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Designer Hangout AMA Articulating Design Decisions

October 8, 2015

Today I participated in an Ask Me Anything with the Designer Hangout community on Slack to discuss Articulating Design Decisions. Here’s the transcript, if you missed it.

[12:59 PM]
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jakerogelberg [1:00 PM]
Welcome everyone, and thanks @tomgreever for doing this AMA with us! :clap: :tada:
glucasroe, sainxart, You, marksu and davidmarshall reacted with :+1:

tomgreever [1:01 PM]
Sure thing, let’s get it started!

jakerogelberg [1:01 PM]
@tomgreever Before getting to questions, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your book, and what you’re working on?

tomgreever [1:02 PM]
Sure. I’m the UX Director at Bitovi – we design and build web apps for all kinds of companies.

tomgreever [1:03 PM]
I just published Articulating Design Decisions, both as a book and video series with O’Reilly Media.
Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience [Tom Greever] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Every designer has had to justify designs to non-designers, yet most lack the ability to explain themselves in a way that is compelling and fosters agreement. The ability to effectively articulate design decisions is critical to the success of a project

tomgreever [1:04 PM]
But the basic gist is that we, as designers, need to be better at explaining our decisions to other people (like executives / managers)… because, if we don’t… well, things don’t go as well.
jakerogelberg and adame reacted with :star2:

tomgreever [1:04 PM]
I’d argue that an articulate designer is more valuable than a super talented one who can’t talk his way out of a box. Or a room, or whatever that is.

shalynoswald [1:05 PM]
Ah the art of storytelling, this is very interesting :smile:

tomgreever [1:05 PM]
As for what I’m working on, I’m currently designing a public facing web app for a non-profit that allows under resourced communities to access free legal aid

jakerogelberg [1:06 PM]
@shalynoswald: raconteur – learned that from @boonerang

tomgreever [1:06 PM]
@shalynoswald: storytelling is certainly part of it. But it’s just as much about making a logical case for your decisions, something non-designers can understand.

matias [1:06 PM]
QUESTION: Do you think the “designers learn code”- and “devs learn UX”-memes are important in successful design as an enabler for communication and the “supported by everyone”-aspect?

matias [1:07 PM]
(in reverse, can you have “supported by everyone” if everyone keeps strictly in the old silos)

tomgreever [1:07 PM]
@matias: I do think it’s important for us (including devs) to be multidisciplinary because unless you understand how something works, it’s difficult to talk intelligently about it.

tomgreever [1:08 PM]
But yes, you can get support even without a stakeholder who understands design or UX.

tomgreever [1:08 PM]
I find it to be the case most of the time that executives don’t have expert UX knowledge. This is part of the problem, actually.

matias [1:09 PM]
Yeah, agree with stakeholders can’t assume that. Also it’s a question explaining it quickly in the 5-15min you mighthave

glucasroe [1:09 PM]
@tomgreever: I’ve been accused by more than one engineer of being a salesman for what I thought was just articulating myself well. What’s the difference in your opinion? (or is there no difference, and we’re just salespeople with more soul)

glucasroe [1:09 PM]
(Also, possibly less soul, lets consider the options)

tomgreever [1:10 PM]
@glucasroe: everyone is selling something. Whether it’s a designer trying to convince a VP of a design or a child trying to get a piece of candy. Life is sales. If you’re not selling something, you’re probably lying. that’s an extreme view of it. Many people wouldn’t call it sales. But all relationships are give and take. Otherwise, what’s the benefit?

tomgreever [1:11 PM]
I actually try to avoid the word sales, though.

tomgreever [1:11 PM]
It can be divisive and there are connotations there.

glucasroe [1:11 PM]
It just feels gross, doesn’t it?

adrifolio [1:11 PM]
I think “sales” has the connotation of only showing the PROS of something

tomgreever [1:12 PM]
But I think it’s reasonable to expect that everyone has some sort of agenda, we’re all in some way trying to “get” something… out of life, work, relationships
sainxart reacted with :applause:
[1:13 PM]
Uploaded and commented on an image: Sales
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How I look when someone says “sales”

tomgreever [1:14 PM]
Well, let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: briefs.

