Have you ever attended a design review meeting — perhaps to review the results of a design sprint (see Jake Knapp) — where the team seemed to love the work, appreciated the research that went into the design decisions, and yet ultimately decided not to move forward with the proposed design? How frustrating. Don’t they know what this means to you!!!
I believe there a few key reasons why this happens and can offer a few tips and tricks that can help avoid this scenario.
1. Emphasize How the Deliverable Solves a Problem
Many creatives spend so much time focused on the results of their efforts that they forget to reiterate what the design actually does to solve a problem, capture an opportunity, or otherwise improve a product. When presenting your creative work, remember that your audience must first agree that the design was necessary in the first place so you have to make additional effort to remind them.
Put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholders who care deeply about the problem being solved (e.g. product managers, founders, customer advocates, etc.). If your presentation doesn’t resonate with a very real issue they can relate back to the customer, you will struggle to keep their attention much less get their approval or constructive feedback.
2. Demonstrate How the Design (and it’s Hypothesis) Has Been Validated by Actual Users
Research shows that people make decisions based on something called “ambiguity avoidance,” wherein the decision maker prefers an option having known and quantifiable risks over options with unknown or incalculable odds (see Ellsberg Paradox).
If a problem or improvement is hurtled through an idea-to-solution assembly line without being validated along the way — either by potential or actual users — then you have created a potential for stakeholders to choose a more quantifiable risk. In other words, they will prefer a solution to the problem having fewer unknown risks and which will very likely (and unfortunately) be a meager iteration of an existing solution.
If your design truly has the stuff your users’ dreams are made of, make it clear to everyone how you snatched those dreams from their minds and delivered it in your work. Show those A/B test results, the user research, the heatmaps of prototypes, and so on. It’s really, really critical to build trust and clarify that there are risks in this design, but that they are known.
3. Align the Design to the Long Term Strategy
There has perhaps never been a more strategically focused design effort than what is happening in 2018 with Tesla Motors. I would wager that the internal reaction at Tesla to the notion of an electric semi truck was less than exuberant. But consider this excerpt from the now famous Master Plan blog post:
The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.
When applying the strategy above, it’s clear that the Tesla Semi announcement was strategically brilliant. It is an expensive, premium product design in a niche area of their existing area of expertise: electric vehicles.
When you pitch your next design, consider how it aligns to the most broad and ambitious goals of your organization. You may find that it inspires commitment at the very highest levels of the organization.
4. Make it Easy to Enthusiastically Sell
Some design work is easy to love, but hard to sell with passion. The design may pluck all the right chords for the existing market, the test users, and even the overall strategy but if it’s absolute nightmare to talk about, build relationships from, and illustrate the vision, then you have failed.
So, how do you make your designs easier to sell? You need to anticipate what your sales prospects will ask the salesperson immediately after demoing your software. Imagine questions like:
- This looks good, but what if we want to change the colors to more closely match the other apps we use?
- How do I connect it to [application X] where most of my data is?
- We have users who are remote a lot, can you show me the design on a phone…can I pull it up on my phone right now?
- What if we only want [Feature A] and [Feature B], will you give me a price for not having [Feature C]?
If your design is not flexible, it will not give your sales team the enthusiasm they need to present it well. And remember…
“For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.”
— Zig Ziglar
So remember: an enthusiastic salesperson is the ambitious designer’s best friend.
5. Consider How it Can Be Efficiently Built
Last but certainly not least, you must consider the complexity to build the design you are communicating. If your work is beautiful, but proposes an entirely new UX pattern set or uses untraditional metaphors, the engineers will struggle to scope, plan, and execute your work in a timely manner.
Since your design needs to be iterated on in the market (you know that, right?), it’s in your best interest to produce an artifact that can be built quickly without a lot of prodigious back and forth between product, design, and engineering.
A popular and emerging technique to achieve this is to design using existing HTML and CSS, in code, so that you can be certain that engineers can quickly pull from their grab bag of already built components. Do this and you will get amazing collaboration from the engineering team.
I hope you find this helpful in preparing you for that big demo, presentation, or design review. You have chance to make a great impression and get buy-in so don’t waste it!
p.s. thank you to Tom Kuegler for the inspiration to start writing more. This is fun. 😉