product managers, IT staff, customer support, sales, and finally – marketing clients. Evaluating a product requires an awareness of its context and teams supporting it.

Can’t we just do a typical design review?

It’s understandable why creative teams might think so. They’re seasoned, having crafted multimillion-dollar campaigns for global clients. Reviewing designs is what they’ve been trained to do and they practice it every day. Besides, production teams have playbooks for normal design reviews. Why not use that and move forward?

Because it doesn’t work and your team and agency could take a big hit for it. As we alluded to previously, there are some pitfalls to doing a product design review the wrong way. Here’s what that looked like for an agency:

A global agency got hired by a computer hardware company to revamp their e-commerce website. The team came in with high energy, eager to prove themselves with this new client. They quickly evaluated the site and thought, “This design seems too complex. We can streamline this, remove the excess, and make it much simpler.” They were confident about their proposed sleek redesign. But, the moment they presented it, they could tell something was off. The client’s team was less than thrilled. As it turned out, what seemed like a “cluttered” design to the agency was, in fact, a meticulously planned network of interconnected pages, tailored for different users on different journeys. And surprisingly, the analytics showed that users actually liked the so-called “confusing” navigation. The agency found itself in a bind. They had underestimated the site’s complexity and had to figure out a way to take a more rigorous approach if they wanted to keep the project.

How should a proper product design review look?

In order for a product design review to be successful, it takes a strong, clear production perspective to frame the activity as something different followed with the know-how to plan for what it takes. Our guide, “The Art of Product Design Reviews: A Producer’s Playbook” contains them all, but some important factors are:

  • Inclusive Teams: It’s not merely about having designers in a meeting. Successful reviews involve client-side allies and a diversified team spanning strategy, design, and development.
  • Adaptable Strategies: A product design review isn’t a cursory afternoon task. Although it can be expedited, it must balance rigor with flexibility in order to be taken seriously and responsive to what is uncovered.
  • Compelling Storytelling: This is where the design process begins. Evaluations and judgments must cater to both analytical and creative stakeholders. Framing your narrative appropriately and with sensitivity will open the door to more possibilities.


With these principles in mind, the scenario could have played out much differently:

When the computer hardware manufacturer tasked an agency with revamping their e-commerce site, the agency knew they had to approach the project differently because this was a product, not just a marketing execution. Instead of jumping into design markups, they started with an honest product design review. They assembled a diverse team of designers, strategists, and analysts to ensure a comprehensive and unbiased perspective. They engaged in discovery immediately, seeking to understand not just what they could see through the browser, but the underlying business goals, user needs, and the intricacies of the existing site. Instead of letting personal aesthetics and gut reactions drive their review, the producer facilitated review sessions and coded their insights, providing clear, actionable feedback. They developed a structured approach that balanced user needs with business goals, and clearly prioritized their recommendations. The ECD appreciated how their design recommendations went beyond visual tweaks into deeper creative territories. The agency suggested changes that blended brand storytelling with utility and efficiency. The client was impressed with the agency’s smart thinking and wanted to get to work immediately on bringing that vision to life.

This isn’t a fairy tale. It’s a real-life account of an agency we collaborated with. They leveraged our expertise to review and analyze the client’s product, which culminated in additional assignments and bigger budgets.

Whether you’re embarking on a new product design review or refining an existing one, the right mindset, methodology, and support can elevate your team’s performance. Dive into “The Art of Product Design Reviews: A Producer’s Playbook” to navigate the intricacies of even the most challenging product design reviews and get those wins for your team and agency.

The UX Spark: Igniting a User-Centric Mindset for Digital Producers

Igniting the UX spark within your team is the first step towards creating successful user experiences for your customers. It’s essential to understand the fundamentals of user experience (UX) design, even if you don’t have a dedicated user experience designer on your production team. This quick start guide will provide you with essential questions and tips to help you adopt a user-centric mindset, setting the stage for more advanced UX work in the future.