tomgreever [1:15 PM]
I just need that extra sense of security.

jakerogelberg [1:15 PM]
@tomgreever: [QUESTION] What are some of the common things that hold designers back from articulating their designs effectively?

tomgreever [1:16 PM]
@jakerogelberg: I think it’s being defensive, or protective of their work. It can be difficult to believe there’s anything wrong with your decisions and our work is exposed to other people in a way that most other roles aren’t. We are our own worst enemies.

sainxart [1:17 PM]
So true…

tomgreever [1:17 PM]
Much of what I provide in the book is about working hard to understand other people, listening skills, asking the right questions… but just as important is even having the right attitude in the first place. Letting go of control, staying positive.

tomgreever [1:19 PM]
We talk so much about developing empathy for users – but we’ve got to have that same level of empathy for our stakeholders. If we don’t, we risk losing their support. If we lose their support, our project will never even have a chance to help those users we worked so hard to empathize with.

alexis [1:19 PM]
It seems it’s the case of applied empathy with the audience—much like your users.

alexis [1:19 PM]
jinx! :smile:

tomgreever [1:19 PM]
Yes, and actually UX Booth is publishing a post I wrote on empathy for stakeholders next week.

glucasroe [1:19 PM]
@tomgreever: ​*Question*​: How do you go about ​_reinforcing_​ understanding, especially after a big decision or change of heart in a team? It often feels like we come to a point of clarity in a meeting that slowly evaporates after a week or too.

tomgreever [1:20 PM]
Related, here is another post I wrote for them
UX Booth
Great Designers are Great Communicators
Would you be surprised to learn that great design has as much to do with how you speak as what you say? Tom Greever, a speaker at upcoming Madison + UX, explains why.
June 25th at 4:30 AM

matias [1:20 PM]
And empathy for developers, they’re people too (and often the people whose objection kills your idea) :wink: It goes to the selling argument, if you can sell the tech lead, selling to stakeholders (to get the money) is much easier..

tomgreever [1:20 PM]
@glucasroe: excellent question. This is common. A week later… “Why did we agree to this again?” and unless you’re prepared to help everyone understand, you lose.

tomgreever [1:21 PM]
I think the most important thing to do to avoid this is documentation: write down what was agreed upon, who said what, put in links, screen shots, whatever… and then make sure that document is accessible to everyone on the team.

tomgreever [1:22 PM]
I’ve referenced my notes months later when a new manager took over. “Why is the button like this?” Me: “Oh, on Aug 4th Jennifer showed us this data and…”
:o k_hand:6 :bulb:2 :100:2

tomgreever [1:22 PM]
that doesn’t mean you won’t still have to revisit it, but at least now if you do you’re doing so intentionally and with all the same information

tomgreever [1:23 PM]
@matias: Yes, I consider devs to be stakeholders, so they’re included in that word for me. Consequently, the title of the post is Stakeholders are People Too

matias [1:25 PM]
@tomgreever: Ok, cultural difference.. We (~scandinavians) seem to be using that mostly “upwards in hierarchy”

tomgreever [1:26 PM]
@matias: yes, that’s probably what most people mean when they use the word stakeholders too.

johnellison [1:27 PM]
@tomgreever: Question: Given that every discipline has its own domain-specific language (design, dev, execs, etc.) how do you go about communicating UX concepts in a language that is shared amongst all?
:+1:1 :applause:1

matias [1:27 PM]
It’s a good point/distinction, decisions don’t happen just by people with “formal decision power”.

tomgreever [1:29 PM]
@johnellison: yes, this is part of what makes it challenging. You can go to great lengths on your team to establish “rules” for discussion and agree on vocabulary, but I find that managers and executives don’t care about our rules. So that means we have to adjust to their expectations.

tomgreever [1:29 PM]
Avoid using jargon, listen to the words they use to describe the interface and, when appropriate help them understand the right words without talking down to them.

tomkerwin [1:30 PM]
@tomgreever: how do you go about making possibly the hardest design decision: where to focus your attention?

tomkerwin [1:30 PM]
And how do you explain that decision?

