How to Show & Tell: A recipe to share work async
Share in-progress design work and receive specific feedback quickly
A few months ago I tried to make vegan mayo, which was a diabolical disaster. I couldn’t get the consistency nor texture I wanted. But then I remembered a tip I learned while making hummus to get the smooth, creamy thickness. It was adding ice water to the blended mixture. I tried that with my vegan mayo, which fixed the texture like magic.
So you might be wondering. Pavi, why are you telling us about your garlic dip? Sharing work is similar to trying, failing, or experimenting. It can be like learning a new recipe.
I first came across critiques and feedback reviews when I began my career as a designer. I was so focused on perfecting everything before sharing. I’d often work on designs in silos without sharing any progress and share everything on the one day I’d have a critique. Team members never had enough time to ask all their questions and share their feedback. And I assumed I did well when I got no feedback. Once I handed off the designs, all the questions and confusion with decisions began. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
To address the confusion, I worked with my product manager and design lead to set up weekly syncs, allowing me to share my work regularly, even when I felt it wasn’t ready. The syncs helped me get into the practice of sharing often and getting feedback regularly. It made the uncomfortable more comfortable.
Sharing and presenting my work wasn’t just about showing off. It was more about inviting other people into the design process, listening and communicating with each other. It helped me win involvement.
— Presenting Design Work by Donna Spencer
There’s a difference between sharing too much vs. sharing in chunks. Before I share, I take a step back and identify what my purpose of sharing is. If I see I have 3–4 goals, I’m sharing too much. Instead, I’ll keep it focused on one chunk of the work and perhaps cover the rest in a different session.
You can define your purpose using the 30–60–90 framework. The framework helped me structure where I was and what I needed.
If it’s a critique or sharing to a particular slack group, I look at who will be reviewing it. Sometimes, I cc people on slack when I share; that way, I know their roles, context levels, and what I’m looking to get from them.
Having structure in your share helps. I discovered over time that people found it easier to follow when I had a light deck to guide them. Once I did it, I could reuse the framework whenever I shared work.
Use failed experiments to your advantage.
The first time I tried to share my work async, I created a video of my working progress using loom and shared that every week. I’d be doing a real estate tour of all the screens and explorations I did. Then I’ll stop to ask; if you have any feedback, let me know. As a result, no one responded. It didn’t work, and I kept doing it anyway, going through the motions weekly.
Persistence without insight will lead to the same outcome.
— The Book of Boba Fett
So I tried to analyze why I wasn’t getting any responses, and while reviewing, I realized I wasn’t prompting people. I wasn’t specific in asking what I wanted for feedback. I wasn’t sharing any context on the problem. The real estate tour was confusing, and people weren’t sure how to react, and respond.
Show don’t tell.
I start by introducing the project and what I’ll be sharing. In this case, I had two options I wanted to share. I primed folks with the intro by letting them know where I’m at using the 30–60–90 framework. At this point, I’m at 60% and looking for feedback on visuals.
I share the current state of the flow to help provide context and comparison on the improvements and suggestions I’ll be making.
I’ll list the jobs-to-be-done and user questions so the audience knows what problems and questions the new flow will be addressing.
To present the options, I could have used my mocks in Figma and click through them. However, I knew I was communicating to developers and my Product Manager, who want to know how the interaction would work in detail. Instead, I decided to mirror my prototype using Figma mirror on mobile, and recorded myself using it to help communicate the interactions.
Following the prototype, I remind the audience of the pros and cons for each approach to help them reflect.
Next Steps and specific questions for feedback
I close off by sharing what my next steps are and feedback prompts to guide the discussion async.
🍛 Serving suggestions
A quick disclaimer, I’m not sponsored by Descript; I’m just a fan of their product. Descript made my video editing life more accessible and less time- consuming.
Before recording yourself, it helps to write down points you’d like to cover along the way. I often do an initial raw take and then I edit. I could either use raw recording as a script for another take or I limit myself to one round of editing. Once I’ve done that, I export the video and share it on slack.
It also helps to share your recommendation. As designers, we hold the most context because we’ve done the explorations and gone deep. We have an opinion, putting your recommendation forward can drive a healthy conversation.
There’s no such thing as talent.
When I often shared my work, my colleagues assumed I was a pro, I was never nervous, and had a natural knack for presenting my work. However, it came from a lot of practice, experimentation, and finding a structure that worked.
Building confidence when presenting was the most challenging for me at the start. To help me improve, I adopted forced syncs early on, allowing me to practice and gain confidence.
Work with your team.
Rather than setting the goal to be correct, I set the goal to be wrong. Ultimately your team’s working towards the same purpose as you, and we’re here to support each other.
🌶 Spicy tips
- Know the Purpose.
- Understand your audience.
- Use a template.
- Be conscious of time.
- Set boundaries.
- Be scrappy.
The reason we share our work is to get broader input. When we get outside our heads, we stand to learn more about the goals we’ve set out to achieve. We set ourselves up to make the best possible product or service.
— Presenting Design Work by Donna Spencer
If you’re curious to learn more, check out my talk at Figma’s Config from May 2022 and download a ready-made template you can start using today.