One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is the need to control the narrative around design. I’m referring to the daily narratives that occur via meetings, emails, reviews, and brainstorms. These are the micro-interactions that will determine the success of your projects and company.
I’ve seen many meetings go south for designers, like Cape Horn south. You’ve been there too, pitching the best UI work for your career that is backed by sound UX research, and it gets shot down for a mundane reason. Likely you misspelled something or used the names of NBA Legends instead of actual clients. How about this one; you’ve made an unbelievable series of ADs and creative for a campaign. You also spearheaded the brainstorm for the project. The copy is tight, and the illustrations fit perfectly. From click to form fill, the CRs will be fantastic. One problem, you proposed a new, brighter green CTA color. Now, you have to start all over for the new-on-the-spot campaign “Winners Win.” You're dismayed. You saw it coming mid-meeting like the slow creep of lava down a mountainside. I've been there; it's the worst.
In the scenarios above — and occurrences less dramatic — your job is to bring others into the narrative. Designers tend to intuit the various experiences of brands, users, products, and campaigns, and naturally, create stories around them. We forget while creating these experiences that our colleagues have different skills, goals, and priorities. As a result, many of them have a hard time adapting to thinking and understanding why design is matters at all. Don't take it personally, they think it about everyone's job but their own. You do the same thing.
You should know that your stellar design work is not enough to manage expectations. When you show design work, everyone assumes that you want approval of the design details. Though that feedback is usually the last thing that you want. Here is some advice on controlling the narrative.
- Write your "pitch" and practice saying it out loud.
- The pitch should describe how the design helps to meet project goals, not focus on design details.
- Ensure everyone understands why they are at the meeting by defining the goals of the project and the roles each person plays in making it successful. Including yourself. It's ok to say, "I'm here to run the meeting and approve the design language."
- Quickly and nicely shut down any "details" conversations. Example, "That's an interesting point about details we aren't discussing at this time. Maybe we should test it later. Do you want to chat after work over a beer? ...Ask someone to stay late, and they'll be quiet.
- Approve in stages. Standards, UI, and design language should are established earlier in projects.
- Give it a shot and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear other tactics that work.