Articulating Design Decisions

by Tom Greever

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 15, 2024
Articulating Design Decisions
Articulating Design Decisions

Discover how to effectively articulate design decisions and secure stakeholder buy-in. Learn strategic communication techniques for better design outcomes.

What are the big ideas?

Transition from Beautiful to Functional Design

Designers are shifting their role from creating aesthetically pleasing visuals to solving business problems, demanding a broader understanding of product impact and stakeholder needs.

Designers must articulate the business rationale behind their decisions, not just the visual aspects.

Diverse Backgrounds Enrich UX

The field of User Experience (UX) benefits from designers with varied backgrounds such as marketing or IT, which brings diverse perspectives but also challenges in establishing a common language.

Efforts to create a shared vocabulary can enhance communication between designers and stakeholders.

Effective Communication as Design Skill

Strong communication skills are essential for designers to convey the value of their work to non-designers, involving clear articulation and responsiveness to feedback.

Practicing scenarios and preparing responses can help designers defend their design choices more effectively.

Listening Leads to Better Design Outcomes

Designers who master both implicit and explicit listening skills can better understand stakeholder feedback and underlying needs, leading to more effective design refinements.

Techniques such as pausing before responding and taking detailed notes during meetings enhance comprehension and decision-making.

Strategic Response Frameworks Enhance Stakeholder Buy-in

Developing structured response strategies based on user needs and business goals can significantly increase the likelihood of stakeholder agreement on design proposals.

Using the IDEAL response method helps systematically address stakeholder concerns and secure buy-in.

Post-Meeting Strategies Influence Project Success

The interactions immediately following a meeting can be as critical as the meeting itself, providing opportunities to address unresolved issues and strengthen stakeholder relationships.

Sending a timely follow-up email and having informal one-on-one discussions can solidify agreements and clarify misunderstandings.

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Transition from Beautiful to Functional Design

Designers are evolving from visual artists to strategic problem-solvers. The role of design is shifting from creating aesthetically pleasing visuals to solving real business problems. Designers must now demonstrate a deeper understanding of how their work impacts the overall product and business goals.

This transition demands that designers become more articulate in communicating the rationale behind their design decisions, not just the visual aspects. They must move beyond discussing the look and feel, and instead focus on explaining how their designs address specific user needs and business objectives.

Designers can no longer rely on their creative instincts alone. They must back up their decisions with data, research, and a clear understanding of stakeholder requirements. This allows them to have more meaningful, productive conversations with executives and cross-functional teams.

The most successful designers are those who can translate their creative vision into tangible business value. By demonstrating the strategic importance of design, they earn a seat at the table and become true partners in driving organizational success.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the transition from beautiful to functional design:

  • Executives used to only care if the website "didn't look like crap" and was better than competitors, not the details of the design process. As long as the website "worked" and had the necessary features like filters and "Add to Cart", management didn't need to get too involved in the design.

  • Businesses are now arranging themselves to "value design and make it part of their core culture." Executives are starting to recognize the importance of design and want to influence the design process, as their "business is on the line."

  • Designers have "come to understand the value of creating an experience that is based on solving problems and backed up by research." They are moving towards meeting with executives in the middle, who previously only cared about utility and function.

  • Designers now need to "directly connect [their] solution to the needs of the business" by explaining how their design "helps achieve a goal" or "facilitates a primary use case." This demonstrates a shift from just focusing on aesthetics to justifying designs based on business objectives.

  • The chapter emphasizes that designers have the "power to imagine the future" and "create an awareness of incredible new possibilities" through their visuals. This shows how designers are now expected to inspire stakeholders with a vision, not just deliver functional designs.

Key terms:

  • Aesthetically pleasing visuals: Refers to the previous focus on making things look good, rather than solving problems.
  • Solving business problems: The new emphasis on designing to meet specific business goals and objectives.
  • Articulating business rationale: The need for designers to explain how their designs support the organization's needs, not just their own creative vision.

Diverse Backgrounds Enrich UX

The diverse backgrounds of UX designers enrich the field, but also present challenges in communication. Designers come from varied disciplines like marketing, IT, and psychology, bringing unique perspectives. However, this diversity can make it difficult to establish a common vocabulary and understanding with stakeholders.

Establishing a shared vocabulary is crucial for effective communication between designers and stakeholders. When everyone uses the same terms and concepts, it becomes easier to discuss design decisions and align on goals. Efforts to create this common language can bridge the gap between the creative, problem-solving mindset of designers and the business priorities of stakeholders.

By aligning on terminology and design principles, designers and stakeholders can have more productive conversations. This allows designers to explain their rationale in a way that resonates with non-designers, while stakeholders can provide meaningful feedback. Developing this shared understanding is key to ensuring UX decisions support the overall business objectives.

The diversity of UX professionals is a strength, but also requires intentional efforts to facilitate collaboration. When designers and stakeholders speak a common language, they can leverage their varied backgrounds to create exceptional user experiences that drive business success.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that diverse backgrounds enrich UX:

  • The author's own background shifted from graphic design to web design to eventually becoming a UX designer, a common path for many in the field. The author notes "Most of us didn't start out in UX because UX didn't exist."

