The secret sauce to making your life easier as a UX Designer

➡️ Aligning on expectations

If we take a moment to think about it, most friction and tension in our everyday life come from situations where our expectations differ from reality. Whether we are unsatisfied with the food we receive in a restaurant or a place that doesn’t meet our expectations, it all comes down to the mismatch between what we envision and reality.

We get disappointed with meeting outcomes, Design deliverables, or members of our team mainly because we failed in setting and clarifying expectations. Let’s discuss some practical ways to master expectations management and make our life (and everyone else’s) easier.

Setting expectations

When we don’t tell people what they should expect, they rely on imagination. It’s a common way of coping with the unknown. Applied to the world of Design, your colleagues might be expecting you to work on low-fidelity screens while you are working on creating an Affinity map. Your clients might be expecting you to deliver something by Friday when you are still waiting for feedback from the 3rd party to even get started. I am exaggerating the expectation gap slightly, but you can already see the main idea. Also, there is a good chance you nodded while reading this.

In an era where we can communicate with everyone, everywhere, why do we still have those gaps? We have all the necessary communication tools, but there are some things people usually complain about: lack of time and lack of energy. And those are the main culprits in creating expectation gaps.

Let’s take the ubiquitous meetings, my favorite example of social contexts where managing expectations can go right or terribly wrong.

The common reason why most meetings fail, to begin with, is because expectations are not correctly set in the beginning. How long is this meeting supposed to last, and why am I here? What are we trying to achieve? Am I here to ask questions, share feedback or make a decision? When participants don’t know the answers to the question above, they will start relying on imagination or experience and do whatever they want or feels natural to them. Or they might abandon the meeting entirely and let their minds wander to the next task.

The solution? Never neglect the agenda and don’t go through it like a grocery list (e.g., today we will talk about this and that). At the start of a discussion, I usually tell people what I expect from them specifically. E.g., “today I am going to present this and that to you, and at the end, I would like to have a conversation with you to align on x, based on what I will share”). It can be verbal, or it can be a slide — the important thing is to have it.

Participants will feel not only more involved and pay attention, but they will trust you more and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts when the time comes. You have just successfully set expectations, and the only thing left to do is focus on work.

After we set expectations and everyone knows what to do and expect, you can take it even to the next level. Your colleagues or client might have understood what to do and expect from you but not entirely why. Sometimes we become too eager to set the goals and expectations, so conversations are too heavily weighted in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of tasks.

Make expectations easier to be met by including the ‘why’ into your conversations. Humans love to know the purpose of doing something. Provide people with why you need a task done, a project started, or a course correction made, and they will be more likely to stick to the decisions you’ve made together.

Clarifying expectations

Few things create more frustration than expecting specific deliverables and realizing everyone did random things no one needed. Even yourself, you spent time on something that nobody cares about. Let’s stick with the meeting example. Doing something other than we were supposed to usually happens because we don’t take sufficient time to clarify expectations at the end of a meeting. We assume everyone understands what’s in our heads or what we expect from them and rush towards the next meeting or tasks on our list.

One of the simplest ways to know what someone heard is to ask them. Just ask open-ended wrap-up questions that help them restate what their action items are after the meeting. It’s your opportunity to clarify details and ensure you are on the same page.

Also, don’t forget about a timeframe. “By when?” is a powerful, straightforward question that can clarify and focus the time frame of an expectation.

Don’t shy away from what went wrong

Ok, so we talk about setting expectations and clarifying them. The ideal scenario is where all people working on a project are starting from the same level of understanding. How about when someone new comes along, and they need to consider everything that has been already done?

As soon as somebody proposes to do something that was tried before and failed, we are used to dismissing that person and moving on with the discussion quickly. It will be more valuable, though, to explain why things didn’t work out that way in the first place.

Share what you’ve tried and learned about the problem so far. As a bonus: when someone shares about something they tried and didn’t work out exactly as planned, this helps everyone else at the table see potential as opportunities rather than failures.

Sharing tried and tested ways will enable them to spend more time exploring new ideas or focusing on a particular side of the coin that you might have missed. It’s always good to have a fresh perspective and expect the process to go in a specific direction, but it’s essential first to provide all the tools and facts. Otherwise, you risk going in a circle.

What if things don’t go as planned?

Let’s assume that by now, you already have a good understanding of why setting expectations is essential and how to do it. But things continue to fail. If this happens and the outcomes are not the ones we thought about, don’t despair and abandon the ship. Embrace mistakes, learn from them, and see how you can leverage what you’ve already done. Even if you’ve done different things than expected, “recycle” and reuse them further in the project.

If someone else didn’t manage to meet them, take the responsibility to understand where you could have been clearer and on point. Self-awareness is one of the most critical skills for a designer. When needed, assuming your part of the responsibility will help you grow and become better at everything you do (from setting those expectations to delivering those fantastic products).

Assuming you are a master of how to set and clarify expectations, there is nothing left to do but practice and eventually surpass them.🚀☺️

If you’re looking to kickstart your UX Design career and need a helping hand with choosing the best way to transition into a UX role, we’re happy to help you at Mento Design Academy. You can book a free call with us in which we will explore if UX design is right for you and if you’d be a good fit for our UX & UI Bootcamp. Stop postponing your career switch and reach out to us! :)

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