Backing up design decisions

How to navigate your way through tough design discussions

There’s always some nervous excitement when someone asks “Why did you design it like this?” If you’re at the beginning of your design career, you might have some trouble answering this on the spot. It takes time to build the skill of defending your designs and navigating tough but useful product discussions.

Our motto at SnapPea Design is: “Every great product starts with an argument”. We strive to build meaningful and feasible products that have been properly validated. This includes having honest discussions up front with backed up design decisions. One of our clients, Rapid Novor, approached SnapPea to assist with the improvement of their existing platform while considering time and technical constraints. Here are some things we’ve learned during our time with Rapid Novor that we would like to share with you. Let’s get started!

Refer to data and user research

Taking advantage of research findings is a great way to strengthen your design decisions. After all, one question that design decisions should answer is: “How does this help our users achieve their goals?” Because a good understanding of the target users is the start to a great product experience. Both qualitative and quantitative insights can help validate assumptions or help us learn new things about our users. Use these findings to back up your decisions and defend your logic.

Go back to the basics

So, what happens if there’s no data or user research to reference? This is where you need to go back to your design basics: visual design fundamentals, design principles, usability heuristics, etc. Use this as an opportunity to challenge your knowledge on design theory and how grounded you are in its fundamentals. A great resource to reference is the Nielsen Norman Group, a collection of design articles written by world leaders in research-based user experience.

Know who you’re talking to

Be ready to change how you present your reasoning depending on who you’re showing itto. Your audience can range from clients, to developers, to other designers on your team. The more time spent catering your explanations to the vocabulary of a specific stakeholder, the easier it will be to understand and digest. For example, you might want to focus on how the design will be easier to develop and maintain in front of developers and how you drew conclusions from user findings in front of business clients.

Always review with your team, whether you’re a junior or a senior

It’s so easy for designers to be absorbed and caught up in their work. You’ve been there from beginning to end, coming up with reasons for why you designed components the way you did, so it’s easy to think that your design is going to be the final iteration. However, this is usually not the case. Be open to feedback and remember that your work is part of a group effort. Know when to continue defending your designs and when to take a step back and listen.

How did we apply this with Rapid Novor?

Typically we like to kick-off all projects with in-depth UX research to help inform our designs. However, in order to accommodate our client’s target deadline, we leveraged design fundamentals, market research, and lightweight qualitative research with domain professionals on the Rapid Novor team instead. Since the product is a platform where users input multiple parameters and files to generate an analysis, we focused on hierarchy, visual design, and ease of use to efficiently guide user attention.

Questions to ask yourself

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before presenting your designs to other designers or stakeholders. The answers to these questions can help shape your rationale behind your designs.

  • How does your design help your users achieve their goals?
  • How does your design help the business and development team achieve their goals?
  • What kind of design principles are present in your design?
  • What other options did you explore and decide not to go with?
  • How did you apply insights from primary or secondary research into your design?

Lastly, be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being a designer means dealing with tough situations of presenting and defending your designs, and potentially being shut down. But hey, it happens and it will help you build a better product and ultimately make you a better designer. Good luck!

Christina Ru is an aspiring Product Designer currently in her last year at the University of Waterloo. Feel free to connect with her on Linkedin or check out more on her website.

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