  • The context states that UX designers come from a variety of backgrounds, including "marketing, IT, design, research. Even human behaviorists and psychologist are finding their relevance in the explosive field called UX." This diversity of backgrounds brings different perspectives.

  • The context describes the "awkwardness of UX's adolescence" in the relationship between UX designers and developers. Developers have been solving user problems for longer, but with a focus on documentation and training rather than effective design. The different backgrounds and approaches can create challenges in communication.

  • The context notes that "We have a design industry full of people with backgrounds that are vastly different than their current job titles." This diversity can be an asset, but also requires establishing a shared vocabulary and understanding between designers and stakeholders.

  • The author suggests that designers need to be "constantly asking yourself: What problem am I trying to solve with this?" to make their thought process explicit and communicate it to others. This awareness of one's own design decisions is key to bridging the gap between diverse backgrounds.

Effective Communication as Design Skill

Effective communication is a critical design skill. Designers must be able to clearly articulate the reasoning behind their design decisions to non-designer stakeholders. This involves anticipating feedback, preparing responses, and actively listening to understand stakeholder concerns.

By practicing scenarios and crafting compelling arguments, designers can defend their design choices more effectively. This builds trust and demonstrates their expertise, rather than relying on intuition or feelings. Designers should use plain language that stakeholders understand, rather than technical jargon.

Actively listening to stakeholder feedback is also key. Designers should let stakeholders speak freely without interrupting, and look for unspoken subtext. By rephrasing and summarizing what they hear, designers can show they fully grasp the stakeholders' perspectives. This creates an atmosphere of mutual understanding, making stakeholders more receptive to the designer's recommendations.

Mastering communication allows designers to successfully navigate the decision-making process and ensure their user-centric designs are implemented. Strong communication skills set great designers apart, enabling them to enact positive change through their work.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight that effective communication is an essential design skill:

Preparing for Meetings

  • "Ask people to jump in at specific points and make sure there isn't anything missing. This is a great opportunity for a peer to check your work and make sure you're on the right track to getting your designs approved."
  • "Even just 5 or 10 minutes before the meeting will do, but it will help you and your peers to be prepared to present and respond."

Reducing Cognitive Load

  • "The main purpose of taking so much care to prepare for discussing design decisions is to reduce the cognitive load both for your stakeholders and for you."
  • "When our stakeholders have the mental capacity to focus on the most important decisions, we're far more likely to have conversations that are productive and helpful for the user experience."

Demonstrating Confidence

  • "If you find your meeting happening exactly as you expected, that's a good sign that you did your homework and are well-prepared to defend your design decisions."
  • "Allow it to build your confidence in the moment because confidence, too, will help you be articulate and give you the perspective you need to really listen to the feedback that's about to come."

Listening Actively

  • "Listening isn't just waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that we can begin our response. The whole purpose of careful listening is to make sure we understand our stakeholders before responding."
  • "Taking notes prevents you from having the same conversation again" and "frees you to focus on being articulate in your response."

Building Trust

  • "Taking notes makes you look attentive, smart, and as a result, more articulate! It makes the other person feel valued because you care enough about what they said to write it down."
  • "Verbally saying something like, 'Oh, I see your point. Let me write that down' earns trust and shows that you're a safe person to talk to."

Listening Leads to Better Design Outcomes

Effective listening is crucial for designers to create better design outcomes. By mastering both implicit and explicit listening techniques, designers can deeply understand stakeholder feedback and uncover their underlying needs. This enables designers to make more informed decisions and refine their designs accordingly.

Implicit listening involves non-verbal skills like letting stakeholders speak without interruption, observing what they're not saying, and identifying the real problem they're trying to solve. Explicit listening includes outward actions like taking detailed notes, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing stakeholder comments using design-relevant language.

For example, pausing briefly before responding allows designers to fully process stakeholder input and formulate an articulate reply. Similarly, meticulously documenting meeting discussions creates a record to refer back to, preventing repeat conversations and ensuring design decisions are well-documented. These techniques enhance designers' comprehension and decision-making abilities, leading to more effective design outcomes.

Here are key examples from the context that support the insight that listening leads to better design outcomes:

  • Pausing before responding: The author emphasizes the "art of the pause" - waiting 2-3 seconds after the stakeholder finishes speaking before responding. This allows time to ensure the stakeholder is done, lets the feedback sink in, and shows the stakeholder their input is valued.

  • Taking detailed notes: The author stresses the importance of "writing it all down" - thoroughly documenting stakeholder feedback and design decisions. This creates a paper trail to avoid repeat conversations and understand the rationale behind past choices.

  • Rephrasing stakeholder feedback: The author recommends "repeating and rephrasing" what stakeholders say, converting statements about "likes" into discussions of what "works." This helps establish a shared vocabulary and ensures mutual understanding.

  • Example: The author provides an example where a stakeholder says they "don't like how these disabled buttons look." The designer rephrases this as "you don't think a segmented control is the best choice because the user won't understand the disabled options." This reframing helps uncover the underlying usability concern.

