Just because things are, it doesn’t mean they have to be

︎ by Pete Lacey, Head of Design

The best thing about design is the infinite range of possibilities. The worst thing about design is the infinite range of possibilities.

On a daily basis product designers at Pleo grapple with an extremely broad range of problems. These problems often span all corners of our product, touch on all areas of our business, and deal with a wide range of customer types.

Product designers working on these problems, in time, become experts of their corner. They know the ins-and-outs, the best bits, the pitfalls. The past decisions, the tech debt, the future possibilities, the we-tried-that-it-didn’t-work’s. Whilst this is great – over time it can lead designers becoming siloed, and when you become siloed it can be hard to see a different perspective.

It also becomes increasingly hard for other designers on the team to enter your world, the entry requirements are just too high. We can’t expect everyone to maintain the same knowledge about all areas of our product, it’s too big.

To break down these walls a little, I introduced a new concept at one of our weeks every quarter where the product designers don’t solely focus on sprint work.

The concept was called Oddly Specific.

Or, to be more specific, it was called:

𝓞𝒹๔𝓵¥ 𝓢ⓟ𝓔ⓒίⓕ𝒾C

Each day of the week, the entire product design team would break out into smaller teams to design a product designed purely to solve the use-case of the day.

The cases would be randomly generated, often based on a real part of our product - but then with some obscure and specific constraints put on top.

This not only gave the chance for many designers to work on core parts of our product they don’t usually get to work on, but come with a completely different approach to solving it, whilst not having to carry years of knowledge in that area.

This slight naivety, mixed with the specific-ness of the case, and the tight deadline, helped the team dip into the highlights of each product area without being dragged down with edge-cases and… well… reality.

The first days, the solutions were pretty close to home. Referencing or re-using existing bits of Pleo UI, or still somewhat built on-top of or within context of our existing product. But throughout the week, this shield was dropped – ending in strange solutions to existing problems. Culminating in a lot of weird apps.
I won’t proclaim that these solutions would made their way into the product, or completely shifted a way we were approaching a new feature. But I like to think that all product designers gathered a little more insight into different areas of the product – that everything that exists is up for grabs – that just because things are it doesn’t mean they have to be.

© Pleo 2023