It took me a few years to realize that I should improve the way I articulate ideas and avoid pointless arguments that only frustrated me as a designer in a corporate environment.
As an introvert, I always have troubles communicating my thoughts in a clear way to others. So whenever I had meeting with stakeholders, my mind would go blank, searching for the right thing to say to support the point I wanted to convey.
When you don’t have the right thing to say you can easily become emotional and blame the other person for not listening to or understand what you are trying to say.
Speak for your work, don’t expect it to speak for you
Ideally, our work should be solid and speak for itself, but if there is one thing I learned during my experience in the corporate world that sometimes the best ideas (don’t always) win.
That is when it stopped me to think, what if I applied those same skills I use to solve design problem to the way I communicate with decision makers?
Empathize with stakeholders
When we design, we first think about the users. What are their needs? What are their pain points? How can we make it a little more easier for them to achieve their goals?
So I’ve started to apply those same methods of design thinking to my own users — the stakeholders. Not just to understand them, but to actually be able to empathize with them and their needs.
I would start each project by trying to understand what are their true objectives. Does what they are asking for will get them where they want to successfully? What are their constraints, are we on the same page on that? Or are there any ways to help them to overcome those in a creative way?
The easiest way to find out the answers is quite obvious, directly ask those questions upfront. And if they are not able to answer, do your best to find out by yourself. Technology constraint? go discuss with the developers. Data issue? shoot question to whoever is able to help you with this. You get the point.
Learn to see how your solutions fit into the big picture
Often I encounter designers that are obsessed with helping the (end) users, neglecting the business needs, or the objectives of the rest of the teams they are collaborating with.
Though it is important for us to advocate for users, if we fail to support the business needs, we are not really doing our job. And that is when I believe designers feel frustrated when their ideas are getting pushed back. It’s not that product owners careless about design, it is that they see things from a different perspective that is not always obvious for us designers.
We romanticized this concept that good design is all that matter, and if it works for the users, it will eventually work for the business. But that is not always the case, and most of the times we must find the way to align between both the users’ needs and the business objectives.
By understanding this concept, designers could have a more productive conversation with the non-designers audience. Therefore draw a clear connection between their proposed solution, and the goal they are trying to reach.
Backup your arguments with evidence
Another way to support our arguments is to rely on data. Not always we have access or the right resources, but there are ways to get enough support for our case.
If you are lucky enough, your company have its own dedicated research team, take advantage of them. If not, go outside of the office and do your own research. It is not only going to help you sound your argument, but it will also be able to help validate your solutions with real users.
In his book “Articulating Design Decisions” author Tom Greever advice us to be able to answer these 3 questions about our design:
- What problem does it solve?
- How does it affect the user?
- Why is it better than the alternative?
To be able to communicate with stakeholders and get their approval we must understand these 3 questions very well and to be ready to answer them at any time.
Creating awesome design is not always sufficient for our job. We need to learn to communicate better, and to understand not only the end-users, but also the people we are working with and the business goals.
It takes lifetime to master the skills of communication, but it is something each one of us is able to do with great practice.
To be a great communicator means to be able to push your ideas forwards and to achieve mutual success.