  • Example: Another example shows the designer translating the stakeholder's reference to a "menu being hard to use" into discussing "using the system's native droplist" - bridging the language gap to have a more productive conversation.

By deeply listening through techniques like pausing, note-taking, and rephrasing, designers can better comprehend stakeholder needs and make more informed, user-centric design decisions, leading to better outcomes.

Strategic Response Frameworks Enhance Stakeholder Buy-in

Crafting strategic response frameworks is crucial for securing stakeholder buy-in on design proposals. These frameworks enable you to systematically address stakeholder concerns and align your solutions with their needs and the business's goals.

The IDEAL response method is an effective framework for this purpose. It guides you through the key steps:

  1. Identifying the problem your design solves and how it benefits the user.
  2. Demonstrating how your solution aligns with the business's objectives.
  3. Empathizing with the user's perspective to build stakeholder understanding.
  4. Asking directly for stakeholder agreement to move the project forward.
  5. Locking in that agreement to prevent revisiting the same issues.

By following this structured approach, you can make a compelling case for your design decisions and increase the likelihood of gaining stakeholder approval. This enhances collaboration and ensures the final product meets both user needs and business requirements.

Developing strategic response skills is essential for UX professionals who need to effectively communicate design rationale and secure stakeholder buy-in. Mastering frameworks like the IDEAL method equips you to navigate design discussions productively and drive projects to successful outcomes.

Key Insight: Strategic Response Frameworks Enhance Stakeholder Buy-in


  • The context emphasizes the importance of defining a clear strategy for responding to stakeholder feedback, which involves appealing to a "nobler motive" by connecting design decisions to the business's goals and metrics. This helps make a "compelling case" for the proposed user experience.

  • The context outlines four key tactics for delivering this response strategy: 1) Appealing to a nobler motive by connecting designs to business goals, 2) Facilitating primary use cases, 3) Empathizing with the user, and 4) Appealing to the business.

  • The context describes the IDEAL response framework, which involves: 1) Being direct and asking stakeholders for explicit agreement, 2) Highlighting the benefits or consequences of agreement/disagreement, and 3) Using a "security blanket statement" to compel stakeholders to agree.

  • The context emphasizes the importance of active listening through techniques like taking detailed notes, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing stakeholder feedback - all of which help craft a more effective strategic response.

  • The context advises against using certain vocabulary like "you're wrong" or "from a design perspective", and instead recommends focusing on what "works" or "doesn't work" for the user experience, rather than personal preferences.

Post-Meeting Strategies Influence Project Success

The post-meeting period is a crucial time that can significantly impact project success. Taking strategic actions after a meeting can solidify agreements, clarify misunderstandings, and strengthen stakeholder relationships.

One powerful tactic is to send a timely follow-up email. This demonstrates your commitment to the project and ensures everyone is on the same page about decisions and next steps. The follow-up should thank participants, recap key discussion points, and clearly outline action items and responsibilities.

Another effective strategy is to engage in informal one-on-one discussions. These casual conversations allow you to address any unresolved issues or concerns that participants may have been hesitant to voice in the larger meeting. This personal approach can help build trust and secure buy-in from influential stakeholders.

By leveraging these post-meeting strategies, you can capitalize on the momentum of the meeting and proactively address potential roadblocks. This sets the stage for smoother project execution and increases the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight that post-meeting strategies influence project success:

Taking Detailed Notes

  • Taking detailed notes during meetings allows you to "avoid the rework that will prevent you from being successful in communicating about your designs." Notes create a "paper trail to understanding what logic went into the original decisions" rather than relying on "he said, she said" conversations.
  • Notes "free you to focus on being articulate in your response" by reducing your cognitive load and allowing you to organize stakeholder feedback effectively.
  • Taking notes "makes you look attentive, smart, and as a result, more articulate!" This builds trust with stakeholders and makes them more likely to listen to your responses.

Sending Thorough Follow-Up Emails

  • Follow-up emails should "thank them for their time and participation," "re-cap everything that was talked about," and "always focus on actions, next steps, or expectations."
  • Specific examples of what a follow-up email should include:
    • "The carousel on the homepage moves too fast. Jon is going to change it to 100ms"
    • "The price for items in Best Sellers seems too small. I will check to make sure it's consistent with the others and adjust as necessary."
    • "Stan is concerned the CTA for membership is too large and uses the wrong copy. Jennifer is checking with content for correct copy."
  • Follow-up emails create a "written record" that is "invaluable" months later when new people need information on past decisions.

Applying Filters to Meeting Notes

  • When writing follow-up notes, "use your best judgment to filter out all the unnecessary information that isn't worth repeating to the entire team." This prevents "too much clutter" in communications.
  • For example, you can exclude "suggestions that are totally off-the-wall" or "riff on an idea" during the meeting, as these don't need to be mentioned again.

By implementing these post-meeting strategies, you can solidify agreements, clarify misunderstandings, and create a clear record of decisions - all of which contribute to the overall success of the project.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Articulating Design Decisions" that resonated with readers.

