David Merkoski

Head of Design

Reference design

Product vision can be a strong force in product design – it drives teams to work towards a shared outcome and provides self-evident answers to “What are we building? And Why?” Teams that are not driven by purpose and intent are rudderless, habitually choosing precedent over innovation, merely copying what already exists in the hopes it will work here too.

As a result product vision is often difficult to pin down or name. It’s “something we all share” or “in the deck”. If you open that deck you will find a roadmap with features like “Next Generation Search” or “Shopping 2.0”. This approach leads to unclear and under-used, general meh products. It also leads to team dysfunction, trust issues and ultimately—burnout.

So how do you collaboratively create product vision? One that provides enough clarity for an organization to plan, design and build a product a year out, but one that also affords the team responsive and agile shifts as they learn in the market. David Merkoski, former ECD of frog design and startup design advisor will share with Front a new design tool—a Reference Design—that tames the complexity of product vision for startups.

Not a design system, nor a set of rules and principles—a Reference Design captures a specific visual rendering of the shared intent and outcomes for a future product in detailed material form. Used in other industries, "Reference Designs are technical blueprints of the system, they contain essential elements of the system, but are meant to be enhanced or modified as required."

Through a set of clear artifacts and a focus on language, a Reference Design forges internal agreement of the shared purpose that drives teams forward. A highly visible document, it is always the answer to "What are you/we doing?" While it may live in a Sketch file on the cloud, it is also literally hanging on the wall. Everyone should be able point to it... "That is what we are building." It is the reference.

Through a series of case studies spanning industries, startup stages and business models, David will explain how using the cyclical process of a Reference Design can open teams up to being their most engaged and invested selves at work. In fact, it becomes quite fun when design is no longer the block and everyone is practically anticipating the next feature to build, seeing the pieces come together. Because when you are design-driven, product-led – work just makes sense.

About David

David Merkoski, is former ECD of Frog Design and a startup design advisor. He helps startups and non-profits active in renewables, clean tech, cleanweb, distributed generation and digital transportation achieve their goals through design.

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