Book Summary

Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever: Summary and Notes

Communicate with stakeholders, keep your sanity, and deliver the best user experience.

Who should read this book

This book is for designers at any level that wants to learn practical tactics for articulating designs to stakeholders who may be less knowledgeable about design. Additionally, developers can benefit from learning practical tips to improve communication with designers and stakeholders.

About the book

Articulating design decisions is about creating an environment in which stakeholders can see the expertise and thought process of the designers so that they want to agree with them. It’s about creating trust, demonstrating effectiveness, and doing so in a way that’s compelling and convincing.

Chapter highlights

Chapter 1 — A Maturing Industry

“It’s beneficial for two people who share the same vocabulary to discuss their work and make each other better. This is a great skill for every designer to have, and it will go a long way toward helping you be articulate with stakeholders.”

Chapter 2 — Great Designers Are Great Communicators

“The phenomenon that a non-expert can have an opinion about your design work is something that is almost entirely unique to design within today’s organizations.”

“When we disagree, we tend to become defensive. When we become defensive, we fail to focus on the real issues. The meeting ends, not with collaboration, but with grumbling compromise and, often, a crippled user experience.”

“The difference between a good designer and a great designer is the ability to ****not only solve the problem, but also to articulate how the design solves it in a way that is compelling and fosters agreement. If you can do that, you’re a great designer.”

The best way I know to practice being conscious of your decisions is to write them down.
“The best way I know to practice being conscious of your decisions is to write them down.”

“At every step of the process, for every decision you make, ask yourself, “How does this affect the user?”

Chapter 3 — Understanding Relationships

“Developing empathy for our stakeholders means attempting to look at our project from their perspective so that we’re no longer defensive and protective of our own ideas.”

“I’ve found that it’s often a best practice when working with executives to show both what’s possible in the short term and what’s preferred for the future.”

Executive or manager stakeholders: “Your job is to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible, present your solutions, and solicit their feedback. They want to know that you’ve thought about it and have made smart decisions that align with their vision for the organization.”

Developers: “Your job is to help them see the value in everything you’ve done so that they’re excited about the end result, while also demonstrating that you understand the effort involved.”

Chapter 4 — Reducing Cognitive Load

“One way to keep focused is to remove anything that you think will be a distraction. A lot of people are easily distracted by things that simply don’t matter to the goal of the meeting. ”

“More than simply addressing someone’s suggestion, bringing alternatives creates a common place to discuss the merits of each option — a place, by the way, that you created and you control.”

Chapter 5 — Listening Is Understanding

“Part of your job with listening is to figure out what words they’re comfortable using to describe your designs so that you can use those terms, too, when you respond.”

“Any time someone uses the word “interesting” in a response to your designs, that’s a big clue that they disagree with your approach.”

“So, don’t focus on what they think needs to be changed or the specific words they use; instead, focus on the underlying problem they’re trying to solve by suggesting that change.”

“It’s important to write things down so that we have a history of what was decided and avoid having the same conversation twice. But notes are more than just a place to record our decisions; they also allow us to focus more on being articulate in our response because we no longer need to rethink everything that was said previously.”

Chapter 6 — The Right Frame of Mind

“ If you give people the chance to be part of the solution, they will either take you up on it or they will decline and retract their suggestion. In either case, you’ve remained positive and helped them to see that their opinions are valuable and appreciated.”

“Even though there might be times to put your foot down and explicitly stand up for something you believe in strongly, it’s almost always better to project yourself as being in alignment with the stakeholders as much as possible.”

“Don’t talk about what you like or don’t like; instead, focus on what works and what doesn’t work. Remember, our interest is in the usability and effectiveness of the application, not our own personal preferences.”

Chapter 7— The Response: Strategy and Tactics

“Every time you respond to design feedback, you should always attempt to attach your decisions to a goal, metric, or other problem that you’re solving. This is where your answer to the question What problem does it solve? ”

“We have to help our stakeholders understand our decisions by answering the question How does this affect the user?”