Don’t start any sentence with “From a design perspective...” because that’s usually just another way of saying “from my perspective.” Remember, we don’t care about your perspective; we care about the user’s perspective.

When communicating design decisions, it's essential to focus on the user's needs rather than personal opinions. Phrases that highlight a designer's perspective can come across as biased and unprofessional. Instead, designers should emphasize how their designs solve real problems and improve the user experience. By doing so, they demonstrate a commitment to creating products that truly benefit users.

We aren’t doing user experience design if we haven’t actually seen a user experience it.

True user experience design involves observing and understanding how users interact with a product or service. It's not just about creating something that looks good or meets business objectives, but about ensuring it is usable and meets the needs of its intended users. Until we see users engaging with our design, we can't claim to have created a genuine user experience.

That’s where we find ourselves today. In a meeting with people who have no idea how to do our jobs, yet consistently find it their place to tell us how to do it. It’s enough to drive any designer insane.

Designers often find themselves in frustrating situations where non-experts try to dictate how they should do their job. This can be infuriating, as outsiders may not fully understand the complexities and nuances of design work. As a result, designers may feel undervalued and disrespected, leading to feelings of exasperation and despair.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 22

How well do you understand the key insights in "Articulating Design Decisions"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How has the role of designers changed in business contexts?
2. What is now required of designers beyond their previous focus on aesthetics?
3. Why is it important for designers to understand stakeholder requirements?
4. What kind of value are designers expected to demonstrate in their work, according to recent shifts in business attitudes?
5. What are some of the disciplines from which UX designers come, and how do these varied backgrounds benefit UX design?
6. Why is establishing a shared vocabulary important in the interaction between UX designers and stakeholders?
7. What challenges can arise from the diverse backgrounds of UX designers in terms of team communication?
8. How can UX designers and stakeholders leverage their diverse backgrounds to enhance business success through user experiences?
9. Why is it important for designers to articulate their design decisions to non-designer stakeholders?
10. How can designers effectively defend their design choices during presentations?
11. What role does active listening play in effective communication for designers?
12. How does mastering communication skills benefit designers in the decision-making process?
13. What is the impact of mastering explicit and implicit listening techniques on design processes?
14. How does pausing before responding benefit a designer during stakeholder interactions?
15. Why is taking detailed notes important during design meetings?
16. What does rephrasing stakeholder feedback accomplish in design discussions?
17. What is the IDEAL response method and how does it facilitate stakeholder buy-in in design proposals?
18. Why is it important for UX professionals to develop strategic response skills?
19. What tactics can be used to effectively respond to stakeholder feedback when presenting design proposals?
20. What is the importance of sending a follow-up email after a meeting?
21. How can informal one-on-one discussions after meetings contribute to project success?
22. Why is taking detailed notes during meetings beneficial for project success?

Action Questions

0 / 11

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Articulating Design Decisions". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you apply a strategic problem-solving approach in your current design project to enhance its business value?
2. What steps can you take to improve your ability to communicate the business rationale behind your design decisions?
3. How can UX designers and stakeholders work collaboratively to develop a shared vocabulary that enriches their communication and project outcomes?
4. In what ways can professionals from diverse backgrounds leverage their unique perspectives to enhance the user experience in their projects?
5. How can you improve your communication with stakeholders in meetings to better explain and defend your design choices?
6. What strategies can you employ to enhance your active listening skills during discussions with colleagues and stakeholders?
7. How can you apply the technique of pausing before responding in your next design meeting to ensure you fully understand stakeholder feedback?
8. How can you implement the IDEAL response method in your next project to address potential concerns and align it with business goals?
9. What strategies can you use to enhance stakeholder empathy towards user perspectives in upcoming design discussions?
10. How can you improve your follow-up communications after meetings to ensure all participants understand their responsibilities and next steps?
11. What strategies could you implement to handle unresolved issues or concerns after a meeting?

Chapter Notes

Chapter 1 A Maturing Industry

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Designers are Transitioning from Making "Pretty Pictures" to Solving Business Problems: Historically, designers were relegated to making aesthetically pleasing designs, but now they are being thrust into the center of the product development cycle to solve critical business problems. This shift requires designers to communicate the rationale behind their design decisions to non-designers in a way that appeals to the stakeholders' needs.

  • The Term "User Experience Design" is Relatively New and Evolving: The term "user experience design" (UX) emerged in the 1990s and has since evolved in meaning and scope. As UX has become more prominent, both designers and stakeholders are still adjusting to the changing attitudes and approaches to creating great products.

  • Designers Come from Diverse Backgrounds, not Specialized UX Programs: Most designers working in UX today did not come from specialized UX programs, but rather migrated into the field from other areas like marketing, IT, design, or research. This diversity of backgrounds can lead to a lack of a shared vocabulary and understanding between designers and stakeholders.

  • Designers Struggle to Communicate Design Decisions to Non-Designers: Designers often make design decisions based on intuition and subjectivity, which can be difficult to articulate to stakeholders who do not share the same design background and vocabulary. The lack of a common understanding of what constitutes "good design" creates a communication challenge.

