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On design roadmaps and product roadmaps

If a design roadmap's goal or the expected outcome is a product (or multiple products), do we call it a design roadmap?

A job posting on LinkedIn by Joni V, the Head of Product Writing at Airbnb caught my eye. For hiring a Senior Manager, UX Writing, one of the statements in Joni’s job description post says—”We work from a design roadmap, not a product roadmap, and there is only one roadmap for the entire company. You will get to work on high visibility projects.”

In my understanding, a design roadmap enables something else—it could be a product, service, a partnership, or a transaction. Can design itself be the goal of a roadmap—I am not sure. On the other hand, a product roadmap means that it enables the product itself, for internal use or for external shipping.

Design roadmaps work in parallel with product roadmaps, technology roadmap, or the organization sustainability roadmap. For example, the design roadmap can be designed to ensure that the technology roadmap retains the user-centricity in the product.

“If a design roadmap’s goal or the expected outcome is a product (or multiple products), do we call it a design roadmap?” I asked it to myself but then I correct myself as I share the details later in this post.

I started imagining about a design roadmap but most of the examples I found in my network or on Google search show the design roadmaps as part of the product roadmaps.

Sidney Debaque writes that design is a facilitation and it is sounds true. If we have a facilitation roadmap, we are expecting something else to work our—a service, or a series of interactions. Even if the design facilitates stakeholders mapping, the roadmap is for the synthesis.

I kept on thinking how the design roadmap in Airbnb looks like and then I thought—what Airbnb could be trying to do as part of their business strategy? (See Joni V’s LinkedIn post here.)

For example, when they announced Airbnb Collections, what could be the first or second product discussion be like. “Airbnb plans to introduce Collections so that the audience with specific interests can find the products easily enough—Airbnb for work, Airbnb for families, and so on.” Searching online helped me find Airbnb Unveils Roadmap to Bring Magical Travel to Everyone, and now I was beginning to understand the design roadmap.

So, I am just assuming that Airbnb designs what they want to do next. Being a design-driven organization, they ensure design-centricity in their product operations, and hence the design roadmap and not the product roadmap. In this example, they might have a design roadmap to enable Airbnb Collections in their digital experience and which means that they are designing something for the design’s goal itself.

They do not call it another product story, or feature or an interaction story while planning the roadmaps because calling these as a design roadmap or part of a design roadmap serves the same purpose. (If you are interested, see Airbnb’s early days story of how two designers started it.)

This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

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Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.