These days – with technology and design surrounding us at all times – it’s easy to lose perspective and lose sight of why we started designing in the first place. We often get so lost in the weeds about details and execution, that we forget about how much real, meaningful impact we have on the people who we build products for.

This past week, I was lucky enough to join a group of fellow designers in Detroit during my first meetup as an Automattician. Many of the people I met during this trip changed my perspective on design in a powerful way. One of those people was Hajj Flemings.

Hajj spends his time helping small businesses in Detroit and beyond get online and set up their businesses – and the community as a whole – for success.

Hajj connected us with some wonderful small businesses in Detroit so that we could connect with them and learn about their struggles, goals and aspirations. These conversations were extremely insightful, and there were a few things that stood out to me while visiting with these business owners:

Kay from Art In Motion and I after a team excursion to her pottery and crafting shop

Not just a website – it’s financial freedom

The biggest thing was so simple, but huge. We aren’t just allowing businesses to build a website – we’re helping them build financial freedom. It should be our mission to help make this a reality for them.

We build relationships

In a certain sense, when we build websites for our customers, we’re building a bridge between them and their customers – a relationship. Each decision we make goes a long way in either harnessing that power or impeding progress.

Limited resources

Most small businesses typically have very little resources in terms of time and expertise to devote to their website, even if they’re aware of the benefits a website may bring them. Giving them a simple way to share their business with the world is a powerful thing.

Think small

We often over-think and assume we have to do much more to have an impact than is really necessary. Most often, the right solution is very minimal and straight-forward. Small wins go a long way!

Take-away

These are the real reasons we design. We design products for meaningful growth, for understanding and to build relationships.

If you’re a designer or product person, I highly recommend embedding yourself with customers as much as possible. Get to know their environment, their struggles and their constraints. It will put you in a position to better understand and solve problems.

Here are some photos I took while exploring the city and working with the team.

Published by Thomas Bishop

Product designer at Automattic working on the WordPress mobile apps. Musician. Lover of curry. Always be learning.

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