tomgreever [1:30 PM]
For example, “Why is this button bar greyed out?”
Designer: “Oh, that’s a segmented control, so we disabled the option that…”

tomgreever [1:31 PM]
We repeated and rephrase it back in a way that will make sense. But also, we learn to adopt vocabulary that’s helpful/understood.

tomgreever [1:32 PM]
I once had a misunderstanding with a client because I used the word “carousel” and her idea of that in her head was totally different than what I was proposing, so she objected. Uncovering that gap helped us move forward, and she agreed with my solution

tomgreever [1:32 PM]
// cue the carousel haters
glucasroe reacted with :skull:
bobsampson reacted with :fire:
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jakerogelberg reacted with :banhammer:

tomgreever [1:33 PM]
@tomkerwin: any design is a series of multiple, related, and connected decisions. It’s about breaking it down into parts that are digestible, easier to both talk about and solve for.

tomgreever [1:33 PM]
Once you understand how the parts work together to form the bigger picture, it’s easier to talk about to other people.

tomgreever [1:35 PM]
But I think getting to that point, of understanding our smaller decisions, is the hardest part. Designing stuff is easy. Figuring out what was driving your intuition is a whole other skill.
adrifolio, jakerogelberg and alexis reacted with :applause:

adrifolio [1:35 PM]
I think pattern libraries/style guides that are accessible to stakeholders are a good way of establishing a common language when communicating about UI’s

tomgreever [1:36 PM]
@adrifolio: I would agree. And as projects move forward, that vocabulary becomes established

jakerogelberg [1:37 PM]
@tomgreever: [QUESTION] Do you think certain work environments (agencies ​_vs_​ in-house teams ​_vs_​ consulting ​_vs_​ startups) are better for designers just starting their careers ? I think this is related to ​_articulating design_​ because that seems like half the job of a designer. (edited)

tomgreever [1:38 PM]
@jakerogelberg: first of all, I agree that explaining design is ​_at least_​ half of our job. And yet, most schools do not teach it to art/design students. So there’s that.

tomgreever [1:38 PM]
But as for where to start, no, I don’t think there’s one environment that’s better than another. I’ve worked in all those environments and each one required a high-level use of these skills.

matias [1:39 PM]
@tomgreever: Question: how to include feasibility (as in possible to accomplish technical/money/time-wise) into design process without “dumbing it down” by taking only safe routes?

tomgreever [1:40 PM]
But I should clarify, too, that this is not something only junior designers need to learn. Senior designers are equally bad at explaining their decisions. You can learn it with experience, so many seniors will be ​_better_​ at this – but just as many senior designers need to focus on this as a core skill. Your professional development depends on it, imo.

tomgreever [1:41 PM]
@matias: I’m not sure I understand the question 100%, can you clarify? or give an example?

matias [1:45 PM]
@tomgreever: You can go wrong by designing some so so hard (=expensive/lengthy) to implement it never gets done (might not even start). And you can go wrong in doing just very small safe improvements that you know are possible/easy to do. And sweet spot is somewhere in between. I’ve struggled how to discuss feasibility during design (in a constructive way).

matias [1:45 PM]
(this is maybe question about v2, v3, not v1)

tomgreever [1:46 PM]
@matias: ok, I see. Yes, this is a constant challenge: finding the right balance of what you can dream up vs. what is realistically possible. But really, this is as much about the lean / agile / mvp approach as anything else, right?

tomgreever [1:47 PM]
As it relates to communicating design to stakeholders, though, I would argue that having that pie-in-the-sky monster vision of a product with beautiful pixels is really really important. In the book, I call it Designing for Vision.

tomgreever [1:47 PM]
The idea is that our stakeholders need to know where we’re going, they need to be inspired to agree with us. Show an executive your vision of Awesome, and they’ll want to throw money at you.

tomgreever [1:48 PM]
Only show them your beta MVP and they’re disinterested.

tomgreever [1:48 PM]
We have to work hard to cast a vision of a preferred future, while also maintaining realistic expectations about what’s possible.

