Pro tip: Product design strategies to counter resistance

May 12, 2015 · 4 min read

We have all been stuck before. A good design sitting in your hands, but you aren’t getting the buy-in you need from the higher-ups. You have a great concept or product direction, but there is something that just isn’t aligning with your views and the vision of others. Designers often have a unique perspective to see what others don’t. Nevertheless, here are few strategies that I have tried when the normal process of adoption just isn’t working. Keep in mind, every situation is different. These strategies are only meant to broaden the realm of possible options toward getting the design buy-in you need. Enjoy!

1. Design a screen for an ideal end product

Make sure they hear what you have to say AND see what you have to show!

Non-designers are often resistant to ideas that they cannot imagine, or they have a different perception of the ideas you are describing. Getting your ideas out of your head and into pixels is a great strategy for communication. It all makes sense in our heads, but not everyone can clearly explain a great idea. People who are great communicators might not be talking to the most imaginative people. If you include a design mockup, you have covered most avenues of comprehension — listening and seeing. The only other avenue missing is the feeling of a prototype, but that requires a little time and investment.

Skip ahead so you can start from the beginning.
Even if the direction has not been approved, skip ahead and mock up an ideal product screen. Strategically, you want to pick the most crucial screen, or the one that will tie everything together — a dashboard, a news feed, etc. The goal is to use a great visual representation of what your product could be, to get the go-ahead from the higher-ups to make your product what you want it to be.

Works well with:

  • visual managers
  • fast, visual designers

2. Have working sessions with decision makers

Scenario 1:
Start from scratch. Invite your manager for a working session in a war room with a whiteboard. There is huge value in going through UX problems with managers who can’t appreciate the process. If you’re not good at referencing decision logs in meetings, this is a great strategy for you because the decision points and trade-offs present themselves. It’s best if you allow and encourage your manager to brainstorm and whiteboard with you. By flipping the script and asking “Why did you make that decision?” or “Why is that the best way to solve that problem?” it forces your manager to go through the same thought processes. If you are a good UX person, you can encourage good decisions by presenting best practices or persuading a non-designer out of bad UX solutions.

Scenario 2:
You have already solved the problem and have a working UX solution. Invite your manager in for a working session as if you are “starting from scratch.” By having a manager tackle a UX problem you are familiar with solving, you can prepare for any crucial decision points in the process. Best of all, any areas you are questioning with your design, you can validate before you suggest a certain direction. When that time comes, you can gradually lead your manager towards the same solution, as if they came up with it themselves. Instant buy-in!

What to watch out for:

Vomiting too much, too fast.
If you present ideas that are too far ahead of the normal step-by-step process of discovery, your manager could potentially reject a great solution. It is important to stick to slow, smooth, and incremental steps of discovery. Too much too fast, and they will not be able to comprehend why this solution works.

Your own stubbornness.
This is a collaborative process, so it is NOT ideal to invite a manager in for a working session when you are already set on your solution. There should be room left for improvement and compromises. A strong-headed manager could demand a completely different direction if you do not acknowledge the value of their opinion.

Works well with:

  • managers with time
  • designers with strong UX principles
  • witty designers

3. Keep a decision log

Preparation compensates for a slow “meeting mind.”
If you aren’t the wittiest person in the room or just have a hard time going toe-to-toe with a manager in a debate, document the UX decisions you make while you are or designing your interface. Have that document as a reference in a debate. This will help you justify your UX decisions and communicate them when questioned in a meeting.

Stats over stories.
As a team, keep a running document on UX decisions such as denied alternatives and most recently agreed upon solutions. It beats the “he said, she said.” Keeping meeting notes, like a court reporter, will help you when it comes time to reference why decisions were made. Record defined constraints and trade-offs. Pull that study sheet out in the middle of a meeting to squash skepticism.

Side note: Documenting your process comes in handy when applying for jobs.

Works well with:

  • logic-heavy managers
  • designers who need organization
  • shy debaters or designers without clutch meeting minds

These are just a few tips and tricks I try to pass along. Apply these if you think the shoes fits. The best argument is a great, simple solution that benefits the user you are designing for, but there is always that grey area of trade-offs.


Written by


Senior Product Designer for Eventbrite in San Francisco, CA

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