How to run a successful design meeting — 4 tips
Presenting work is a really underrated skill, at all levels of our career.
It’s something that is central to the success of us landing our dream job, but we are mostly then left to our own devices when it comes to presenting projects internally to stakeholders who typically:
a) Lack project context
b) Are mostly non-designers
c) Care more about their own work
d) Don’t know why they are in the room
There are a few things we can do though to smooth over these cracks, and ensure that at every opportunity we’re maximising return.
Wouldn’t it be great if we left every meeting we have with tangible action points!
We can dream.
4. Agenda, people!
If I had a component for every time a meeting has been organised without an agenda, I’d be a fully fledged automated design system.
Was that a terrible analogy? Yes.
Alright, so let’s set everyone up for success by curating a concise (important!) and actionable agenda way ahead of time. If you’re scheduling meetings with less than 24-48 hours notice, you won’t be giving people an adequate amount of time to prepare.
The opposite is also true. That meeting scheduled for two weeks time? I’ve already forgotten about it and will panic 15 minutes before because I haven’t read the agenda.
Our best option here is to keep things tight. Keep things within the week, and in your agenda make heavy use of bullet points so people can skim what to expect.
Here’s an example:
• 15 minutes — Sign off of final onboarding screens after user testing
• 15 minutes — Technical sensecheck of onboarding prototype
• 15 minutes — Scope design system requirements for approved direction
• 15 minutes — Q&A, optional
Is this a space to discuss the new brand direction? Nope. How about our database migration and the outage last week? Also, nope.
Keeping things tight and to a central theme will mean that the meeting can be as short as it needs to be whilst also keeping people on track. Adding in time per section of the meeting will also force critical thinking and get the decisions made fast.
3. Prepare your guests
Wait, aren’t they already prepared with an agenda? Kind of.
Most people won’t bother to read your carefully crafted agenda, or will read it immediately when that calendar invites comes in and also immediately forget what they just read.
The success of this meeting has your project riding on it, so we want to make sure everyone is on your team.
Depending on how far out you schedule the meeting, make sure to nudge people before it to remind them of what’s coming up and whether you require anything from them.
Even if it’s a few hours before because you’re on a tight deadline, getting someone to focus on your project for a few minutes will lead to a more natural and constructive session.
2. Frame it
I’m not talking Figma Frames here people, but context.
Whether you have the luxury of presenting to your immediate team, or the pain of external stakeholders, context is everything.
Let’s start every meeting by going over that primed agenda from before, just so that those who didn’t bother to read it have no excuse but to play along now.
Here’s a useful script to slot into the opening few minutes of your next design review:
Thank you for joining, today we’re going to be discussing:
1. Succinct and actionable point
2. Succinct and actionable point
3. Succinct and actionable point
We have representatives from department, department, and department who will be providing insights from their own perspectives.
We will be leaving this meeting with decisions on succinct and actionable points 1, 2 and 3.
There will be time for questions throughout, but do we have any blocking questions before we begin?
Yes, you do need to fill in those blanks 😉
Setting the pace from the start will allow everyone to get into decision making mode, and reduce the confusion about when questions or concerns can be raised.
It’s important for people to know that their invaluable opinion will be heard, and that the meeting didn’t need to be an email*.
*if it did, then cancel that meeting immediately, and save everyone’s sanity.
1. Work backwards
I said work, not walk! Go and get yourself another coffee.
Bonus points for spotting that the bullet points in this list were also backwards.
Working backwards means that if you’re presenting a piece of design work that is new, people lack the historic context on the spot to firstly see what’s new and secondly understand why this is important.
Back to our onboarding example from before, let’s start by quickly showing the existing design to familiarise the audience and then we can move onto the shiny new version.
Whether we like it or not, our colleagues don’t pay attention to every little thing we do, so reminding them of what it is we do over in the corner of the office before showing them something brand new will make us all friends.
If you’re presenting something completely new and for the first time, let’s not start from the ground up. We typically will show people our journey to the finished article, from sketches to wireframes to high fidelity blah blah you get the picture.
The issue here is that people will have forgotten all those glorious decisions early on by the time you’ve showed the finished article. This way round means people will be pointing out that your button is 2px off centre, rather than the decisions behind the design direction.
A quick way to prevent this from happening is to show the finished article first, and then going through your early scoping and decision making.
People will be able to anchor that lovely polished design in their mind throughout the entire presentation and focus on those decisions that you had to make, not the pixels.
0. Go get ‘em
Have a go! With these simple tips, your next design review should hopefully be a lot more actionable and (importantly) interesting for everyone around that virtual roundtable.
Let me know how you get on.