  • Businesses are Increasingly Valuing Design as a Competitive Advantage: As digital products and experiences have become central to many businesses, the importance of design has shifted from being a utility to a critical component of product development. Executives now recognize the value of great UX in driving business success, leading them to want to be more involved in the design process.

  • Digital Experiences are Becoming Deeply Personal and Ubiquitous: The proliferation of personal devices, social media, and the "internet of things" has made digital interfaces a deeply personal and ubiquitous part of people's lives. As a result, everyone has strong opinions about the design of these digital products, which designers must now navigate and communicate to.

Chapter 2 Great Designers are Great Communicators

  • The Importance of Communication in Design: Designers are now expected to be the experts on design and communicate their decisions to non-designers, such as business stakeholders. Effective communication is critical to ensuring the best possible user experience.

  • The Challenge of "Too Many Chiefs in the Kitchen": Stakeholders who are not trained designers often have strong opinions about design decisions, even though they admit they lack the necessary expertise. This can lead to disruption and compromise in the design process.

  • Everyone is a Designer: People can recognize good design, even if they don't know how to create it themselves. This phenomenon is unique to design, as it is not the case in other fields like accounting or development.

  • The Interface is Your Interface: Since designers' work is now the interface of the entire company, stakeholders have strong opinions about how it reflects on them. This means designers must take responsibility for showing people how and why their work is valued.

  • The Importance of Articulation: Being articulate, or using words, tone, and approach to communicate a specific message and elicit a specific response, can make designers more successful in getting their ideas accepted.

  • The Best Ideas Don't Always Win: The person who can convince others they're right is more likely to get their way, even if their idea is not the best. Designers who lack the ability to articulate their decisions often end up making changes they disagree with.

  • The Three Pillars of Successful Design: A successful design project must 1) solve a problem, 2) be easy for users, and 3) be supported by everyone involved.

  • Practicing Conscious Awareness of Design Decisions: Designers should write down the problems they are trying to solve and the rationale behind their proposed solutions, in order to be better prepared to explain their decisions to stakeholders.

  • Usability is About Common Sense and Research: Designers should make informed assumptions about what will create the simplest user experience, then validate those assumptions through user research.

  • Getting Stakeholder Support: Designers need to be able to articulate why their solution is better than alternatives, in order to convince stakeholders and get the support needed to implement the best possible user experience.

Chapter 3 Understanding Relationships

  • See Stakeholders as Human: Stakeholders are dealing with personal and professional issues beyond the current design project, so their reactions may not be solely about the project itself. Recognizing this can help designers approach stakeholders with more empathy and understanding.

  • Create Shared Experiences: Finding common ground and shared experiences with stakeholders, such as going to lunch or attending a conference together, can help build rapport and improve communication.

  • Develop Empathy: Empathizing with stakeholders' perspectives and challenges can drive designers to take action and make changes to their designs, rather than just defending their own ideas.

  • Ask Good Questions: Asking open-ended questions about stakeholders' personal and professional lives can help designers better understand their viewpoints and build stronger relationships.

  • Identify Influencers: Recognizing the different types of stakeholders (team members, executives, external influencers) and understanding their unique priorities and values can help designers tailor their communication approach.

  • Build Good Relationships: Simple actions like being yourself, doing things for others, and giving small gifts can go a long way in building strong relationships with stakeholders, which in turn improves communication and the likelihood of design acceptance.

  • Stakeholders are People Too: Applying the same skills used to understand users, such as recognizing their roles, priorities, and communication preferences, can help designers build better relationships and communicate more effectively with their stakeholders.

Chapter 4 Reducing Cognitive Load

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Remove Distractions: Identify and remove any elements in your design presentations that may distract stakeholders from the core purpose of the meeting, such as placeholder content, misaligned elements, or legacy UI components. This extra preparation time can save you from having to repeatedly address the same distractions during the meeting.

  • Anticipate Reactions: Based on your understanding of the stakeholders' roles, values, and past behaviors, anticipate how they might react to your design proposals. Write down their potential objections and prepare counterpoints or alternative designs to address them.

  • Create a Support Network: Identify other people, such as team members or influential stakeholders, who can back up your design decisions during the meeting. Prepare them in advance by sharing the agenda, designs, and key talking points so they can help articulate the rationale for your proposals.

  • Rehearse the Meeting: Create a detailed agenda for the meeting, practice presenting the content and responding to anticipated questions out loud, and hold a brief huddle with your support network immediately before the meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page and ready to contribute.

The key concepts in this chapter are:

  • Cognitive Load: The amount of mental effort required for stakeholders to process and engage with the information presented during a meeting. Reducing cognitive load helps keep the discussion focused on the core design decisions.
  • Distractions: Elements in the design presentation or meeting environment that draw stakeholders' attention away from the main purpose, hindering their ability to provide meaningful feedback.
  • Support Network: Other people, such as team members or influential stakeholders, who can actively back up and reinforce your design proposals during the meeting, helping to build consensus.
  • Rehearsal: The process of practicing the meeting content, flow, and responses to anticipated questions, which helps you be more articulate and confident during the actual meeting.

