ReeTalk: Teaching Digital Product Teams Not to Follow the Rules

Mathias Persson - May 14, 2021 8:07:37 PM

A couple of weeks back, we had the pleasure to have Ado Hodzic as a guest speaker at our monthly ReeTalk. The talk was centered around Ado's extensive experience on when not to follow the rules. As products are becoming sterile, it’s important to shake them up and stir in a different direction!

A couple of weeks back, we had the pleasure to have Ado Hodzic as a guest speaker at our monthly ReeTalk. Ado is the founder of Motif, a global digital agency with expertise in user experience, user interface, and custom development. The talk was centered around Ado's extensive experience on when not to follow the rules. We thank you, Ado, for taking the time to meet and for sharing your valuable insights and learnings with us.

Good design solves a problem

How do we know when to follow rules and when these rules are just an overhead? My rule of thumb is to be led by what adds value. If it adds value to the client, the end user, or the team in the process of product development, then apply it. If not, skip it. Rules are a great guide for those just starting out and looking for a framework to fit into. However, with experience also comes the responsibility to operate beyond rules and create new norms.


When it comes to rules, the number one rule (and one that will guide you throughout the design process) is to approach every problem and every project with an open mind. Forget what you know for a moment and consider the user, their environment, and get to the core of the real problem (not the one you are told exists, and we’ll talk about this a bit later) before coming up with a solution.

Being non-conventional


If our job is to solve a problem, we need to take ownership and be accountable for solving the problem. We need to understand that employers don’t hire us to execute tasks they assign and that clients don’t hire us so they can tell us what solution to execute. Below are some of Ado's tips n' tricks; please download the presentation at the end to read them all!

  1. Don’t blindly follow stakeholder input. This might lead to shipping products with poor user experience and ones that don’t solve the problem in the first place. While stakeholders have valuable industry knowledge, they only know what they know. If you assume that your customers know what is right, you will place unnecessary limitations on your team. Clients don’t expect that they should tell you what to do. They expect you to add value and come up with solutions to the right problems. If they knew what to do, they would do it themselves. 
  2. Stop treating user interviews as a go-to research method. As a standalone method, they are not very effective. Most people can’t see past their frame of reference. We are all confined in our own microworlds and simply don’t know what’s possible until we see it. Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” and it’s not their job to know. It’s our job to figure that out. WE have to keep that in mind. Of course, once someone else comes up with a solution, it makes complete sense and we wonder how come we never came up with it. There is a famous quote that goes around, presumably said by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Regardless of whether he said it or not, there is definitely truth to that.
  3. Have your designers work on multiple projects. Momentum is great in some cases, but there is real power in stepping back. What you find is that when you approach the problem a second time, you see it with fresh eyes and usually come back with more creative solutions. When you zoom in, you can only see so much.
  4. It can always be better attitude. Don’t ever be fully content with your work. I’m not saying this to sound negative or to undermine the work being done. I am saying this to force you to always look for opportunities and ways to improve. Even after you are done with something, explore other products; you’ll be surprised with what you’ll find. 
  5. They say design is personal, but it is not. Design is there to be criticized and improved upon. If we treat it as something personal, we immediately close ourselves off to valuable feedback. Designers have the power of visually presenting an idea and creating one common source available for critique. The power in that is huge, especially when we encourage feedback. Imagine if we did not have design and we only relied on discussions. How would we ever know if we’re on the same page?
  6. DON’T follow norms. If our product teams blindly follow “norms”, they’d never stretch them. Technology evolves, tastes evolve, and so should design. My opinion is that it is the job of product teams to challenge norms and introduce new ways of doing things. Again, users don’t know what they don’t know, and the majority of the population doesn’t have the power of visualization. It is our job to present solutions that become the new norm for users. Look at the evolution of the keyboard. We went from the typewriter, to the keyboard we use today, and all the way to our smartphones, where we’re slowly replacing the keyboard and typing with voice. Possibilities change with technology, and product teams can use their knowledge, skills, and creativity to both solve problems in new ways and help the end user. 
  7. Don’t aim to impress. Aim to solve a problem. Along the way of course, make sure that your design is pleasant, clean and non-intrusive. This will leave a good impression on your users.
  8. Make failure acceptable within your team. Failure is not the end result. It is just a temporary state, and good teams treat failure as part of the process. If failure was not acceptable, then teams would always choose to play it safe and would never allow themselves to think outside the box to move boundaries or recommend new solutions that can be tried and tested in the real world.
  9. Choose effective design, not the one client likes. When deciding on the solution to be implemented, always choose the design that is most effective, not the one that the client likes. It might not always go your way, but if you build a relationship with your clients where they trust you, and you do this by guiding them in the right direction and explaining your reasoning behind why one solution is more effective than the other, they are more likely to take your advice. Testing with real users is crucial for finding an effective solution. 
  10. Giving up control will make your product and your team more successful. Being stubborn about what a product should look like and what it should offer is counterproductive. We need to let go and let the product take shape based on actual feedback from the real world. Realizing that the control is in the hands of the users will motivate you to seek feedback and continuously improve.

Where good product teams become invaluable is at the intersection of matching their familiarity with the users’ mental models (understanding of how things should work), problems that need to be solved, and knowing what’s possible in terms of available technology, integrations, etc. Armed with this knowledge, product teams can do great things if given the freedom to explore and be creative.

Feel inspired? Check out the rest of Ado's presentation at the link below to learn some more tips on how to think innovatively by breaking the rules!

Reetalk - Teaching digital product teams not to follow rules.pdf

Topics: #ReeTalk

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