Product Design Consulting: Tools for Stakeholders persuasion

He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. — JOSEPH CONRAD

I’ve been on my journey as a Designer for almost 15 years and realize that every single project is different, every client has unique needs. Our objective is to get agreement from them. Our strategy for accomplishing that is to communicate that our design solves a problem, makes it easy for users, and is better than the alternatives.

Whether you are convincing businesses’ stakeholders or are just looking for tips to support your design decisions, below you can find key strategies to make the most out of any situation. Have a read and take them into account next time you make a presentation, adapting each tip to your particular context.

BUSINESS

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Helps achieve a goal
Stakeholders always appreciate connecting your solution to the goals of the business. This is a solid way to make the case for your design through appealing to a nobler motive. Whatever the source of the reasoning, always emphasize that your design is intended to help the company achieve its goals.

Facilitates a primary use case
Depending on your stakeholders, they might not be aware of how we use these techniques to create a structure and logic to our decisions. Pointing out which use cases benefit from the decision is a good way of demonstrating your thought process and will get you talking through the decision in a way that makes sense to them.

Establishes branding
Sometimes, application design can be a good opportunity to work with and help an organization develop their brand identity. In this case, things are the way they are because the company has a specific image it’s trying to establish and our applications have to reflect this, as well. This is more true with the use of color, fonts, or language than with specific interactions but it’s important to call out. If you chose that style because that’s what the marketing department told you to do, bring that to the attention of your stakeholders.

DESIGN

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Uses a common design pattern
We spend a lot of time on other sites, apps, and devices learning about the newest useful design patterns, and so we naturally choose patterns that make the most sense to our audience and context. Your stakeholders are probably not aware of the concept of “patterns” in UI design, so you want to be careful not to make them feel like an outsider.

Help your stakeholders understand that because this consistency in the experience is so important, changing an expected pattern in one context will have the ripple effect of needing to use the same pattern in other places throughout the app. It’s not merely an isolated decision. We want to create consistency so the user will know what to expect.

Draws the user’s attention
It’s important that we help our stakeholders understand the relationships between design elements and user action so that they can see the rationale behind our decisions. We need to communicate that we’re not only putting things on the page in a way that looks good, but that we’re trying to draw users into the application and lead them to action with an appropriate placement of design elements. Our decisions are based on getting the user to act, which is the ultimate purpose of any website or app.

Creates a flow for the user
We can spend days or weeks with a wall full of Post-its trying to find the best path for our users to navigate the application. We define use cases, edge cases, error flows, and remove dead ends only to hear a stakeholder suggest a change that disrupts this flow, potentially sending us back to the drawing board.

Occasionally, we make a change in one place that affects something else down the line. Unintentionally, we’ve broken the path we so carefully tried to plan based on the whims of a well-meaning, but uninformed stakeholder.

You need to pay careful attention to how your decisions will affect the flow you’ve created. Don’t let your stakeholders break that without their first understanding why you did it that way.

RESEARCH

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Validated by data
Using data to support your design decisions is the golden ticket to getting agreement because it is the most scientific way of demonstrating that your designs are having the intended effect. Too often, companies have plenty of data to help them, but lack the time or skill to sift through it and draw meaningful conclusions. Find data that is useful to your context and allow it to help you make your case.

Designers sometimes have a difficult time wrapping their minds around a spreadsheet full of percentages and decimals, myself included. Hopefully, you have someone who can help you find meaning in the numbers or maybe you can get access to a slide deck in which the data was presented in a palatable form. Product owners and project managers are usually the ones who will help you with this effort.

There are two types of data we can use to talk about our decisions:
Existing data: we already have available that we can use to help us make decisions now.
Reflective data: the data we collected after changing our design and comparing the before and after.

To get the attention of your stakeholders, it’s important to begin your response with a phrase that emphasizes your use of data, such as:

“According to our analytics…”

“We have data that suggests…”

“We are tracking this metric and…”

However, you should always be prepared to provide the data that you cite even if you don’t have it on hand. Having visuals available to show the data is a really effective way to make your case.

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Having visuals available to show the data is a really effective way to make your case.

Revealed in user testing
Depending on your stakeholders, using real stories of users might be even more effective than numbers and charts. The best way to communicate our insights from user testing sessions is to assemble a set of slides with quotes from a few select users and maybe even a video clip showing the problem areas. Edit the video from the session down to a few seconds or create a highlight reel of the most relevant parts from the study. This demonstrates that you value everyone’s time by only showing them the important parts while also giving them the opportunity to participate in a real user session.

Even though this requires advance preparation to put together, it’s the only way to truly show your stakeholders why you did what you did, and it might be more necessary depending on the scope of the proposed changes.

Supported by other research
I’ve developed the habit of saving useful research in a project folder or keeping a list in a shared document so that I can easily provide it to other people. Usually, my notes include the title, author, URL, and a description of the part that’s relevant to my project or a short summary of the findings.

When the stakes are higher, it might be the can be unfair, however, is if your stakeholders aren’t prepared to defend their own opinions against your prepared list of research. If you’re not careful, it could feel like an attack. In that case, give them the opportunity to think about it and respond another time, send them your research in advance so they have a chance to review it, or bring research with you that presents both sides of the problem for discussion. You don’t want them to feel like they were bullied into agreeing with you.

As designers and communicators, our jobs are made easier when we have this short list of common messages to pull from, using them as the foundation for our response. Use them as templates to help you jumpstart your response, no matter what the context.

Focused on our objective of getting agreement, we now have a memorized strategy, a set of actionable tactics, and a list of frequently used messages as the basis for our response.

These books contributed to this content, which I recommend for any design consultancy.

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If you have any questions or want to know more about me, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you and good reading!

Product Designer @ ThoughtWorks Brasil

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