Chapter 5 Listening is Understanding

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Implicit Listening Skills:

    • Let Them Talk: Allow stakeholders to express themselves fully without interrupting them. This helps them communicate more clearly, builds their confidence, and demonstrates that you value their input.
    • Hear What Isn't Being Said: Look for subtext and underlying issues that stakeholders may not be expressing directly. People often use indirect language when discussing design.
    • Uncover the Real Problem: Focus on understanding the actual problem stakeholders are trying to solve, rather than just their proposed solutions.
    • The Art of the Pause: After stakeholders finish speaking, pause for a few seconds before responding. This ensures they have finished, gives you time to process their feedback, and shows that you are thoughtfully considering their input.
  • Explicit Listening Skills:

    • Write It All Down: Take detailed notes during meetings to create a record of the discussion, prevent repeat conversations, and free your mind to focus on being articulate in your responses.
    • Ask Questions: Use open-ended questions to get stakeholders to clarify and expand on their feedback, helping you better understand their perspective.
    • Repeat and Rephrase: Restate stakeholders' feedback using design-specific terminology to ensure you have a shared understanding and vocabulary.
  • Bridging the Language Gap:

    • Stakeholders often lack the design-specific vocabulary to clearly express their feedback. By rephrasing their comments using design terms, you can establish a common language and ensure effective communication.
    • Avoid focusing on stakeholders' "likes" and "dislikes", and instead guide the conversation towards discussing what "works" and what "doesn't work" in the design. This shifts the focus to the effectiveness of the design rather than personal preferences.

The key to effective listening is to fully understand the stakeholders' perspective, uncover the underlying issues, and establish a shared vocabulary for discussing the design. This lays the groundwork for a productive dialogue and the ability to respond effectively to their feedback.

Chapter 6 The Right Frame of Mind

  • Giving up Control: As designers, we need to recognize that we don't have the final say on our designs, and that we need to learn to influence people with our words. Accepting that we don't have ultimate control over the final outcome can create an emotional release, allowing us to keep our wits about us and not take everything so personally.

  • Checking Ego at the Door: Our expertise in design can lead us to believe that our ideas are the only way, but we need to separate ourselves from our own ideas and ambitions. We should be able to make solid recommendations while also recognizing that our ideas aren't the only ideas, and being open to the suggestions and ideas of others.

  • Leading with a "Yes": Always starting with a positive affirmation of the other person's idea or request, even if we disagree, creates an atmosphere of agreement and cooperation. This "yes reflex" gives us time to figure out how to make it happen, and shifts responsibility for new ideas onto others, allowing them to participate in the solution.

  • Being Charming: Projecting confidence, being authentic, using humor, and orienting ourselves towards the needs of our stakeholders can make us more likable and appealing, and compel them to agree with us. Confidence, expressed through smiling and good posture, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to success.

  • Changing Vocabulary: Avoiding phrases like "you're wrong," "from a design perspective," and "like/don't like" can help us stay positive and focus on what works and what doesn't work, rather than our personal preferences. Using language that the stakeholders can understand, and avoiding industry jargon, is also important.

  • Transitioning to the Response: Thanking the stakeholders for their feedback, briefly summarizing what they said, and preparing them for what you're about to say creates a graceful transition that sets the stage for your response and helps ensure they are receptive to it.

Chapter 7 The Response: Strategy and Tactics

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Define a UX Strategy for Responding: The strategy for responding to stakeholders should be based on answering three key questions: 1) What problem does it solve? 2) How does it affect the user? 3) Why is it better than the alternative? This strategy helps keep the response focused on the user experience and achieving the objective of getting agreement.

  • Appeal to a Nobler Motive: When responding, always try to connect your design decisions to the agreed-upon goals, metrics, or problems that the project is trying to solve. This helps stakeholders understand the rationale behind the decisions and keeps the discussion focused on the intended outcomes.

  • Represent the User: Effectively representing the user in your response requires using real stories, concrete examples, and demonstrable user experiences. This creates empathy and shows stakeholders the human impact of the design decisions.

  • Demonstrate Effectiveness: Your response should clearly show why your proposed design is the best solution, using examples, data, comparisons, and other tangible evidence. Visually demonstrating the differences between options is key to making a compelling case.

  • Employ Tactics to Deliver the Strategy: Five key tactics for delivering the response strategy are: 1) Show a comparison, 2) Propose an alternative, 3) Give them a choice, 4) Ask others to weigh in, and 5) Postpone the decision. These tactics help shape the conversation and guide stakeholders towards agreement.

  • Leverage Common Response Templates: There are common key messages and response templates that can be used to articulate design decisions. Knowing these templates ahead of time can make the response more effective and efficient. These will be covered in the next chapter.

  • Practice and Apply the Response Framework: Responding effectively to stakeholders is a skill that requires practice. By applying the strategy, tactics, and templates, designers can become more adept at articulating design decisions in the moment during meetings.

