Product Management Resources for Designers

By on in Design, Product Management

Product Managers are awesome! They keep goals in mind and priorities at the forefront –
and when designers get to work with them, it’s a real treat. Clearly, there is a lot of overlap in skill sets, but sometimes you’ll find yourself on a team without a dedicated PM. So if you’re a designer in a position where you need to do a little PM’ing – you’ll want to have these skills.

For a primer on what a Product Manager is and does on an Agile team, check out this great resource. The role is a bit tricky – and as a designer, the work can feel uncomfortable at first because PM deliverables can seem much less concrete than design’s. But, if you can master the secret art of Product Management, you will be a much better designer for it.

Ok, let’s get started.


A cornerstone of any great “Product Person” is an effective, engaging, and personalized facilitation style that can get you through any sticky situation. Here are some of the go-to activities that require expert facilitation. We incorporate all of these into each project we do:


IPM/Sprint Planning



Product Vision

At most companies, it is the job of the Product Manager to create and communicate the vision for the product. That doesn’t mean they go sit in a room and imagine something, then make other people build it.

The vision is built on a deep understanding of underlying user problems, business needs and (unless the PM is also the founder) the vision of the leadership team. For that vision to get anywhere near implementation, the PM has to get buy-in from all kinds of stakeholders. Once that’s done, they have to communicate the (revised, tweaked, improved) vision to the team that will help them execute.

There are no shortcuts for this work, and the techniques used come from general management rather than product specifically. Some tools that might come in handy if you’re selling a vision include:

Stakeholder Mapping

A Comms Plan

A Good Story

Product Strategy

Helping shape product strategy is a key skill, and also one of those “what the F@$# does that mean?” terms. There’s a lot of confusion about this, and if you want to know more I suggest you read this book. For our purposes, I think it can be broken down into:

Lean Canvas

Competitive and Market Research


Launch Strategy

Product Definition

Product Definition is probably what you are most familiar with. As designers, we are usually deeply involved with what sort of features are in the product, and how those features relate to a user need. While Product Managers think about those things too, they also have a few things in the definition process that are not a part of the the typical design process. The list below reflects both of these.

Brainstorming and Iteration


Product Road Maps

Experience Mapping

Story Mapping

User Testing and Research

Feature Definition

Working with Developers

Product Managers are always faced with tough questions from Developers like “Why are we building this?”, “Do we really need this feature now?”, or “Are you sure we need to rebuild Google calendar?”. Being able to communicate product and business needs to the people who are on the ground creating the product is super important. But, if you want to talk the talk you also have to walk the walk. You should be informed about:

Story Writing

Technical Research


Working with Teams

Product Managers are always thinking about how their team is feeling and how effective it is being. Team responsibility and its productivity has fallen on them, and they are often called upon to motivate and support designers, developers and any other disciplines that touch the product. At Carbon Five, we have learned a lot about working with teams. As consultants, we are not only working with new clients every few months, but also different teams inside Carbon Fiv. Here are a few things we have found helpful.

The Product Dartboard

Psychological Safety

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing


To sum up: when faced with a challenge, designers are used to getting scrappy and solving problems, much like Product Managers. Understanding the tools PMs use to solve problems can not only help you work with Product Managers better, but can also help you find solutions to your own design problems. Every designer has their own tool box – these are simply tools you can add to it.

“We don’t need a designer for this.” (Yes, you do.)

By on in Design

Design is an important part of the development process and we don’t want you to take it away without considering the risks.

Carbon Five has been practicing design for 10 years and in that time we have had the privilege of working with many design-driven companies. However, even the most design-focused companies get cold feet. Here are some things we have learned over the years on the (thankfully rare) occasion the value of design is called into question. Continue reading …

How to make an experience map

By on in Design

An experience map is a structured customer journey map that we use at Carbon Five to help identify challenges and opportunities within an existing (or imagined) experience. Since we use it so often – both when scoping projects and when kicking off major phases of work – we’d love to share a bit about what makes a great experience map. And because we create them collaboratively with stakeholders, we’ll share our facilitator tips for running an enjoyable experience mapping workshop.

