Awesome Design is Not Enough, Improve Your Communication Skill

Being awesome at design is not enough.

That’s one of the many things I learned from the UX workshop by Somia Academy that I have taken. At that time Matthew Green brought this topic at the last day of workshop, inspired by Mike Montierro’s works.

I specifically hold an interest at this quote because that’s what I feel throughout my days working as an Interaction Designer. It doesn’t matter if your design is the best thing in the world. If you cannot convince people who will approve your work to get delivered, you might as well have not done anything.

Apparently, this is an important skill seeing that my colleague also want to talk about communication during our Product Team Quality Circle. I’m lucky enough to get a chance to talk earlier than him so I talked about this topic first. 😄

Communication is a core skill that we should have to make our design survive through many challenging questions and pessimistic comments. Fortunately, this is a skill we all can improve.

Based on what I learned, I summarize the 7 things you need to remember in communicating design:

1. Understand the business

You are not there to make stakeholder happy. Your job is to solve a business problem through your design. Happiness is a side effect of meeting those goals. If you can solve the problem, they will be happy too.

You could try to understand the business goals by doing interview to stakeholders OR have a casual chat with them during coffee break. Not only you could understand the business, you could also bond with them. Talking about business will not be a daunting task anymore once you get to know them better.

After you understand the business, understand how the thing you’re building will support those goals. Then define the metrics for success to make sure whether your design works out or need improvement.

2. Set the stage properly

When you’re going to communicate your design, especially in formal meeting, you should prepare yourself. It’s not funny forgetting what you’re going to say when you already gather people who also have their bunch of jobs to do. I warn you, you might not get away alive in the process…

To avoid that, you should:

  1. Prepare all the materials you need in case there is no internet.
  2. Peer review your solution to cover the blind spot.
  3. Consult with stakeholders outside the meeting. This way you could reduce the challenges they might give in the meeting since you already talk about it.
  4. Make sure you’re ready. Remember, it’s better to cancel a meeting than waste people’s time.
  5. Prepare what you’re going to say. ( Why are we here?, Where are we in the process?, What are the goals for the meeting today?)
  6. At the beginning of meeting, restate the approved: brief, problem, and goals

3. Be confident

You’re the expert here. You know better about your design than them. Make them believe you. In order to do that, you should believe in yourself. How could you convince people that your design is the best solution if you do not trust your own decision?

Don’t Apologize. You’re not a criminal. You’re trying to solve a business problem and help people so bring out your positive presence. Don’t consider people’s feedback as a personal attack. Think of the audiences as people who want to help you deliver the best solution.

If you make a mistake, instead of saying “Sorry, it’s my fault.”, say something like “Thank you for your feedback.”.

4. Be engaging

Engage your audience. During your presentation, try to take on the interesting angle that might catch audience’s attention. One of the way doing it is by doing no. 1 pretty well.

Watch for sign of engagement or boredom. Segment your speech and ask questions between the segment to make sure they are following.

5. Don’t consider questions as change request

“Why is this green?”
“I can change it?”

It’s a big No-No. Sometimes a question is just a person trying to understand. If something is designed for a reason, respectfully assert why the decision was made.

6. Guide the feedback

Don’t ask ambiguous questions like “What do you think?” or “Do you like it?”. It’s unclear what do you want from the stakeholders that they might comment on anything. The meeting could go much longer than expected yet the result is insignificant.

To avoid that, make sure the stakeholders are clear about what they are seeing. You should also be aware of what is the feedback or action you need in order to do your job.

Example: We are showing you a payment flow. Please ignore errors and typos, as today our goal is to focus on flow and to make sure that there is no missing scenario in the process.

7. Don’t get defensive

When we get defensive, we make it harder to really listen to what they have to say. We make it that much harder for our conversational counterparts to listen to what we’re saying.

This is my take on how not to get defensive:

  • Listen to the stakeholder and try to understand what they mean. Stay quiet!
  • Never get mad and yell, but also don’t sit there and take it. Present your arguments respectfully.
  • Restate and reframe the problem according to their needs. Use your empathy skills not only for users but also for stakeholders. It will help. A lot.

Communicating design is a challenging yet exciting process. Things all designers have to remember during this process is:

Your work is not you.

You’re not defined by your work. When people criticize your design, it is not meant for you as a person. It is a critic toward your work. So don’t get worked up on critics and question. Design is existed to achieve a business goal, which is basically the same throughout the team. There is no win or lose party, it is a bunch of people collaborate to make something better.

Many times you will be wrong

Regardless how long and meticulous you’re doing your work, there will always be a blindspot. It’s normal! When you discover it in the meeting, even though it seems like an obvious fact, don’t let yourself down.

You won’t be able to cover all perspective fully in 360 degrees. There will always be people who give input to your design to make it complete and it’s not a bad thing. This is actually the main reason of communicating design, to turn a good solution into the greatest one together.

So heads up, be confident, and listen. 😁

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Farah Nuraini’s story.