Speaking About the UX of… Stakeholders

UX designers are thoroughly taught how to deal with the users’ confusion, fears, hopes, expectations, dreams, boredom, desires… you name it, in the process of interaction with a product. But little has been said about the experiences of this product’s stakeholders during the process of its design.

No matter if you are part of an internal product team, a freelancer or you work at a design agency, there’s always a person or a group of people investing in that product, who tends to supervise the design process and make the big decisions. Often times, these people don’t have a design background and working with a designer to them seems like a courageous endeavour. Why? Because, you know, we’re the creatives, the artists, the free spirits, the rule breakers, the pink colour haired, if you wish. Do you already sense the tension a business person experiences even before starting to work with a designer?

Some people have never hired a designer before, others have had bad experiences working with them, but the truth is these people don’t know you and it is your job as a good designer to teach them. My advice to you is to start from the basics - tell them what you do, how you do it and why you do it that way. I can assure you, a lot of people will be surprised you are not the person to appear with the colourful pencils after all the strategy and product definition meetings are over. Explain the difference between artists and designers and stress on the fact that design is not a mere self-expression, but a problem-solving discipline that relies on clearly defined requirements, business goals and user needs.

Now that you already have reserved a seat at the strategy table early on, you can share your process with the stakeholders to remove the stress of the unknown design methods. Tell the stakeholders how often to expect meetings to be scheduled, who should attend those meetings and what should they expect to see at each meeting. Thus assuring them their voice will be heard and you won’t ditch off in an unwanted creative direction. Don’t forget to mention that all your decisions will be explained in a rational manner - tied to the project goals - and not in some artisty language.

So, the project has already started and you are waiting for your first revision feedback. And here it comes: way too long or too short, way too generalised or too prescriptive, going into something you have already agreed on or into something you are not ready to discuss yet. Either ways, maybe you forgot to guide your stakeholders’ on giving helpful feedback in advance? Help them evaluate your work by telling them what to focus on and what to ignore, so that they know exactly what designers need at that point and help the project move onwards.

If you have any doubts on how to communicate with your stakeholders next time, just try to put yourselves in their shoes. They are not familiar with your terminology or your skill set, nor they give design feedback for a living. They don’t know you and your craft. Communicate more, be honest and accountable for your work and you will do good work together.