Working with non-design stakeholders on a design project
The journey of ‘design’ from being an advertising tool to being an essential part of the core product has been phenomenal. Good design is more than just pretty visuals. Its about strategy, interactivity and communication. All of this falls under a single umbrella, called User Experience (UX).
A great UX strategy makes a product smart, interactive and user-friendly. And it has a direct impact on the business ROI (return on investment). This fact has been proven in business terms (data, graphs, charts etc) & the top management can no more ignore the value of UX. However, this top management team, comprising of people who have better understanding of money, excel sheets, numbers & operations (and sometimes about engineering & computers), is not always experienced enough to judge and contribute to design strategy & design processes.
These professionals are, however, possess very valuable information and contribute immensely to the success of the product and the business. So although they may not understand design, their involvement is very important in the product design process. They simply cannot be ignored. This situation is very unhealthy for a designer to design a product.
Many designers are critical about this gap and often lose their patience. However, it is the responsibility of the designer to include non-designer stakeholders in the process and educate them about design, rather than expecting them to develop a great taste & understanding of design startegy overnight.
There are certain steps that a design strategist can follow to build an effective collaboration with his/her non-designer colleagues. This process is illustrated below.
1. Layout a basic plan of how the finished product would be like — list out all product features and communication details. Lets call this “Design V1.0”. This should be the designer/product owner’s vision of the product.
2. Meeting №1 with stakeholders : Spend 1–1 time with each stakeholder and present the product idea. Explain the product from customer’s point of view, not designer’s point of view. Don’t confuse them with technical details of product design, rather ask lots of questions relevant to their field of expertise.
3. List out all of their requirements. Note down the points relevant to the product design and filter out the irrelevant ones. What remains is a content/features-list that cannot be ignored in any case.
4. Compare this list to the original “design version1”. Make relevant modifications to the plan if all the stakeholder requirements are not already incorporated in the original design. Lets call it “Design V2.0”
5. Translate all product requirements into categories such as “product features”, “modules”, “communication” and “design”
6. Sketch out a basic user journey.
7. Incorporate all the translated reuirements at relevant paths of the user journey of Design V2.0
8. Create information architecture and user flow diagrams from customer-centric perspective
9. Meeting №2 with stakeholders : Meet stakeholders again and present the user flow diagrams and information architecture. Incorporate any necessary input to the plan.
10. Create product wireframes
11. Create prototype
UX is ready. It’s time for UI
At this point, most of the major challenges of the product design can be considered to have been overcome, as the stakeholders are convinced & prototype is successfully tested. It is now time to fill up the wireframes with engaging content, communication and compelling designs.
The visual designing process is fairly simple. Since, not every stakeholder can judge design, most corporates have developed a brand book to make their jobs easy. Brand book is truly God’s gift to non-designers. The visual guidelines are pre-approved, so unless a designer knows how to bend the rules, he/she will most likely face a wall of disagreement towards his designs. Therefore, once again, the designer has to follow the above process to keep the stakeholders involved in the design development.
Illustrated below is the simple process to overcome this challenge smoothly.
12. Create 2–4 design styles and collect plenty of visual references along with pros and cons of each one of them. Stick to the basics of the brand guidelines but take all liberty to experiment within the boundaries. Have logical explainations for each visual inspiration.
13. Meeting №3 with stakeholders : present the designs and get vote/feedback
14. After finalising one design style, make 2–3 layouts with final designs just like the real product will look
15. Present to all stakeholders — this is their last chance to make changes. This step is optional.
16. Create all detailed UI as finished designs
17. Send to development team
That’s it! Designing is not complicated. Its is a very collaborative process, where one just needs to ask questions, understand the answer and create a visual platform where businesses can interact with customers.
Designers often get frustrated about not getting enough freedom to be creative visually. Well, designers inclined to create super creative artwork should either be in advertising/communication or be independent artists. Product design or UX-UI design is for people who think ‘strategy’ but express visually. This doesn’t mean that an advertising designer cannot do UX strategy. Surely not! It just means that each job needs to have a different approach.