Chapter 8 The Response: Common Messages

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Common Messages for Communicating Design Decisions:

    • The chapter outlines several common messages that can be used to effectively communicate design decisions to stakeholders. These messages are organized into four categories: Business, Design, Research, and Limitations.
  • Appealing to Business Needs:

    • "Helps achieve a goal": Connect the design solution to the goals and objectives of the business.
    • "Facilitates a primary use case": Explain how the design decision optimizes the primary user flow or use case.
    • "Establishes branding": Justify design decisions based on the need to align with the organization's branding standards.
  • Design-Focused Explanations:

    • "Uses a common design pattern": Explain how the design decision leverages a well-established and widely recognized interaction pattern.
    • "Draws the user's attention": Describe how the design elements are intentionally arranged to guide the user's attention and flow.
    • "Creates a flow for the user": Justify the design based on the user flow and hierarchy you've carefully planned.
  • Leveraging Research:

    • "Validated by data": Use data and analytics to support and validate the design decision.
    • "Revealed in user testing": Cite insights gained from observing real users interacting with the design.
    • "Supported by other research": Reference external research and best practices that inform the design decision.
  • Addressing Limitations:

    • "Not enough resources": Explain how resource constraints (e.g., budget, time, people) have influenced the design decision.
    • "Limited by technology": Acknowledge technical limitations that have necessitated certain design choices.
    • "Complies with a standard": Justify design decisions based on the need to adhere to established standards (e.g., accessibility, browser compatibility).
  • Applying the Common Messages:

    • The chapter encourages the reader to use these common messages as templates to craft compelling responses when communicating design decisions to stakeholders.
    • The goal is to have a set of reusable responses that can be adapted to the specific context and used to achieve the objective of getting agreement from stakeholders.

Chapter 9 The Ideal Response: Getting Agreement

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The IDEAL Response: This is a formula for responding to stakeholder feedback that includes 5 key elements:

    • Identify the Problem: Clearly state the problem that the design is trying to address.
    • Describe the Solution: Explain how the design solution addresses the identified problem.
    • Empathize with the User: Describe how the solution benefits the user and their needs.
    • Appeal to the Business: Explain how the design decision aligns with business goals, metrics, or KPIs.
    • Lock-in Agreement: Directly ask the stakeholders for their agreement on the proposed solution.
  • Getting Agreement: To get stakeholder agreement, you should:

    • Be Direct: Directly ask stakeholders, "Do you agree?" to force them to provide a clear response.
    • Highlight Benefits or Consequences: Frame the question in a way that emphasizes the positive outcomes of agreement or the negative consequences of disagreement.
    • Use a "Security Blanket" Statement: Phrase the question in a way that makes the "right" choice obvious, so stakeholders feel compelled to agree.
    • Force Their Hand: Ask direct questions that force stakeholders to take a clear stance, rather than remaining ambiguous.
  • Applying the IDEAL Response: The chapter provides several case studies demonstrating how to apply the IDEAL response framework to common stakeholder feedback scenarios, including:

    • Controlling content display
    • Improving the "Add to Cart" interaction
    • Reducing overbrandingon the interface
    • Reorganizing the main menu
    • Minimizing branded banners
    • Removing unnecessary form fields
    • Consolidating redundant messaging
    • Prioritizing feature requests
  • Importance of Agreement: The chapter emphasizes that without stakeholder agreement, design ideas remain just "ideas" and cannot be successfully implemented. Getting explicit agreement is critical to moving the project forward and ensuring the design decisions are supported.

  • Flexible Application: The IDEAL response framework is meant to be a tool to help structure your communication, not a rigid script. The key is to cover all the necessary elements, while still maintaining a natural conversation flow with stakeholders.

Chapter 10 Meeting Adjourned: The After-Party

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Meeting After the Meeting: The time immediately after a meeting is nearly as important as the meeting itself. This is when people will often share their true thoughts and feelings about the project, which they may not have expressed during the formal meeting. It's important to stick around and have informal 1-on-1 conversations to gain additional insights and build relationships with influential stakeholders.

  • Follow-up Quickly: It's crucial to send a follow-up email to the entire team as soon as possible, preferably within an hour or at least within a day. This demonstrates that the meeting was a priority, values the participants' time, shows that you're listening, and helps ensure everyone is on the same page about the decisions made.

  • Applying Filters: When writing the follow-up, use your best judgment to filter out unnecessary information that doesn't need to be re-discussed. Look for things like tangents, unrealistic ideas, or opinions from people who aren't influential enough to matter. The goal is to communicate the most important information concisely.

  • Seek Out Individuals: After the meeting, make a point to have follow-up conversations with specific individuals, especially those you don't interact with regularly. These one-on-one discussions can help you gain additional insights, build relationships, and get buy-in from influential stakeholders.

  • Do Something, Even If It's Wrong: If the meeting ends with ambiguity and no clear resolution, it's often better to make a decision yourself and communicate it to the team, rather than letting the design process stagnate. This can help prompt others to speak up and provide feedback, allowing you to refine the solution.

