Pieces of the Puzzle

M1 • C1 • 5 MINS

Learning Product Design can be quite a challenging experience. Almost everyone who starts learning product design significantly underestimates the complexity of the profession. It takes immense time and effort to practice and build skills one at a time.

You see, learning product design is very similar to assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle with 1 billion pieces. We've always played around with jigsaw puzzles when we were kids. Let's think about how we actually assembled a jigsaw puzzle.

It always starts with throwing down all the pieces on the floor. Then you pick up one piece and place it in front of you. What do you do next? You'd go through that entire pile and scatter them and try to find another piece that can connect with the piece you already have. While scanning through the pile, your brain subconsciously registers a few pieces that stand out to you. Maybe it had a different shape or a color or something. Once you connect the first 10-15 pieces, it becomes much easier to find and connect the rest of the pieces because you have a decent starting point.

Now you also try to group many pieces of the puzzle. For example, if the puzzle was a picture of a forest, you'd group all pieces with different colors together. Maybe blue for the sky, green for grass, and brown for mud. Then it would become even easier to put them together. Perhaps you connect the 10 blue pieces, 15 green pieces, and 12 brown pieces. You now have 3 tiny sets, and when you connect all of them together, what do you get?

The Big Picture!

But imagine what if you lost 10 pieces in a 100-piece puzzle? You'd never be able to complete the puzzle. In the end, the puzzle would always look broken and incomplete because there would be plenty of gaps!

This is precisely how learning product design works. Similar to how every puzzle piece can have 2-3 connecting pieces, everything you do in Product Design has multiple implications. It's your job to go and find all those missing pieces of the puzzle so that you can fill the gaps and see the bigger picture.

Finding pieces, connecting them, and filling the gaps is what product designers do every single day.
You always need to be on the lookout for these puzzle pieces so that you can fill the gaps in your skill set. Unlike a real puzzle, you will never know how many pieces there are in the world of Product Design. But the more pieces you have, the smaller the gaps will be, and the picture will be much more apparent. Let me give an example.

Let's assume you're just starting out, and you came across a term called 'Design System.' You need to collect many puzzle pieces to get a basic idea of what a design system really is. Let's say you keep reading things online and watching videos on design systems. You're slowly collecting pieces of the puzzle. You may be able to connect a few of them, but not all of them. Why? Because there are gaps.

The longer you do this, the more pieces you'll have. By the end of a few weeks or months, you will have a few sets of puzzle groups called Design Tokens, Color Styles, Text Styles, Atoms, Auto Layout, Components, and so much more.

There will be a day when you slowly start connecting these puzzle sets, and BAM! Eureka!!!

Everything suddenly makes sense!
You’re able to think a lot more clearly. You’re able to understand the why of everything. You’re able to understand what questions to ask.

The best part is that you can now see the gaps in your giant puzzle, and you can go find those pieces because you know exactly how they will look like, unlike before when you had no idea how many pieces to collect and how they looked like.

I can take this example even further. Finding pieces of the puzzle is similar to reading articles, watching videos, consuming content, talking to other designers, etc.

But putting the pieces together is more important, meaning you need to practically implement, practice what you learned, get feedback and improve.

Because the industry wants those who know how to figure out things they don't know.
When you’re designing a single screen, you’re going to connect many pieces together. Does this screen look nice? Does it have good visual hierarchy? Does it use the right components? Does it have the information the user is looking for? Does it look simple to the user? Does the screen make sense?
If you don’t even have the pieces of the puzzle, your screen is going to be a disaster.
The journey of learning product design is all about collecting pieces of the puzzle and putting them together. It’s okay if you’re unable to connect them today because if you can’t do it today, you will surely be able to do it some other day. But what are you going to do if you don't even have the pieces with you?

Here's the catch!

In the world of product design, there are certain pieces you can find only when you start working at a mature company. The more mature the company is, the more pieces you will find.

Now the biggest mistake people make is assuming that every company will give them the opportunity to learn everything.
You see, there are certain things that you can learn only when you work at a company, such as solving business problems, working with product managers and engineers, understanding technical capabilities and constraints, etc. And if you have to collect these pieces, you must work at a company where you can find these pieces.

Here’s the catch. Not every company is equipped to give you the opportunity. To get into the ones that do, you need to become the designer the industry wants. It’s like getting a good score in entrance exams to get into a very reputed and elite university. There are certain things that only an elite university can offer you.

Your career doesn't start when you get your first job. But it starts when you get to work in a mature company that can offer you the opportunities to learn and grow.