“ When talking about design, I suggest five tactics to shape our response:

  1. Show a comparison
  2. Propose an alternative
  3. Give them a choice
  4. Ask others to weigh in
  5. Postpone the decision”

Chapter 8 — The Response: Common Messages

“Here are three of the most common responses for appealing to the business:

  • Helps achieve a goal
  • Facilitates a primary use case
  • Establishes branding”

“…there are three common ways of describing my decision for design reasons:

  • Uses a common design pattern
  • Draws the user’s attention
  • Creates a flow for the user”

“…three common responses useful when research is used to inform our choices:

  • Validated by data
  • Revealed in user testing
  • Supported by other research”

“…three common responses for dealing with limitations:

  • Not enough resources
  • Limited by technology
  • Complies with a standard”

Chapter 9 — The Ideal Response: Getting Agreement

“To get agreement, you need to directly ask your stakeholders for their buy-in. The simplest way is to ask, Do you agree?”

Chapter 10 — Meeting Adjourned: The After Party

“The follow-up is the perfect place to remind everyone who is doing what. Be as specific as possible. Note the item in question, mention to the person who will be responsible for it, and provide dates or a general timeframe for when we will know more. Ask direct questions, too, so that there’s no ambiguity about what items are still open. List important decisions and make it clear why the decision is being made.”

““Overall, you must learn to filter out all the cruft that can cloud your decision making. It’s too easy to think that everyone’s opinions and ideas need to be incorporated into our designs, but that’s not true. It’s actually a dangerous path. Use your skills in listening and relational discernment to remove the stuff you don’t need, keep the most important things, and follow up quickly with what’s being done.”

Chapter 11 — Recovering from Disaster

“In my experience, one person’s suggestion is a gold mine of other ideas waiting to be excavated. The changes your stakeholder proposes should spark a conversation that leads to an even better solution”

“ Your ability to properly set, adjust, and communicate expectations is more important than your ability to crank out killer designs on a daily basis.”

““The way you communicate with and manage relationships with stakeholders is critical to your success as a designer.”

Chapter 12— For Non-Designers

“…10 short tips to help you work with designers more effectively:”

  • “Focus on what works. Remove the word “like” from your vocabulary and always talk about what works or doesn’t work. Your personal preferences are less important than the needs of the user or business.”
  • Don’t provide solutions. Tell us about the problem you see and describe the issue that needs to be addressed, but don’t tell us what to change first. Let us find the solution.”
  • “Ask lots of questions. This is the key to seeing from our perspective and understanding our motivations. Ask questions to uncover our thought process.”
  • Don’t claim to be the user. The truth is that every user is different, and you don’t represent the target market any more than the designer. Claiming to be the user of your app or website does not add value to the conversation.”
  • Let us explain our decisions. Don’t offer your own perspective and walk away. Allow us the time and space to form an adequate response.”
  • Empower us to make decisions. Even if you disagree with our choice, learn to trust us in areas where we have more expertise than you.”
  • Use helpful language. It can be difficult to receive feedback without becoming a little defensive. Avoid harsh or extreme language and focus your feedback on the designs, not the designer.”
  • Ask if there is data. We should all use data to support our decisions, but just because the designer doesn’t have data doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”
  • Be prepared. Review our work in advance and have a list of questions or concerns ready. Don’t wait and provide knee-jerk reactions in the moment. Your feedback should be purposeful and thoughtfully considered.”
  • Give us what we need to be successful. Whether it’s logins, access to analytics, or permission to do usability testing, we need things from you to work effectively. Make it a priority.”

Chapter 13 — Designing for Vision

“We can show them what the future is like before the future has even been created. A picture is as close as you can get to being in this new future without actually being there. People can become really excited when they see what it will look like. This is what it’s like designing for vision.”

“You cannot and will not be able to really succeed as a designer unless you learn to talk to people in a way that makes sense to them because your designs do not speak for themselves.”

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