It's always someone else's fault, I'm just a perfect designer

I’ve been constantly collaborating with designers, developers and marketeers ever since I started my career, a bit over 2 years ago now. Every once in a while, I encounter the same issue: lack of communicating ideas and requests.

From a boss that looks like she doesn’t know what the f*#$ she wants from you, all the way to a team leader who needs something done for tomorrow but doesn’t know how to say exactly what, I’ve collected some experiences where I am the one who struggles in the end.

Let’s break this with a short story.

I’m asked by a developer to design 2 screens. A home page with a search box that would lead to a dashboard. The dashboard was the main thing, containing a lot of information and data about a person’s usage of public services. Ok, cool.

Everyone keeps saying that I should keep it simple, take just a couple of hours, make it fast. Basically they give me the feeling that I shouldn’t care that much. I do exactly as they say.

Four hours later, I show it to them, and the developer says it’s crap, because all the client cares about is visuals and how modern and cool it should look. Developer shows examples of what he wants. I throw my work away and start from scratch, copying exactly what he showed.

Now they all love it.

Two days later, I’m asked if the dashboard is already coded because it was supposed to be presented to the client by the next day. I go crazy. I get really stressed. No one told me I should code it. I do it anyway. Everyone is happy.

After a while doing this repetitive beginner thing of just ‘going with the flow’ and doing whatever everyone asked me to, I started asking myself the same question over and over. Am I asking enough questions to other people? Are the ones that I’m asking clear? Do they make any sense at all? Will they make me save any time?

When this dashboard thing happened, I blamed everyone else. I thought they were dinosaurs. I thought they didn’t know how to speak. Why aren’t you telling me things before I start working?

Obviously, they were wrong. I wasn’t. Ever.

But here’s the thing: you have to assume people aren’t used to collaborating with others. You should assume everyone work alone. Specially when working with small teams.

If you face projects assuming everyone aren’t used to working within groups of people, then you may start asking more questions. And better ones.

When this developer came to me asking for a dashboard, I could have asked, for example, three simple questions that would have solved every single problem:

  • Who is the client and what does she want?
  • Could you show a reference of how you want this to look like?
  • Do I have to code this and by which day?

These are random and simple questions I could have asked, but they would have worked pretty nice against that assumption I had based on that famous ‘do it fast, it shouldn’t take long, it’s easy’ (actually, the people that say these things aren't designers).

The interesting thing about asking a lot is that the other person will come up with more ideas and more requests, and within those ideas, they will realize about more things. They may even realize that what they are asking for is crap and they should reconsider about the choices they are making.

Maybe by asking the right questions, they realize that you shouldn’t even design a dashboard but something completely different.

Maybe you aren’t even supposed to design anything. Perhaps the problem lies somewhere else.

And that’s the magic of asking questions.

Juan Martín Germano

I help startups and entrepreneurs scale visibility through Product Design and Strategy /

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