Make the Best Argument

I once had a conversation with another Designer. They had recently launched a redesign of a large piece of functionality on our site. The results came in, and they weren’t tracking well. Most of the key metrics were trending downwards by significant percentages.

The Designer was upset. They believed that the Product Manager didn’t track the right metrics. The Designer felt the Product Manager didn’t *get* design. That the Product Manager was too analytically oriented and couldn’t properly evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive redesign.

The Designer had a point — the Product Manager was often short sighted. The PM lived and died by A/B tests and immediate metrics. Surely the Product Manager should make the effort to understand the context and nuance of a complex design before making decisions?

Bullshit. If you really care about something, you need to make the best argument. And to make the best argument, you need to figure out what motivates the person you’re speaking to. If you assume that others are obligated to make the leap to understand your perspective in your language, you’re already fighting an uphill battle.

Product is often motivated by monetization and growth. Engineering wants security, stability and interesting technical challenges. Design wants great experiences and delightful interactions. Everyone is really busy and everyone wants to do the right thing. How do you get your point across?

Figure out why it’s important to you

Be honest with yourself.

Did you establish a compelling, researched hypothesis? Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you care about this for the right reasons?

If so, proceed to the next step. If not, take a deep look at why you’re disagreeing. All humans have egos and biases. It’s often a great growth experience to recognize this and detach yourself to make better decisions.

Figure out why it’s important to your company

You are working with others towards a common goal. Understand that goal and understand the ‘why’ behind the goal.

If you work at a small company, this should be easily apparent. Most conversations happen organically and you’re on the same page just by virtue of being in the same shared physical space. At larger companies, this may be tougher, but OKRs or KPIs are usually easily available.

Finally, the most effective way to figure out what’s important to your company is by talking to the people who work there.

From here — try to align the two. Is what you’re working on important to the company? If so, prove it. Explain it in a compelling way.

Translate importance

You’ve established your argument has both personal and organizational importance. How do you convince someone else?

Terribly dumbed down motivations, but you get the point

Figure out what’s important to them. Explain the benefits of your solution in their lens. If you’re advocating the implementation of new site-wide Design Standards, it may be a tough sell for Product, who really wants to get the features on their Roadmap out. How do you get this done?

Well, given that you’ve reviewed what’s important to the organization, you know Product cares about increasing conversion and launching three new features by the end of the year.

Find the common ground for your argument. Refer to research that shows that Design Standards cause less confusion for customers, which will increase conversion for key flows.

Additionally, Design Standards allow designers to work faster, by having a consistent set of approaches to common problems. Designers can spend less time figuring out ‘solved’ problems and more time iterating on good solutions for new features.

By reframing how your initiative/perspective impacts others positively, you’ll get a much more amenable response. It shows you care, not just about your opinion, but about shared goals across the company. This is one of the most attractive qualities in someone building products with others.

Pick your battles

You’re not going to win every argument. Sometimes you’ll get overruled, sometimes you won’t care as much and sometimes you will be wrong.

When should you fight versus giving in? One really good way to determine this is Cap Watkins’ The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck. How much do you care about this particular issue? Invest your efforts accordingly.

If it’s one of the times you really care, get it done by making the best argument.