tomgreever [1:49 PM]
Both are required, I think, to convince someone that you’re on the right track. “Here’s where we’re going. Are you excited? Good, so now approve this MVP over here so we can take a step in that direction.”

matias [1:49 PM]
Agree, you have to have big vision AND “next version” so that both of them make sense, yes?

bobsampson [1:50 PM]
True enough….Minimum Viable Product, Minimum Valuable Product, Minimum Lovable Product :simple_smile:
:+1:2 :hug:1

matias [1:50 PM]
Can’t ignore either

tomgreever [1:52 PM]
So related to all of this is the question: why the heck does everyone care so much about our design decisions? It didn’t used to be this way. When I was first starting out, even as a manager, I ​_never_​ met with the CEO – now, it’s common for executives to be all up in our business.

tomgreever [1:53 PM]
Conveniently, Radar just published a piece I wrote to explore the answer:
This is why so many people have an opinion about design
Register now for OSCON EU, October 26 to 28, 2015, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where Tom Greever will present the session Articulating design decisions. The more that I talk… (155KB)
[1:53 PM]
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alexis [1:54 PM]
When I was one, we used to have a saying “everyone wants to be a freakin’ art director”. :confused:

glucasroe [1:56 PM]
@tomgreever: ​*Question*​: How do you determine how basically to explain concepts without being patronizing? I know that a lot is just reading the person, but it’s always tempting to start at reaaaally basic building blocks.

tomgreever [1:56 PM]
It’s true. Everyone is a designer now!

tomgreever [1:58 PM]
@glucasroe: yes, you know a big part of that is as much about tone, body language, smiling, etc… You can use the same words in a way that is patronizing, or you can say it in a way that makes them feel valued. Same words, different tone.

tomgreever [1:59 PM]
But also, it starts before you even respond. Letting people talk as much as they need to so they feel listening to, understood. It’s harder to perceive your response as patronizing if I know you listening to me and acted interested in what I had to say

glucasroe [1:59 PM]
That’s great! I’ve been experimenting a lot with saying the same things with different words too – where I’m attempting to skirt the “I know that!” response while still getting the point across.

glucasroe [2:00 PM]
Since it seems like as soon as that response happens, ain’t much more listening going on.

tomgreever [2:00 PM]
Validating what the other person says is super important before you try to disagree or correct them. I talk about Leading with a Yes. Always showing the other person you agree on the problem. This “Yes, and…”

tomgreever [2:00 PM]
Alrighty, it’s about time to wrap up here.
[2:01 PM]
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tomgreever [2:01 PM]
Buy my book! I think you’ll like it.
:+1:5 :white_check_mark:2

slackbot [2:01 PM] Only you can see this message
Pssst! I didn’t unfurl because it was already shared in this channel quite recently (within the last hour) and I didn’t want to clutter things up.

tomgreever [2:02 PM]

Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience [Tom Greever] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Every designer has had to justify designs to non-designers, yet most lack the ability to explain themselves in a way that is compelling and fosters agreement. The ability to effectively articulate design decisions is critical to the success of a project

alexis [2:02 PM]
Thanks Tom!

adame [2:02 PM]
Really interesting, thanks for taking the time!

glucasroe [2:02 PM]
Any discounts @tomgreever? :smile: :money_with_wings:

tomgreever [2:02 PM]
And, if you do… post a REVIEW on Amazon. It’s super duper important.

tomgreever [2:03 PM]
No, sorry – I don’t have a discount code today but I often post them in the #resources_books channel when they come along.

glucasroe [2:03 PM]
Perfect, thanks!
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glucasroe [2:03 PM]
And thanks so much for the ama! :magic-hat: :magic-wand: (edited)

sainxart [2:04 PM]
Thanksss Tom!

tomgreever [2:04 PM]
My pleasure. Have a great Thursday!

jakerogelberg [2:05 PM]
Thanks so much for spending some time with us @tomgreever.

For anyone @here who’s interested, you can grab a copy of his book at:

Also, we invite you to share some advice or a short anecdote to be featured in an ebook for World Usability Day:

Thanks all! :wave: :clap: (edited)

jakerogelberg [2:06 PM]