How to Present Design Work to Your Design Team
You probably thought you’d never have to present to them after design school. Think again.
I’ve covered how to present to stakeholders, but presenting to your own design team comes with its own unique set of challenges. The mix of hoodies, ironic MacBook stickers, and startup logo t-shirts creates a toxic mix of terrible feedback and unrealistic ideas that will make even the most senior designer not want to present anything to their team.
“Hey team, I posted my designs at this [obscure dropbox link]. Give me feedback in the next 45 seconds or I’ll just assume you love all my work and have nothing bad to say. kthxbai”
I won’t lie, I’ve been this person from time to time. But you don’t want to be that person.
Sure, there’s a mix of pride and ego that contribute to poor intra-design team presentations. But in my experience managing design teams for the last five years, I find the biggest challenges faced in intra-design team presentations are 1) lack of clarity as to what a designer is presenting, and 2) confusion about what type of feedback they need. You’d expect designers should be the best at presenting work to each other but our own expertise can often work against us.
There are certainly opportunities to become a better design presentation attendee but these problems can be solved much more effectively by you, the presenter. Let’s level-set on the challenges designers face when presenting to other designers, then cover how to overcome them.
“My team isn’t focusing on the right thing”
How often have you gotten halfway through a presentation and you haven’t gotten past the first screen (of 20) because your team is still debating your decision to go with a top nav? For me, it’s about 57 times (I went with the top nav because I felt like it, btw).
The end of these presentations can feel hollow; like all you did was create more problems than you started with. Sometimes this is a valuable exercise but often it’s unfair to the presenting designer.
“My team gives me ideas I can’t implement”
Everyone knows that having a masters degree in design means your ideas are brilliant and you should constantly remind others of them. Imagine a team full of people who feel that way and you have a perfect storm of pontificating pandemonium. There is a time and place for brainstorming but typically that’s not true with design presentations. They can leave designers feeling overwhelmed and often a bit deflated. You wanted feedback on a data grid before sending to dev and all you got was a new concept for a subscription drone service that delivers asian fusion tacos to your desk every Tuesday.
“I’m not getting much feedback”
For the naive designer this is a gift. It means, “my design is so magnificent, nobody could possibly improve it.” To seasoned designers, this spells trouble. If your opinionated design teammates aren’t giving feedback they might not know what type you want, or where to start. Or, you might have teammates that are just quiet and simply might not be comfortable giving feedback on the fly. In any case, you — as the design presenter — can fix that problem.
Prioritize what you want to present
Design reviews can go sideways when you simply present too much. This is particularly true when you presenting a new concept. For example, if you work on a mature product that your team knows well, but you happen to be presenting a completely new product outside your company’s design system, revealing it all at once will cause confusion.
Just like a PM ruthlessly prioritizes what features to build, you will have to prioritize what areas you want feedback on. If you’re presenting a new concept, maybe just present the landing screen and deal with the sub-pages another time. Or identify the highest priority workflow and present that alone.
Present standing up
This is the simplest tactic of all but that can have great psychological impact. When I see a designer present standing up, it commands a much different attention than when presenting sitting at the same table as others.
This isn’t required for all presentations but if you are consistently facing the problems listed above, this is a good way to change the atmosphere. People instinctively you give you more attention, and they pay your presentation more respect when you stand. I often do this when presenting new concepts but if it’s a regular check-in on a feature everyone knows well, I won’t go over the top.
Make ad-hoc changes sparingly
Good ideas will come up and you may want to change them right then and there. This can cause a meeting to go sideways because making changes just causes more debate and always takes longer than anticipated. There are exceptions, like when I tell Jon Moore to change something RIGHT NOW! Or when the change is minor and it fits with the type of feedback you want (e.g. punching up accent colors a bit, or moving a button group to the other side of the dialog).
Establish design rationale up-front
Too often, I see designers just dive into solutions and describe what I’m looking at. It’s like starting to read a novel on page 34. Yes, I can see what you’re talking about but I don’t know what’s going on. Tell your audience what your goals are, what your approach is and why you chose this approach. Only then are you ready to dive into the details.
If it helps, think of this stage outside your design file. Hell, put this information in a bulleted slide in powerpoint — whatever it takes to force yourself to set the stage before revealing the visuals.
Highlight inspiration for your solution
If you’re dealing with a particularly opinionated team then show them the same inspiration you referenced while designing the solution. Then explain what about the inspiration you are drawing off.
This helps because many designers need reference points and establishing exemplars can actually help focus discussions. It also helps stave off those that pride themselves on bringing up obscure examples (me) and asking whether you looked at it for reference. For junior designers this can help you articulate your rationale in ways you aren’t quite able to just yet. It may turn out that your design lead can help you find better inspiration for the problem you’re trying to solve.
Tell your team what the timeline is and what feedback you want
Better feedback starts with better guidance. For designers this takes on two forms. The first is to tell your team what state the project is in. Is it two weeks from code complete? Is it in a conceptual phase? Are you on your third iteration? These things are important to know. I won’t criticize a less-than-inspired solution when you’re just being tasked with cleaning up a form for next week’s sprint. Conversely, I won’t criticize the the feasibility of a solution that isn’t intended to be built.
The second form of guidance is to provide explicit areas you’re looking for help on. Designers can ramble on forever but if you constrain their feedback to specific areas, it will be much more actionable and relevant.
The responsibility to get the most of your design presentations falls on you. And while you may secretly want to avoid presenting to a tough crowd, it’s remember that your team is there to support you, and the wisdom of other design experts will only take your work to new heights. Do your part to present effectively and you’ll get valuable feedback.
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When I’m not helping you face the design firing squad, I’m working on Sketch design tools at UX Power Tools to make you a better, more efficient designer.