Continue reading …

How to save 90% of your development budget

By on in Design, Process, Product Management, Startups, User Research

Carbon Five was recently brought in to build a new product with a planned budget of 6 months. As the first step, we conducted a few rounds of customer development to try and validate the concept. After a month of experiments by a product manager and designer, we ultimately recommended that the company not pursue the idea. Our client spent a few weeks of consulting fees but saved more than 90% of their budget by not building anything.

The client for this project provides software to a niche set of businesses. As more and more competition started popping up, they believed they saw an opportunity to create a digital marketplace in their niche. Before Carbon Five started building software, the client wanted us to confirm demand for the marketplace.

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Designing artifacts for Conversational UI

By on in Design

Here at Carbon Five, we’re pretty fascinated by bots and conversational UI. Recently, we worked with Cooper to test and launch a new Alexa skill, a meeting manager to help teams run daily standups. We’ve already written a fair bit about our collaboration process in general, and in the following post I’m going to get into the nuts and bolts of how we design, plan, and document a user’s conversation with a bot.

Between our work on hands-free applications, our project with Cooper, a handful of Slack bots we’ve built during hackathons, and a Facebook Messenger bot we built to celebrate May the 4th, we’ve had a few chances to experiment with ways to create a conversational UI script.

Continue reading …

The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Wrapping It All Up

By on in Design, User Research

If you’ve been following along with the Carbon Five Guide to User Research, we’ve worked on developing and confirming a business hypothesis by talking to users and synthesizing the results, then generating a feature set and prototypes, higher resolution design, development, and usability testing. Hopefully you’ve already run a user test and learned something valuable in the process. (If you haven’t, get thee to a User Research Sprint!)

If you have completed your first round of user interviews, good news: you’ve already done the hardest part of setting up an infrastructure that lets you continue learning from your users. Here’s how to keep the insights coming as your product matures.

Continue reading …

The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: The What’s, How’s, and Why’s of Prototyping

By on in Design, User Research

If you’ve been following along with our guide to user research, great! By now you’ve defined your feature set and are ready to try out your ideas. You know your product will be validated by user research and match user needs. You know that you need a version of the product to test your solutions and before writing any production code.

Now, we are going to walk through some of the best ways to get the feature set you have in mind into a useful prototype. Some rules of the road to follow before you begin creating prototypes:

  • The more the merrier: Come up with as many ideas to prototype as you can; this will help you evaluate your product with both your team and with your users.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate: Once you have the ideas make sure you evolve them through multiple rounds before you throw them out. This is your time to try stuff out and have fun. If you don’t explore broadly at this stage, when will you?
  • Use these prototypes to learn: Prototyping is most powerful when it is used to test a hypothesis and to learn about your users and what they want. Don’t think of the prototypes as a final design but as a way of learning what your final design might be.

Without further ado, here are our six favorite prototyping techniques.

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The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Feature Definition

By on in Design, User Research

Welcome to the 4th of our User Research series where we share our insights into how to generate a list of features. In the coming paragraphs we’ll talk about how User Research can help with stakeholder management, generating a feature list, and prioritizing a feature list. This post focuses on feature definition, and making what we’ve heard actionable (and testable!). Our next and final post will cover a handful of methods to prototype the features we generate here.

In our last post, we worked on synthesis and analysis of user interviews. After a number of interviews, we refined our proto-personas and identified common experiences.

(You haven’t done synthesis before? No worries! We run User Research Sprints that help with this process.)

Continue reading …

Carbon Five + Cooper: Exploring Alexa & the Future of Voice UIs

By on in C5 Labs, Design, Development

Recently, designers and technologists from Cooper & Carbon Five sat down to brainstorm about the future of voice-driven user experiences, focusing initially on Alexa. It was a fun kickoff for what we hope turns into a series of prototypes and experiments exploring (and pushing) the boundaries of this exciting emerging technology. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far:

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The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Interview Synthesis

By on in Design, User Research

So you’ve conducted a round of user interviews. Great! You’ve got video or audio you can revisit if you or your partner weren’t able to jot down everything in time. Wonderful! You recorded your thoughts during the session and kept track of conclusions and interesting observations immediately after. Amazing!

(Wait, you haven’t run a user interview yet? We run User Research Sprints that help with this exact thing.)

We’ll be using a fictional story about a hotel that wants to boost its appeal among business travelers. They’ve interviewed a group of experienced travelers and are about to break down the results. This story is loosely based on the DoubleTree cookie.

Continue reading …