How to articulate design decisions? - Pragati Mehrotra

Pragati is a Product Designer at Obvious and a mentor at Ownpath for the Product Design Fellowship. She is an alumnus from IISc and a designer with over a decade of experience across domains. Pragati believes in designing for good and is inspired by how software has changed the world and brought comfort and convenience into human lives. With an eye for detail and a dedication for bettering her craft, Pragati enjoys co-designing with the users and working closely with engineers to deliver delightful digital experiences.

Q1: What are your thoughts on the importance of good communication skill for designers today?

Designers today work across the board in any organisation, interacting with not only business leads but also executives, developers, product managers and marketers. Everyone has different yet equally important opinions and what they value. In such a scenario, success for a designer depends on buy-in or support from the rest of the team as much as on their capabilities to deliver delightful products.

The way we talk about design plays a significant role in whether our work sees the light of the day or not. It’s not enough to do good design, but to also communicate the why and frame it in the context of the problem. Doing so lets you convey your vision to the stakeholders clearly, while also making sure that all voices are heard/accounted for and in agreement.

And therefore, great designers are great communicators first.

Q2: What is a designer’s role in working with a diverse set of stakeholders?

When working with a diverse set of stakeholders, it’s important for a designer to create shared experiences, and focus on aligning with the values that each stakeholder believes in. Essentially, understand what they hold the most important and make sure you focus on conveying your information accordingly.

Executives and managers value concise information and solving problems, and so it makes sense for you to focus on describing the solution that accomplishes collective goals.

If you’re talking to developers or engineers who value building once and minimising rework and value efficient and clean code that can easily maintained, the designer should focus on understanding all use cases upfront and communicate the value your design will bring to the users by reusing UI patterns.

Product owners hold innovation, creativity, and big picture roadmap highly, and here, focusing on finding new approaches to solving problems, connecting designs to business objectives and talking about how current design helps them move towards the larger mission can prove helpful.

For all project managers, deadlines are important and so are managing scope, budget and ensuring everyone’s in the know. Here, updating them consistently on your progress, showing possible efficiencies of reusing design elements and managing expectations is key.

The marketing team usually takes care of brand consistency, voice and tone, and creating a product that is sellable. Here, creating styles that are in line with the brand narrative or ensuring that the copy you use is approved can go a long way.

Q3: How can one foster agreement and build trust with multiple stakeholders?

Design is subjective, attracts opinions, and many a time lead to disagreements too. It’s our responsibility to create shared understanding amongst stakeholders, develop empathy, show solidarity, and ask good questions to understand their perspectives.

A good rule of thumb is to first map all your stakeholders and write stakeholder stories, create empathy maps and figure what values they believe in. Then, articulate your decisions clearly in a way that gives them the confidence in your expertise and thought processes and convinces them that you’ve done enough research and are intentional with every part of the design.

Ask and answer questions and be open to constructive criticism. Sometimes, people also tend to get defensive in times of disagreement, and ultimately end up focusing on the wrong problem. But ensure that you’re open to changes and create a positive environment that allows for healthy addressing of disagreements.

To ensure seamless communication and no gaps between the decision making stakeholders and the designers, it’s key to lead the conversation, participate in discussions, and get support from the extended team and stakeholders.

Q4: What does it mean to articulate your design decisions? How can a designer do so effectively?

People often say that the best designs should speak for themselves. But that’s not the case in reality. Being articulate is actually not about frequency or persistence, but about ensuring that what you’re saying is thorough, precise and compelling enough for others.

An articulate decision:

  • Imparts intelligence and indicates that you’ve done research and can be trusted
  • Demonstrates logical thought intentionally, rather than basing your decisions on random assumptions
  • Expresses confidence by showcasing your clear processes
  • Shows respect and doesn’t disregard others’ opinions.

To communicate well with your writing, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are you supposed to solve?
  2. Why will this design that I’m creating be successful?
  3. Is it easy for people to use?

These questions will make you a bit more cautious and intentional when creating a design.

It’s also a good practice to document your thoughts, the flow and all details as writing, even if it’s on the Figma file itself. Then write the solution in front of it once you’ve finalised. This way, you can visually connect the dots between the problem and how your design is actually solving it.

As a designer today, intuition definitely plays a huge role in your capability to find creative solutions in working environments. But at the end of the day, it needs buy-in from different types of people. And that’s why there needs to be a logical rationale and a well-articulated design decision(s).

Q5: With remote work ramping up, designers have been facing challenges regarding communicating and articulating their decisions. How do you deal with these kind of situations?

Remote work has indeed been a challenge, because you need to have transparency in your communication. One thing that’s worked for my team and I is to avoid having async discussions on larger decisions to be made as much as possible. Instead, we present our designs together to a larger team in an open channel. This ensures that everyone has visibility into the approach you’re taking and the direction you’ve finalised on.

But in situations when this hasn’t been possible, we’ve found creating a small prototype and then screen recording that prototype and/or our discussion helpful. This has helped other stakeholders understand certain interactions, the flow and see exactly how things would happen, and give more insight than an extensive set of static screens.

Q6: What do you keep in mind while working with fellow designers as a manager?

We are a bunch of creatives who produce our best work, when we stay motivated and curious. As a manager, I tend to ensure there is enough creative freedom in the team to challenge assumptions and explore fresh ideas.

Q7: What are some common mistakes designers make while articulating design decisions?

Some of the most common mistakes designers make are having an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality, whereas you’re all actually working towards one common goal. Sometimes, designers also don’t do enough research and make judgements basis their own assumptions, which can lead to a product that doesn’t really cater to the needs of the users. It’s also important to not attach yourself to the design, not get frustrated with criticism, and instead be open to changes and feedback. More than anything else, it’s important to have discussions with the larger group in-sync and to create an environment of free thinking without biases.

Q8: What are some of the key tactics and actionable methods for  junior designers to improve their communication skills?

A successful design is one that solves a problem, is easy for users and is agreed upon by everyone. So as a designer who’s just starting out, create a good design and have a measuring stick to use in conversations. Ask questions to yourself and others and make yourself consciously aware of every decision. What makes it feel right so other people can get convinced? What am I trying to solve? What can I do better?

Do enough research and test ideas with real users to see how your product affects them. And last of all, document all your decisions, have a compelling and memorable explanation of your design, so people remember it!

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