Let’s pretend that you’re designing a website and you want to make sure that it strikes a balance between your business goals, brand messaging, design desires, and what your users actually want and need. In essence, you want to create a great user experience. Let’s dive in…

Who is your customer?
Start by identifying your target audience. Are you addressing one type of person, or multiple roles? Understanding the different personas you want to communicate with will help you cater to their specific needs and interests.

Tip: Develop detailed user personas to guide your design decisions and ensure your website appeals to your target audience.

What is their goal and how does your website fit into their journey?
Consider what your customers are trying to achieve and how your website can assist them in that journey. Is your website a source of information, a means of communication, or a sales platform?

Tip: Map out the customer journey to visualize how users will interact with your website and identify opportunities to enhance their experience.

What do they care about, and what are their pain points?
Determine what information your customers are seeking and what problems they face. By addressing these concerns on your website, you’ll build trust and credibility with your audience.

Tip: Conduct user interviews or surveys to uncover customer needs and pain points, then design solutions to address them.

What does the sales process look like?
Understanding how customers engage with your company is crucial for designing an effective website. Do they reach out through your website, or do they prefer to call?

Tip: Align your website’s design and functionality with your sales process to create a seamless customer experience.

Think about your brand and your objectives.
What do you want to project and achieve through your website? Reflect on your brand values and how they can be expressed visually and contextually on your site.

Tip: Develop a clear brand strategy to guide your website’s design and messaging.

What emotions do you want to evoke?
Choose 1-3 words that describe the feelings you want your visitors to experience. This will help you create an emotional connection with your audience.

Tip: Use colors, imagery, and typography that align with the emotions you want to convey.

What do you want people to think and do on your site?
Consider the actions you want visitors to take and whether they align with your customers’ desires. Ensure your website design encourages these actions in an intuitive way.

Tip: Incorporate clear calls-to-action and easy-to-use navigation to guide users through their desired actions.

Position yourself against your competition.
Analyze your competitors’ websites to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Determine what sets you apart and how you can leverage this on your website.

Tip: Look for gaps in your competitors’ offerings and consider adopting innovative solutions to stand out from the crowd.

How should you fit in and stand out?
While it’s essential to differentiate yourself, it’s also important to adhere to industry conventions that customers expect. Striking the right balance is key to creating a website that feels both familiar and unique.

Tip: Identify standard conventions in your industry and ensure your website follows these norms while still showcasing your unique selling points.

By exploring these critical questions and implementing the tips provided, you’ll be taking your first steps towards thinking like a UX professional. Keep in mind that this quick start guide is just the beginning of your UX journey, and working with a dedicated UX specialist will be crucial for long-term success. Embrace the user-centric mindset and let it guide you in creating exceptional experiences for your website visitors. Happy designing!

Levels of UX Impact

When people talk about the impact that UX can make, they often bring up “design maturity”. This is meant to reflect the degree to which a company has embraced and infused design thinking into their organization. It’s a stand-in for gauging how they value design (and designers) and the potential impact it may have on what that company creates. At the top is a company that sees design as a core value that gives them an advantage over their competition. At a lower rung, design occupies one step in the production process that is there to ensure they’re communicating with their customers adequately. Wherever a company falls on that spectrum of design maturity, it’s important to understand maturity does not equate to design impact.

Just because you have a client that may not understand “design thinking”, it does not mean they don’t want to leverage design’s ability to transform their business. That’s why you adopt a UX mindset or hire UX experts to bring that perspective and possibility.

If you work at an agency, or your clients are internal, you have to ask yourself two questions: What is the impact we want to make with the client? And, what is the impact the client wants to make? Is it executing a small project, or helping them to change the way they think about their customers and crafting their products to meet changing needs?

Asking these fundamental questions when you’ve got a creative brief, requirements doc or an email thread can be difficult. It sounds almost too fundamental, yet if you don’t get it right, you’re missing out on an opportunity to get a resounding win.

An easy way to gauge the client’s design aspiration without coming across as judgmental or shaming a client by saying “well, if you understood design thinking…” is by starting at the most tactical level possible–the UI design deliverable. Work your way through the stack from there and figure out where your client wants to go.