By following these strategies, you can maximize the impact of the time immediately after a meeting, ensuring that you capture all the necessary information, build the right relationships, and keep the design process moving forward, even in the face of ambiguity or disagreement.

Chapter 11 Recovering from Disaster

  • Reasons for Stakeholder Disagreement: There are several possible reasons why stakeholders may disagree with the designer's recommendations, including:

    • The stakeholder has a specific need that is not being met by the design.
    • The stakeholder wants to feel heard and have their ideas taken seriously.
    • There is a misunderstanding or miscommunication between the designer and stakeholder.
    • The designer's solution is not the best solution, and the stakeholder has a better understanding of the business needs.
    • The stakeholder is being unreasonable and cannot be pleased no matter what the designer proposes.
  • Strategies for Accommodating Stakeholder Changes: When faced with changes that the designer disagrees with, there are several strategies that can be employed to minimize the impact on the user experience, such as:

    • Making the change subtle and less prominent in the interface.
    • Offering the change as an optional feature that is not enabled by default.
    • Carefully considering the placement of the change to minimize its visibility.
    • Creating a "hidden menu" or out-of-the-way location for the change.
    • Planning designated spaces in the design where temporary or seasonal changes can be easily added and removed.
  • Seeing Opportunity in Stakeholder Changes: Rather than viewing stakeholder changes as a burden, designers should see them as an opportunity to improve the design and user experience. By approaching the changes with a positive mindset and involving other team members in the problem-solving process, designers can often uncover better solutions than they had originally proposed.

  • Building Trust with Stakeholders: Maintaining a positive "bank account of trust" with stakeholders is crucial for a designer's long-term success. This involves making deposits (e.g., agreeing with stakeholders, delivering on promises) and minimizing withdrawals (e.g., refusing to make changes, missing deadlines). Designers should choose their battles wisely and be willing to make concessions when necessary to maintain this trust.

  • Admitting Mistakes: When a designer's design is shown to be the wrong solution, it is important to own up to the mistake and propose a solution, rather than trying to cover it up. Admitting mistakes and being transparent can actually help build trust with stakeholders, as it demonstrates honesty and a willingness to learn and improve.

  • Recognizing When You're Wrong: Designers can recognize when they are wrong by looking for three key signs: the problem still exists, users don't understand the design, or everyone is against the designer's decision. Acknowledging these signs and being willing to change course is crucial for maintaining credibility and delivering the best user experience.

  • Managing Stakeholder Expectations: Effectively managing stakeholder expectations, including communicating timelines, priorities, and limitations, is more important than the designer's ability to create "killer" designs. By setting clear expectations and involving stakeholders in the decision-making process, designers can build trust and support for the project.

Chapter 12 For Non-Designers

  • Realize that designers are good at their jobs: Designers are experts in design solutions, usability, and best practices. They have gone through a rigorous design process to arrive at their proposals, so trust their expertise and avoid a posture of skepticism.

  • Prioritize the needs of designers: Designers need a lot of resources to do their job effectively, such as documented business requirements, timelines, technical access, and permission to conduct usability testing. Prioritize providing these resources so designers can be successful.

  • Authorize the team to make decisions quickly: Indecision and changing decisions slow down the design process. Empower the entire team, including designers, to make decisions quickly and stick to them. This will allow the project to move forward at a faster pace.

  • Recognize that designers are people too: Designers are human beings with lives, families, and interests outside of work. Approach them with kindness, build good relationships, and use helpful language when providing feedback on their work.

  • Involve designers at the executive level: To truly incorporate design thinking into an organization, designers need to have a seat at the executive table. Companies that consistently deliver great products and user experiences often have designers in leadership roles.

Chapter 13 Designing for Vision

  • Designers have the power to shape the vision and perception of an entire organization: As designers, we are not just designing products, but shaping the business itself. We have the unique ability to create visuals that can inspire people and influence the future.

  • Designing for vision is about creating a preferred future: It's about imagining and expressing a vision for the future that doesn't yet exist, rather than just iterating on the current product. This can help get stakeholders excited and on-board with the vision.

  • Practicing creativity is essential for designing for vision: This involves finding inspiration from various sources, using different canvases (e.g., physical hobbies), and regularly ideating and iterating on new ideas, even if they never see the light of day.

  • Creating a routine and environment conducive to creativity is key: This includes setting aside dedicated time, finding a different physical space, and using different materials/tools to break out of your normal design process.

  • Designing for vision is about "making stuff up": It's about creating visuals for products or ideas that don't yet exist, without being constrained by business requirements or engineering limitations. This allows you to explore the realm of possibilities.

  • Building relationships and sharing your vision with the right people is crucial: Identifying stakeholders and decision-makers who can help make your vision a reality, and finding opportunities to share your ideas and get their support, is essential for turning your vision into reality.

  • Design is a reflection of the designer: Our designs are a mirror of our own style, tone, and personality. Understanding this can help us better communicate the intent and meaning behind our designs.

  • Communication is key: Even though our designs may change or be discarded, our ability to articulate design decisions and learn from them is a skill that can be carried with us throughout our careers.


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