Become a selfless designer: take the “me” out of my design

As a user experience designer it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know better than everyone else – developers in the team, your project manager, marketing team, the client. It is you who went through design school, obsessing endlessly about what good typography means, how colours combine, and what makes good composition. It is also you who has the natural ability to think creatively, suggest ideas, and envision whether a concept is going to work or fail. You are frustrated that your client doesn’t “get it”. Your project manager questions your design decisions and the developers refuse to build them the way you want. They force you to change the design and you lament that the final solution has been ruined by a bunch of idiots.

Sounds familiar? If this is you, then you are the very definition of a “design silo”. The hated prima donna. The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice any design integrity to turn the situation around. Designers can get everyone in the team and the client to own the design as much as we do. We start by removing our egos and collaborating more often.

Educate and communicate
In order for your team and client to believe in your designs, you have to make them think like you. That means educating them about the importance of design and encouraging them to think creatively. Give them pens and paper and ask them to sketch a better solution. Discuss constructively why it works or doesn’t. If their solution is indeed better, instead of getting defensive, or worse dismissive, offer to improve their idea and take it to the next level.

Focus on the values of good design
Rather than insisting that you are right because you are the designer, focus on communicating the values that your design is bringing to the solution. How is your design improving the user experience? How is it answering the client’s brief? What are the benefits and strengths of your design over the alternative?

Put yourself in their shoes
By putting yourself in your client’s, developer’s or manager’s position, you may understand their doubts and concerns better. Is the client upset because one of her needs was not answered by the design? Is the developer not following your directions because he doesn’t have enough time or because he doesn’t know how? Talk to them, find out their underlying concerns and offer a solution forward.

Go back to the user
You are having a disagreement with someone on your team or the client over how a feature should work. Rather than arguing over whose idea is “better”, focus the discussion on who will be using the solution and how the user will use this feature. For example, is the user tech savvy enough to get the most out of information hidden behind tabs and button rollovers? A simpler, more conventional version of this feature will benefit a 50 year old user a lot more than a 21 year old user.

Conduct a design workshop
A design workshop is a great way to kick off a project’s design phase. Get your whole team around a table and take them on a creative journey in generating ideas and features for the website or application. Start with bringing everyone up to speed on the business requirements and user research that have been done to date, such as user personas, focus group results, etc. Hand out pens and paper and get everyone to start sketching! The designer remains the principal facilitator who will guide the entire process until a commonly agreed solution (still just sketches) is reached. This way all stakeholders have had a say in the solution and are invested in the design. Your only job left is to turn the sketches into a beautiful visual presentation.

By becoming egoless and embracing frequent collaborations with our team and client, we will create far better solutions than if we are to put the headphones on, shut out all interactions and design everything ourselves. The biggest gain is that we will enable everyone to respect our designs and take equal ownership of the final solution. We will also work in a less antagonistic and more enjoyable environment!

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