UX Concept Impact Level Client Need
Wireframe Interface usability Visualize design concepts
Flows Supporting user tasks and goal completion Understand the user journey before, during and after the experience
Information Architecture Information Architecture Scope of the system and the ability to find information Ensure the system is structured so it’s intuitive navigation, uses the right nomenclature and can scale
Problem-Solution Design strategy Addressing the right pain points and opportunities
Can-Should Business strategy Confidence that they are solving the right problem due to strength, mission and advantage vs.passion and ability alone

This table is a great way to start the conversation about the client’s real need for impact and keep the dialog going from there. The best we can do is meet clients where they are, show them what is possible, and take them as far as they’re ready to go today. That’s what being a good design partner is, whether you’re managing a production team internally or a design vendor helping out.

AI in UX Design: Custom Creations vs. Tailored Templates

The world of design is filled with a wide variety of client needs, driving the diverse ways UX is implemented. As AI becomes a buzzword for many clients, they are increasingly curious about how it can be leveraged in UX design. In this context, let’s explore the contrasting approaches of situations requiring fully custom designs tailored to the problem and customized templates that are merely modified to suit the situation and how AI impacts each scenario.

Adapting to different needs

For some clients, UX may just be one step in a long design process while for others, UX is the defining approach focusing on solving both business and user needs. Apart from the varying levels of UX integration, the work itself also varies, whether the team is crafting custom designs tailored to the moment or simply customizing some standard templates that get the job done. Whichever the situation, UX designers must adapt their approach to fit the demands of their specific project and think about how to leverage AI in the process.

When you need custom design

These are situations where you’re creating something novel, something not yet commonplace in the design world. You may have a unique situation or design problem to solve and you need truly custom designs to make a successful user experience. In situations requiring custom designs, UX designers will employ AI as a valuable source of data points, much like how surgeons benefit from data analysis to make informed decisions and innovate new solutions. This market constantly seeks innovative approaches and designs that don’t yet exist, making AI blind to these options until we achieve Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Here, designers emphasize creativity and uniqueness while addressing real-world problems.

Team X : Custom designs + AI
Design Team X incorporates AI into their custom UX design process, particularly during the initial stages and prototyping. They utilize AI-powered tools to analyze user data, pinpointing pain points such as an unusually high drop-off rate at a particular step in the user journey. The AI identifies opportunities to streamline navigation, improve CTAs, and optimize the overall user experience. When prototyping, designers leverage AI to quickly generate multiple layout variations, including alternative menu structures and onboarding flows. The AI-generated prototypes help the team explore a wider range of creative solutions. Human designers play a crucial role in guiding the AI and making informed decisions to ensure the custom designs effectively address clients’ needs and objectives.

When you need tailored templates

Not every client wants to change the world with their new designs, they simply need and want design that can simply get the job done. They don’t mind following established design patterns as long as they will work for their customers. In circumstances that call for customized templates, AI can automate a significant portion of tasks that were previously done by hand or by individual designers. This approach is driven by small teams who know how to manage prompts and guide AI to fulfill their needs. This market has always been content with templates; the need to stand out is often eclipsed by the desire to be “good enough.” In this scenario, designers focus on efficiency and practicality, ensuring the user experience is seamless and familiar.

Team Y : Tailored templates + AI
Design Team Y embraces AI to enhance their efficiency in creating customized, template-based UX designs. By focusing on practicality, the team uses AI to identify the most important areas to customize within a base template, ensuring the design caters to clients’ specific needs and target audience preferences. Design Team Y also relies on AI-powered tools to evaluate templates against established heuristics and design patterns, optimizing for usability and user experience.

AI delivering on the UX mission

As AI continues to evolve and integrate into the design process, its impact on UX design will vary based on clients’ needs. For those who don’t need their designs to stand out and prefer a more streamlined approach, AI will play a greater role in automating tasks and creating efficient, practical experiences. Conversely, clients who demand innovative and novel designs will find that AI has a lesser impact, as human designers will still be relied upon for their unique creative flair and ability to address complex, real-world problems. No matter the situation, the future of UX design will depend on the careful balance between human creativity and AI-driven efficiency. That partnership between designer and machine exists today and will only continue to grow.

