How to Present Your Design to Stakeholders
There’s a time and place to reference design principles, this ain’t it
I’ve covered how to take feedback from non-designers, so naturally it’s important to learn how to present design to non-designers. More specifically, it’s important to know how to present your design to stakeholders.
Communicating design to stakeholders is a unique challenge that designers have to learn on the job.
For this article I’ll define stakeholders as leadership or executives who oversee business lines, products or disciplines outside of your working teams (both product and design teams). These are people that have a stake in what you are designing but stay high-level so they can focus more effectively on strategy and business. Because of their leadership, it’s exciting (and possibly great for your career) when you get a chance to present your work to this group.
But too often, designers don’t know how to present their work outside design and product teams. You get caught up in sprint demos and design critiques where you nitpick visual details and explain how things like navigations or tabs work. Instead, stakeholders want to see how your work connects to business goals and strategic direction.
Stakeholders don’t care about design principles
There’s a time to educate and a time to persuade. Designers often mix the two together, believing that by educating others on design principles, their audience will naturally come to the conclusion themselves.
Design principles help ensure designs are strong, scaleable and usable. But they are horrible influencers.
Stakeholders buy-in to your design because it helps the business. Your presentation should inspire rather than lecture.
It’s one thing to be a valuable designer, but another thing entirely to be an influential one.
Stakeholders aren’t seeing the same vision as you
This may seem obvious but I often forget this myself. After I’ve spent months iterating on a design, I’ve created a clear path in my head for what it’s going to become. It’s difficult to convey this vision to others because you are mentally further along this path than your audience.
Imagine you’re watching a new tv series. You just finished watching episode 5 and you’re hooked. Naturally, you invite your friends over to watch episode 6 with you. Your friends are totally lost. To get hooked, they need to start at episode 1 just like you (unless you want to be the annoying guy who constantly pauses the show to give background info).
Presenting your design to stakeholders works the same way. Your vision might be brilliant and make total sense to you and your team, but people seeing it for the first time will need background.
Stakeholders view your design as one piece of many
This is the bubble that designers often find themselves in. Amongst product or design teams, the feature or product is the focus of your existence. It constitutes no less than 80% of your work week. For a stakeholder, however, this is one of many features they oversee. In fact it might constitute just one feature of one business line that they oversee. This doesn’t mean your work is any less important — it simply means that you should understand:
You have minimal time to make an impression on a stakeholder.
I’ll be honest, mastering stakeholder presentations takes years. It’s not uncommon for senior or principal designers to handle them. But for those of you lucky enough to get the chance, or those of you preparing early, these tactics will help.
Connect your design to business goals
It’s possible you aren’t well-versed in your company’s business goals. If you are, they probably don’t inspire your day-to-day design work. Either way, it’s easy to track these down through your design manager, director or product managers. They will either have the answers or can point you to someone who does.
When you present your design work, begin by simply restating the larger business or product goals so that your audience understands how your work fits into the bigger picture.
Establish a framework to help your audience understand your work
Have you ever shopped for something you knew nothing about? As you get a demo or overview of the product, the salesperson will ask, “So what do you think? Do you have any questions?” Then your typical response is something like, “I don’t even understand this enough to know what questions to ask. What should I be looking for?”
That’s how stakeholders — albeit experts in the business or product — feel when you present an innovative solution to them. They will lack the vocabulary to ask you good questions.
After connecting to business goals, begin your design presentation by referencing things people will know to give them a better mental framework. For example, if you’re presenting a concept using conversational UI, use iMessage or Slack examples to set the stage. More common conventions will help your audience understand how they should be viewing your design.
Ask specific questions
Designers often complain that their audience focuses too much on details that don’t matter. But this is something you can control! If there is feedback you don’t need at the moment, or pieces still unfinished, state it up front.
In fact, take it a step further than simply pointing out what you don’t want. Tell them what they should be looking for. You might be experimenting with how to extend the company brand into the UI. Ask for their opinion, they might at least point you to someone in brand that could help. Or you might ask whether you are emphasizing the right features or use cases of the product. Don’t ask vague questions like, “Does this make sense?” Instead ask pointed questions that give you richer answers.
In the end stakeholders will be the people to sign-off on your work, or give you valuable feedback to take your work to the next level. It’s important that you do your part to ensure your presentations maximize their time.
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When I’m not helping you present to the C-suite, I’m working on Sketch design tools at UX Power Tools to make you a better, more efficient designer.