Who are we designing for? Designing for Buy-In (Part 1 of 3)

These groups either need to buy-in to fund your vision, or they need to buy-in to truly sell it and market.

This is part one of a series of three articles detailing the internal groups we have to design for in order to get great products built and sold. Part one focuses on the groups that must buy-in to your design.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever designed something that some other department absolutely ruined with feedback, ugh you just don’t understand design and aren’t thinking outside of the box!!!

How many of you have ever [had your design ruined] by Regina George? — “Mean Girls II, Art School Cruel”

Same here, sister. Same here.

I presented a design last week that I was super excited about. Here’s a list of things I was excited about, and how the client reacted:

  • Perfect Typography: They didn’t care.
  • Exquisite Color Harmony: They didn’t care.
  • Seductive Drop Shadows: They didn’t care.
  • Handsome Charts and Graphs: “Neat!” (translation: They didn’t care.)
  • Pixar-Worthy Animations: “Oh cool, I read an article about Disney animation principles. Have you read that?” 🙄

You know what their only feedback was? The only thing they really cared about? I used incorrect terminology in a couple places.

That’s like going to visit the Mona Lisa and critiquing the wall plate.

Placard text: “The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is admittedly kind of a boring painting of some random white lady, but we thought the frame was kinda cool so we put it behind this bomb-proof glass. Medium: Drywall paint over stretched newspaper.

These things are a sobering reality. I’ve come to expect (and plan for) this kind of feedback. As much as I’d like to think I’m only designing for other designers (and Dribbble…let’s be real), my work will undoubtedly impact almost every department throughout the product development process.

Your pixels matter, so make them count. But before you start the journey toward production, you first have to design for the groups who have to buy in to your vision:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Leadership

These groups either need to buy-in to fund your vision, or they need to buy-in to truly sell it and market. Great design can sell itself if you get the right people behind it (and…you know…they are actually selling it while you sit on your iPhone and play Mario Run).

1. Marketing

Tools: Sanitized screenshots

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Marketing IS NOT just Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a brain dump of things people in marketing care about to one varying degree or another:

  1. The website
  2. Supporting microsites
  3. Pitch/fundraising decks
  4. Internal socialization decks
  5. Sales decks
  6. Sales training decks
  7. Employee Training
  8. User training
  9. Email Marketing
  10. Documentation
  11. External marketing
  12. Social media assets
  13. Customer experience
  14. Customer support
  15. Branding
  16. Brand voice
  17. Advertising
  18. SEO
  19. Public Relations
  20. Event collateral

That’s only what come up with in one breath. Guys, people in marketing handle SO MUCH STUFF. I’m not telling you this to diminish other departments. I just know that sometimes “marketing” is highly misunderstood to only involve hashtags and Instagram pics.

See all of those deliverables above? By my completely non-scientific estimation, your designs will make it into at least 87% of those deliverables. From direct screenshots to artistic blockframes and illustrations, the product you design will be represented in marketing materials far and wide.

37% of all slides in Canopy’s sales deck feature screenshots of the product. Design by Trevor Nielsen.

Make every design count. Every pixel. Every word. Every avatar. Every story you tell. Polish it until it shines, then take an industrial buffer to it with a clear coat lacquer and massage it until you can see your idyllic cul-de-sac childhood reflected back at you.

If you misspell a word in a mockup, marketing will put that on the website and it will stay there for the world to see for eight months until some overly-ambitious user points out how you wrote “UPLOAF” instead of “UPLOAD”.

Embarrassing, unless you’re designing a bread app, which I highly doubt. 🍞

Use realistic data, proofread, double-check your alignments, and be consistent. It makes for a much more comprehensible and sellable product.

2. Sales

Tools: Realistic sample data; In-person demos

Friends will tell you that I’m a bit of an old man when it comes to storytelling. I dig deep into the backstory before I even touch the main storyline, and take care to cover every subplot in excruciating detail. It’s a blessing and a curse. My grandchildren will love me.

Me, as a grandpa. Most likely. Illustration by James Olstein.

Salespeople are storytellers…

…and they tell great stories! In fact, people PAY THEM when they tell great stories. They’re the ones knocking on doors and bringing in new business to help you keep bread on the table 🍞 (How’s that for a callback? Uploaf!!!)

When I design a product flow, I always tell a story. Interaction flows can get pretty complicated, and a story helps drive understanding.

There are lots of little techniques that you can use to tell a consistent and compelling story. Here are a few tips:

  • Consistent User(s): Choose a user photo from somewhere like DiverseUI, give the user a name, and build a story around them. Who are they? What’s their job title? What’s their email address? Salespeople will latch on to this user and retell their story thousands of times.
  • Consistent Industry: Pick an industry or theme and use it consistently in all of your designs. Example: Designing a marketing automation app? Assume the role of a marketer for a clothing retailer who is using the app you’re designing. For bonus points, update the designs you use to fit the industry your salespeople are selling to. Is sales meeting with the CEO of Nike? Update the story to use Nike data. It makes a huge difference.
  • Realistic Data: Related to the industry you choose, make sure you’re using realistic data. If your product is targeted to small businesses, don’t use dollar values in the tens of millions. That’s simply unrealistic, and they’ll struggle to see themselves using your product. Similarly, do your best to be relatively accurate with any charts and visualizations. If you’re depicting a spike in sales, then show a spike in sales with a realistic decay or decline. Oh, and make sure the axes of your chart are accurate. If you have a chart range selector showing a full year, then put all 12 months on the x-axis. Prospects love to call out inaccurate visualizations.
  • Consistent Terminology: Is it “Job” or “Role” or “Position” or “Profession” or “Title”? Establishing consistent terminology is obligatory business-wide. If you’re inconsistent, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stupid questions: “Hey what is a role? I saw ‘job’ on another page.” It will happen.
Here’s a great example where realistic medical terminology is used throughout the mockup. Compared to other mockups with lorem ipsum, this one tells a much more realistic and compelling story. Design by Yolqin Alimov. (Yolqin Alimov)

Few people know the product as well as you do (since you designed it), so it’s your responsibility to empower others with the means to accurately present, explain, and sell the product without you holding their hand.

Salespeople can do amazing things with just one screen mockup (I’ve watched it happen…it’s incredible), so light some candles, pour a glass of wine, and start telling stories.

3. Leadership

Tools: Internal Pitch Decks

People in executive suite — the CEO, CMO, COO, CIO, CTO, CXO, C3PO — have a lot of eyes on them:

  • Investors want to know if the business is worth backing, and/or when they’ll start making money.
  • Governments look to them for leadership and local impact.
  • Competitors watch as they race for marketshare.
  • Partners want to know how things are going to be mutually beneficial.
  • Users expect new features and true innovation.

Understand that your humble mobile app design will probably be used to please and dazzle these audiences.

When you’re designing, there are little tricks you can do to help drive the product vision. In the screenshot below, I added the “Integrations” option to the user profile dropdown of a concept I presented to a client. That tiny idea sparked a 15-minute conversation about additional revenue opportunities, positively impacted the product roadmap, and opened the doors to previously unexplored business partnerships.

Oh wow, “Integrations”…what could that be?

To people on the leadership team, your designs aren’t just pretty pictures. They’re evidence of a business plan, roadmap, and innovative team. Be confident in your work, and design to a caliber your CEO would want to brag about.

In the next article I’ll cover the groups who help you get your design built. In the meantime, subscribe below to get this right in your inbox, and see what we’re up to over at! There’s some good stuff!