Unblocking Misalignment in Product Teams as a Designer

When receiving input doesn’t allow you to move forward

https://blog.thepapermillstore.com/design-principles-alignment/

As a UX designer, you probably have experienced some sort of misalignment with your team. Your PM tells you one thing and your engineering team says another. What do you do?

Identify when there is no consensus

It’s okay if there is no consensus. If that’s the case, acknowledge it, take a step back, and align on what is missing. I’d been passively accepting feedback on my design and not expressing a strong point of view behind what I personally felt about it. But I’ve gotten to a point in my project where I repeatedly make small changes—add something, get rid of it, and add it back again—because of mixed feedback and not expressing my gut feeling of needing a better collaboration process. Though some of the product details seem small from a visual standpoint (“let me add a few pixels here and there”), they actually have a big effect towards the user experience.

It doesn’t matter if we keep trying to make the visuals better if we don’t have solid alignment. If we don’t define the user flow or have the details figured out, the product won’t work in a way that’s cohesive.

I knew that my team was misaligned on the details, but I subconsciously felt scared that stopping to talk about them would hinder our progress. But in fact, not asking questions or expressing my concern was counterproductive. I was afraid of being inefficient and slowing down progress, but it would have been better to speak up.

It’s totally okay to say something like “Looks like there’s no consensus, let’s make a flow chart or look at the PRD.” That way, everyone can work on addressing the problem and unblock progress instead of moving forward in the wrong direction.

It’s okay to go backwards if it helps align your team

My manager suggested I create a flow diagram. This is because it didn’t make sense for me to get feedback and iterate in high fidelity when we didn’t have the details about how everything would work.

High fidelity design doesn’t always address the complexities of a system.

It’s more efficient to take a step back and define the framework of a design than working on visuals that will continue to change. When there is constant back and forth with changing the design, tweaking the visuals won’t solve the root issue. The design shouldn’t be created as a replacement for a clear flow. Being scrappy can allow you to visualize the bigger picture faster and address the design system before going into the details. But once you get in the details, it can be hard to see past them and take a step back. Read more about why it’s important to not get too locked into a design too early.

Design is all about expressing and selling your ideas

I always forget I have a voice because I am used to having people tell me what to do. As the designer directly working on a project, I do have an opinion.

Express your point of view whenever you think of something to add value to the conversation.

As a designer, I know how I’ve been designing things and that I am the one creating the visual framework. I need to provide more perspective of how I think the design should look or, based on feedback, what can be improved—whether it’s from the design perspective or more about the process of working with my teammates. I’d been letting myself get swept up in other people’s viewpoints and was too complacent with making up my own. If I want something to happen, or if I feel a certain way, I need to communicate it. If I don’t make the effort to talk about what needs to happen, it won’t happen.

Moving forward, I need express my point of view as a designer and talk about how I’ve been applying feedback or how I’ve been approaching the problem.

Ending note

I was subconsciously limiting in my role as a designer—thinking it was all designing screens and applying feedback from engineering and the PM—without realizing I hadn’t been voicing my own point of view. The role of expressing your opinion on the product and gaining consensus and alignment isn’t limited to just the PM. In fact, a designer’s job is expressing and selling your ideas. But even outside a designer’s job, it’s everyone’s job to communicate alignment and express their opinion when something isn’t working or it affects their work. Don’t ignore it.


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