Insights from a Product Design Manager: An Interview with Akshay Iyer
Product Design Manager
7 min read
March 10, 2023
Today, we are excited to have the opportunity to interview Akshay Iyer, a Product Design Manager with several years of experience in the tech industry. Akshay has experience working with various leading companies and has successfully led product design teams to create award-winning products. Akshay has been a valued member of the Perpetual team for 5 years, contributing to the creation of outstanding products and helping grow and nurture the Perpetual design team. He is a firm believer that design is everywhere and needs to be thought of from the very beginning.
Background and Career
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in your career?
My name is Akshay, and I am a Product Design Manager at Perpetual. I have been working at Perpetual for the past five years. I hold a Master’s Degree from NYU and am a Scrum Certified Product Owner. Additionally, I speak four languages and can recite the alphabet backwards. 🙂
I started my career as a Software Engineer at a consulting firm catering to leading Hedge Funds and Private Equity Firms. However, I felt like my career had plateaued when the most creative thing I got to do was to make tables in SQL and design reports using outdated tools. After only 10 months into the role, I realized that that was not what I wanted to do for a living. One thing led to another, and I packed my bags and moved to New York City to find my true calling.
I love design and the tech world, so I needed something that could bring them together. I wanted a career that would challenge me, excite me to want to come to work, and allow me to simplify life for people in even the tiniest of ways. Eight years, countless user interviews, wireframes, and design prototypes later, here we are today!
Q: What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?
My career pivot from a Software Engineer to a Designer was definitely the biggest challenge I faced. Some people questioned my decision with this change, asking me why I wanted to switch careers. They pointed out that software development traditionally pays better and has more job opportunities and stability than other roles in the tech industry, so why choose a career with fewer job opportunities? It took time, resilience, and a lot of personal projects to prove my abilities as a designer, and to eventually land my first job.
Q: Can you tell us about your favorite projects or experiences at Perpetual?
My favorite project is one of my current ones: a fast-growing silicon valley startup in the marketing tech space. This startup applies machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve search engine optimization (SEO). It is an SEO platform that analyzes a website and its competitors’ content based on search keywords and user intent. It then provides a comprehensive report that flags problem areas in your SEO implementation, and what you can do to rank higher on search engines.
I've been working on this project for the past three years, and there is still something new to learn every day on this project. It's been the most rewarding experience for me as a Product Designer: I've designed solutions dealing with SEO optimization, accessibility, website traffic, and performance, helping the client team find their product-market fit. Most recently, I designed a first-of-its-kind content editor that integrates with OpenAI's GPT-3 to automatically generate SEO-ready website content.
Q: Can you describe your current work and daily tasks? What does a typical day look like as a Product Design Manager?
On a typical day, I arrive at work at 9:30 am and lead our ‘Day Starter’ stand-up with the design team, ensuring they have what they need to have a productive day. I then hop into a project stand-up with the engineering team and attend any project-specific follow-up calls. My mornings are packed with almost 2 hours of meetings, which is part of my role as a Product Design Manager overseeing multiple teams across multiple projects.
I tend to be most focused on my design work in the late morning and early afternoon, when my calendar is blocked for calls and I’m ‘in the zone’. While I work, music helps keep me focused: my typical music jam is listening to EDM on Spotify: here’s my go-to playlist!
I usually get lunch around 1:30 pm, which recently has been a healthy, and somehow addictive, salad bowl from Sweetgreen. After lunch, I hop back into work and get back ‘in the zone’. A couple of afternoons a week, I present my latest work in meetings with our clients to get their iterative feedback.
Most days however, I schedule my client calls later in the day, usually around 5:00 pm, which gives me uninterrupted time during the day to focus on my design work. And a couple of days of the week, our design team has a design jam session to talk about design (who doesn't like that!) to wrap up the day.
I close shop at 6:30 pm by summarizing priorities to our offshore engineering team for their day coming up.
Q: What do you like most about working on a project?
The learning! With each new project comes a new industry and an opportunity to learn. After five years, I can confidently say that I am an expert in SEO, have a strong understanding of the stock markets, and am well-versed in the inner workings of the commercial real estate industry.
Q: What is something you find unique to Perpetual compared to other software and design agencies?
We're not an agency that just works with other companies; we become an integral extension of their team. As I mentioned earlier, I've been working with a client for three years and have never felt like an ‘outsider’ when working with their team. As our CEO would say, we're not vendors, we're partners.
Q: What is a tool that you cannot live without and why?
In terms of design tools, I owe a lot in my career to Figma. If the internet or Figma were to go down, I would literally be out of a job 🙂. That being said, it would be great if Figma could introduce an offline mode as soon as possible (hope you are reading this Figma team 😃!)
Regarding software in general, Spotify is another product I love. While I am not a music aficionado by any means, I enjoy having music playing while I work. It helps me focus my thinking, level out my mood, and sometimes even serve as design inspiration. Both the music itself and the Spotify product can be inspiring for me ♫!
Q: What insights do you have on the product design industry?
The industry is constantly evolving, with new trends, design styles, fonts, and opportunities to explore. Companies are seeing the value in user research, going atomic, tokenizing their design systems, and even making them public. Design has become more specialized than ever, with roles including User Researcher, UX Writer, User Interviewer, UX Designer, Product Designer, UX Prototyper, and Visual Designer all working together to manage different parts of the product design life cycle. With so many areas to specialize in, the industry offers a wealth of exciting career opportunities.
Q: How do you see the industry evolving in the future?
The industry seems to have hit a plateau in terms of fresh design trends and ideas. However, what I do believe is happening is that older ideas are being revisited and improved upon with a modern design twist.
Companies have also started to understand how important design is in the software lifecycle. Even for basic ideas, considering design has become crucial. Without the industry evolving, I wouldn't be writing this interview’s notes in Notion, or streaming music instead of buying albums. New companies are using design as leverage to push big companies to step up their game or risk losing market share.
Advice and Tips
Q: What advice or tips do you have for other product designers?
Start from level zero, and whenever you encounter a problem always ask ‘Why?’ without immediately thinking of a solution. Also, drink lots of coffee, that’s a designer staple ☕!
Q: Can you share any tips for balancing creativity and practicality in product design?
There is always room for creativity, but consider starting with wireframes or paper concepts before fleshing out designs. In the industry, deadlines and time-to-market constraints can take precedence over design decisions that need to be made. Creativity is essential and should be presented as design concepts as quickly as possible, but it shouldn't come at the cost of delaying getting the product to market. Ultimately, we have to create value for users, with the right dose of creativity and practicality.
Q: What's one thing you wish you had known when you started your career?
Design systems are the foundation for cross-team collaboration, a lesson I learned the hard way. This is something I wish they taught in school, but I’m glad I learned it later rather than never.
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Akshay Iyer, one of our very own Product Design Managers. Akshay provided valuable insights into his background, career, current work, and the product design industry. We feel lucky and privileged to have Akshay on our team and can't wait to see the innovative products and projects he creates in the future. Thank you, Akshay, for sharing your experiences and insights with us.