AI + Design Mastery

AI has entered the design chat(gpt). Not only are software companies scrambling to implement AI features into their products, but tools like ChatGPT, Bard, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and others are placing the power of AI in the hands of the masses. Entirely new products, such as Adobe Firefly, are emerging and essentially replacing stock photography (and Adobe Stock). This shift feels reminiscent of the mid-90s when internet browser updates were released weekly, and the capabilities of designers seemed to grow exponentially. In the case of AI, this is certainly true.

We see people posting examples of AI creations in different media, such as interface designs, art, prose and video entertainment. These creations are driven by designers providing prompts and parameters to get their desired result from an AI engine. AI-based design toolkits are already integrated into many of our design apps and workflows. We’re already seen Figma plug-ins and platforms like Stable Diffusion being used to create high fidelity design work that sometimes surpass what the human operator can do. Is this just skilled execution or is it design mastery that gives us a great result? As we think about UX design and the idea of co-creating with AI, we have to wonder: Does design mastery matter? If so, where is it–Is it in the prompt, the execution, or somewhere else?

Redefining design mastery

As designers, we want to believe that our work embodies an improvisational blend of art and problem-solving—an essence that AI can never truly replicate. A master designer possesses a deep understanding of their craft and can decide when to honor the rules and when to break them for effect. We believe this combination of artistic flair and calculated decision-making is something that sets us apart from AI. And, our human touch will always be an irreplaceable component of the design process. But, what does it mean when AI contributions become more impressive, more helpful and more difficult to distinguish from human contributions each day? It means that the placement and degree of that human touch is shifting.

As AI tools have been introduced, some have been labeled “junior” creators or “assistants” that may provide robust, albeit imperfect, contributions that the designer must ultimately decide to use or ignore. This position is a comfortable one to adopt, as it feels more like an extension of a designer’s capabilities without any loss of control. We’re still calling the shots, even if we may be prompting the AI along the way to make things more efficient or diverse.

As AI expands the designer’s capabilities, we may find ourselves working beyond our normal boundaries and going into unexplored territories. A visual designer might prompt an AI writer for headlines, while a user researcher could be crafting high fidelity prototypes, courtesy of an AI design tool. Regardless of the novel space being explored, these AI tools will accelerate a designer’s journey beyond their comfort zone into a place where they are less competent and more receptive to suggestions and adopting ideas. In such instances, it’s beneficial to view design mastery not as control or dominance, but as the achievement of a design goal, utilizing any tool that contributes to success. Consequently, the output of AI may be directly woven into the final product. This approach truly augments one’s capabilities, enabling designers to create in new areas made possible by AI.

Design mastery, still up to us humans.

If you replace “AI” with “teammate,” everything we’ve mentioned would sound like business as usual for the typical designer. We’ve all collaborated with team members who “assisted” by conducting audits, analyzing design patterns, and supporting decision-makers. We’ve all worked side by side, dividing the tasks, sharing responsibilities, and ensuring everything comes together seamlessly in the end. In these aspects, working with an AI feels natural, albeit with a different interface and a heightened need to double-check the output.

We need to undergo a dramatic shift when it comes to creating work using AI that we normally wouldn’t attempt ourselves. It’s in those moments where we let AI run wild that things can go off the design rails. We’ve used ChatGPT to analyze survey data, and while the first few prompts yielded impressive results, that quickly became unreliable. As we pushed the AI to manipulate the data for higher-level insights, we noticed new data had magically been inserted into the dataset. When questioned, ChatGPT apologized for adding its own data and removed it. While taking accountability for errors is admirable, it was unsettling to see just how easily the integrity of the work could be compromised. Had we not been vigilantly monitoring its progress, we could have easily strayed down a path where our design decisions would end up being compromised by the AI’s work. The moral of the story is that while it’s tempting to sit back and let AI “do the work,” a sense of responsibility and design mastery are still required. The onus shifts to the management of design, the strategic thinking guiding design and the pivotal design decisions that shape the final form. AI lacks the intelligence and touch that humans possess when it comes to ensuring design work is done right and feels appropriate to the moments we create when our users interface with the work.

