Nine things designers can do to ensure a smoothly running project

Colleagues at our Eindhoven office

So you’re a talented designer, you know your design theory, tools and process. But these days the market asks more from a digital product designer than just great design. Product Owners are looking for a sparring partner, someone to help them sell their ideas and visions to their internal stakeholders. Someone to help the UX team follow a desired direction, keep the project running as smooth as possible. And to be that designer, might have less to do with pure design skills than you think. Hike One has a few tips for you.

Your focus will need to shift from detail to the big picture. With your talent and experience you are more than able to spot the difference in quality of assets. The direction the design is heading and if everything is still ‘on brand’ or not. Also you’ll know whether or not the design is still solving the important questions for the user.

Even more important is your ability to address the fact that things aren’t going the right direction. And preferably doing so without rubbing people the wrong way. What do you do when a PO or stakeholder suddenly wants to take the design in another direction or suddenly shifts the focus to something that’s not in the best interest of the user?

Here are nine things our designers do to help keep the project on track

Think product before pixels

We all love to lose ourselves in our design. An extra iteration here, a really cool idea there and a Framer prototype to boot. And that’s good, sometimes. But always ask yourself if it’s beneficial to the project at that time. It only makes sense if it really helps the project forward. So discuss these ideas with a PO before you go all design crazy.

Non design problem? Your problem!

Taking ownership is definitely up there with the most sought after skills in designers. So if you spot issues that no one else is picking up, it might me a good idea for you to jump in where you can.

Tensions in a team? A PO that doesn’t make (the right) decisions? Overactive stakeholders? A working environment that’s substandard? Don’t wait untill someone else will pick up these problems. Address them with the PM, PO or scrum master. These issues will cause the team to underperform. Be professional about it, but address them. The team will love you for it. And so will the client.

Present your work with a passion

Want to take the design to the next level? Want to make an impact? Create so-called ‘buy-in’ from stakeholders. Make sure you can present your ideas and do so convincingly. The key to selling your design is thinking about the problem you are solving with the design and showing that to the stakeholders of the project. Use storytelling to get your points across and give them a clear narrative. Frame you presentation (tell them what you are going to talk about and also what not) and involve them in your story.

Reading Tip: Pitch Anything — Oren Klaff

Always the critic…

But never without offering at least a few options to solve the issue at hand. It’s good to be critical, as it keeps everyone sharp and points out flaws in design, process or project. But no one get’s anywhere by nagging. You should at least have some ideas on how to solve the issue you’re addressing.

Support your local Product Owner

A PO’s job is never easy. They have to navigate internal company politics, please stakeholders, meet deadlines, and at the same time keep the team happy and productive. In some companies that’s no small feat. A large part of your job is to help the PO and make his life easier. Want to safeguard the general design direction? Help him sell it internally (i.e. make a great presentation he can share with his stakeholders) Want him to make the right decisions? Present the options in a clear way with strong motivations to the desired direction. Want him to be a petter PO in general? Show and tell him the best practices from other projects you’ve done in the past.

Befriend a developer ;)

Yes, you’ve heard that right. Development actually builds your design. Takes it from a little work of ‘art’ in your favourite design tool. Turns it into a working thing that will help users get their job done and ensures that great user experience. So in every project, it’s key to understand each other. Make sure you are on the same page. Are they all about atomic design? Dive into it. Do they use certain naming conventions? Learn those. Do they hate pixel sizes? Get rid of those and learn how EMs and REMs work. And that brings me to the next point of interest:

Know the impact of design choices for development

It’s never as easy as ‘just change these colours and make the logo bigger’ for development. So when the project is in full swing and you want to make ‘some minor style tweaks’, make sure you check with development what the impact of your decisions is. Ask them how they would like to tackle this and see if you can figure out a way to work together on these topics. That way you can ensure that it’s a team effort instead of creating the big ‘them designers vs. them developers’ devision.

Point people in the team to their responsibilities

The daily throws of a project can sometimes cause the team dynamics to get a little out of hand. A PO that’s hardly reachable for feedback, a scrum master that doesn’t like standups, developers that hate design… (Im reaching a little, you figured as much) But these are all things that could hypothetically happen along the way. Point out what everyones responsibilities are if the need arises. No team ever got better by people that just sat there saying nothing and being friendly all the time. Nice if you make some friends along the way, but that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to lead the design (and that part of the project) in the right direction.

Keep your Project Manager updated about the project

Last but by no means least… Keep your Project Manager in the loop. There might be a need for more design power to speed things up or a couple of days of prototyping skills from a colleague. Maybe you just need to get the right people in the right room to talk about another project that might arise. PM’s are your friends when it comes to planning and additional resources.

Maybe this is a very specific set of tips for a very specific species of designers. It’s something we think makes us of more value to a UX team. Is this something you feel would improve your project workflow? Share with us your best practices and feedback. I’d love to hear from you.

Miguel Kooreman
Team Lead at Hike One