Bad Design: What good is it?

People usually viscerally want to distance themselves from bad design, condemn it, and put it in the rearview mirror without so much as waving goodbye. After all, we’re all charged with creating good design–even great design, right? But there are some merits to bad design.

What’s good about bad design?

First, it helps you question assumptions. Taking a closer look at bad design should make us ask what makes it bad? What led it astray? Is it based on some inaccurate assumptions? Or is it somewhat correct but needs elaboration? This discussion is productive if we can start assessing to what degree a design is right or wrong–which can reveal that we may fundamentally have a misunderstanding about the design challenge we’re trying to solve or may be misaligned on how we value the project priorities.

For example: We worked with a client who gave us ample requirements for a new website they wanted us to design from scratch. The project seemed great–they wrote down all the expectations, gave us some design references, and pointed us to heaps of data we had to wade through for what seemed to be a very functional website experience. However, once we started sketching things out and shared some early ideas, the client started talking about the emotional impact the site needed to have on visitors and started throwing out design references that seemed like they were 180 degrees from the function-driven examples they shared earlier. This led to a healthy working session where we helped them explore and separate the site’s emotional and functional requirements and align us on the priority level of each. So even though the preliminary sketches were “bad designs,” they uncovered the complete set of project goals and priorities that were otherwise hidden from us.

Second, bad design also helps you explore the solution space–i.e.,the territory where all the design ideas would be considered possibilities. If a bad design shows something out of bounds–like needing a lot of engineering effort or an entire content team to pull off–you’ll hear about it. There are many guidelines and constraints that are never revealed until a client actually sees something that starts to cross the line. So being able to identify those boundaries helps you know where to focus your creative efforts.

Relatedly, bad design can help your client explore beyond the narrow path to success. Sometimes, clients have an exact idea of the design solution they think will work perfectly, and they narrowly define success in those terms–maybe they share a folder of research or tech specs so you can build precisely their envisioned solution. But if you’ve ever designed anything new, you know the path to success isn’t narrow, but wide. Identifying the right solution requires questioning, exploring, and trying various approaches along a wide path. And in the end, you end up delivering a design that may be a little or a lot better than the client’s original vision.

The third thing bad design does is it helps unify the team’s thinking. When you look at bad design, you can’t help but be vocal about what is wrong with it and engage in a discussion. But when the designs are just ok or good, clients tend to reserve their judgment and opinions until there’s a reason to share them. And often those questions or opinions can accumulate and come out at inconvenient times–like when you’re ready to launch. It’s almost like bad design is a pressure-release valve to get people to start sharing their thoughts.

So what do you do when that path to success looks suspiciously narrow? We do something called “malicious design” whereby we purposely explore “bad designs” in order to find the good. We create outrageous sketches to help question our understanding of the project boundaries and the goals/values of our clients. Even though this is purposeful, it has all the benefits of bad design, as we just outlined:

  1. Question assumptions–did you or the client miss anything when originally outlining the project?
  2. Understand the solution space–are you pursuing a narrow path or a wide one?
  3. Unify the team–the team is more willing to share candid feedback when everyone’s starting from the same spot: the design isn’t great.


Critically, malicious design can be a means by which you salvage a tough review session with a client. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to plan to utilize malicious design–you can turn a review session with a client into a working session in which you probe what makes the design bad, whether there’s any good in it, etc.

Or if you have a client who is suspiciously quiet and you fear things may erupt later, maybe you call your malicious design session a “brainstorm” and get the client to clarify or reinforce project assumptions and constraints.

However you utilize it, bad design can be a highly productive way to ensure you deliver the best designs for your client. Getting your team comfortable with the idea of working with “bad design” can give you another tool for finding the right path to good–even great–design.