Clear communication of design decisions is not just about conveying choices but explaining the reasoning behind them. Articulating design decisions is a key soft skill for designers that fosters understanding, trust, and successful partnerships in the design process.
“Design is not a democracy, but it's not a dictatorship either. It's a collaboration between the designer, the stakeholders, and the users." - Tom Greever
Design decisions are an integral aspect of any design process. Each decision can be split into two parts –the decision-making, and the decision-articulating. While design expertise can help designers succeed in the first part, the second part requires more than just design prowess. It calls for effective communication and reasoning skills to be able to convey the thought process behind the design decisions to clients, stakeholders, and team members.
Articulating design decisions is a crucial soft skill for a designer to be effective and successful. In this article, we discuss the need for good decision articulation and some of the best practices.
Why is articulating design decisions important?
In his book “Articulating Design Decisions”, Tom Greever, design leader, author, and speaker, talks about the importance of clearly communicating and justifying design decisions to clients and team members. Here are some key insights from the book on why articulating design decisions is beneficial for both designers and clients.
1. Clarifies design objectives
When decisions are well articulated by designers, clients understand the thought process behind each choice and the designers’ intent. This understanding enables them to give specific feedback. As a result, designers gain better clarity about the client's requirements and objectives of the design project. It helps them better align their design decisions with business goals and ensure every design decision serves a business purpose. The final product thus meets clients' vision and requirements in all aspects.
2. Builds trust and credibility
Clear and effective communication of design decisions conveys how well the designers have understood the business requirements and the effort and thought process they used to arrive at the solution. This instills a sense of confidence in clients about the designers’ capabilities and expertise, building trust and credibility. Moreover, it gives reassurance to clients that their product is in good hands and they will get the best results for their investment.
3. Steers the design team
Brainstorming is a pivotal part of a design process where different ideas and thoughts from the team members are collected to arrive at the most optimum solution to the design challenges. A prerequisite for a good brainstorming session is that the team be clear about the challenges they need to solve and the objectives they must achieve. When lead designers communicate this effectively, they steer the design team in the right direction.
Clear communication fosters a collaborative approach and ensures that everyone is aligned toward a common design goal. This unified effort unleashes the full potential of the design team, paving the way for unparalleled creativity, and innovative ideas.
4. Provides ready references
By documenting the design decisions and the reasoning behind them, designers can create a reference point for the future. Whether a client wants to revisit a certain design decision or designers want to reflect on their choice, these records serve as ready references. Well-documented design decisions act as a record of information that the design team can leverage for similar projects in the future.
5. Encourages creative problem-solving
Discussing design decisions creates an open and collaborative environment, unlocking a wealth of insightful ideas. It allows designers to tap into a diverse range of perspectives that they may not have considered previously. A culture of creativity and innovation is thus fostered, paving the way for unique solutions. The creative problem-solving approach enhances the quality of the final design and gives the design team an upper hand over their competitors.
The UI/UX design process is a lengthy one, fraught with pivotal decisions at every step. Articulating design decisions acts as a means for cross-examination and validation at each step, contributing to a quality final product.
Best practices for articulating design decisions
Clear communication of design decisions is key to building trust with clients and ensuring team alignment toward a common goal. Here are some practical tips to effectively communicate design decisions and gain client buy-in.
1. Start with the why
“Starting with why" means that you begin any project or decision by questioning its purpose, its reason for being. Without a clear understanding of why you are making something or solving a problem, it's difficult to make informed design decisions. “- Tom Greever
Starting with the "why" before delving into the "what" and "how" ensures that you begin from the base, which is the root problem. When you clearly articulate the problems that you are seeking to solve, you build context around why certain design decisions were taken. This helps clients understand the reasoning behind your choices and how it aligns with their business goals. It establishes trust and credibility and paves way for a successful partnership.
2. Use simple language
"When presenting design decisions, it's important to be clear, concise, and to the point. Avoid jargon and technical terms that may confuse your audience."- Tom Greever
Being mindful of the language you use when communicating your design decisions to clients and stakeholders is important. Often, they don't come from a design background, and using jargon and technical terms may confuse them. So, it's key to use clear and concise language that is easy to understand and communicate ideas in a way that resonates with them. By doing so, you establish a shared understanding and foster a collaborative relationship.
3. Context is crucial
"To effectively articulate design decisions, it's important to be able to explain how your design choices align with the overall goals and strategy of the organization."- Tom Greever
Context is a crucial aspect of effective design communication. To ensure that your clients understand and appreciate your design decisions, it is essential to provide a clear and concise explanation of how they align with project goals, user needs, and business objectives. By contextualizing your design choices in this way, you can demonstrate the rationale behind your decisions.
4. Visuals are key
"When presenting design decisions, it's important to use real-world examples and to show how your design choices will improve the user's experience.” - Tom Greever
Visual communication is a powerful tool for conveying design decisions. Using sketches, wireframes, and mockups helps you illustrate your decisions in an easy-to-understand way. It improves the clarity and comprehensibility of communication and helps you convey your choices to clients with extra impact.
5. Anticipate questions
"Don't assume that your design decisions are self-explanatory. Take the time to explain your thought process and the reasoning behind your choices."- Tom Greever
Anticipating the questions clients may ask and preparing answers to address their queries will help you explore your decisions further and articulate them better. It encourages you to analyze the thought process and reasoning behind your decisions and gives you insights on how to present the information to the client most effectively.
6. Be open to feedback
"Be prepared to defend your design decisions, but also be open to feedback and willing to make changes if necessary.”- Tom Greever
An open and receptive mindset is essential when articulating your design decisions. It is possible for designers to feel attached to their designs and get defensive when critical feedback is given. While you must prepare to defend your design decisions, it's equally important to acknowledge that there may be better solutions that can refine the design. You must be willing to embrace feedback and listen to them positively.
7. Be confident
"To effectively articulate design decisions, it's important to be confident in your choices, but also open to feedback and willing to collaborate with others."- Tom Greever
Confidence in your design decisions is key to building trust and credibility with clients. When communicating your design choices, it is important to articulate their reasoning and explain why you believe they are the best solution. However, relying solely on your intuition or personal preferences is not enough. To reinforce your claims, you should also draw on research, user testing, and other data-driven insights that support your decisions. By demonstrating confidence in your design choices and backing them up with evidence, you can establish a compelling case for your ideas and inspire confidence in your clients.
How do we articulate design decisions at Aufait UX?
As creatives, Aufait UX has firsthand experience when it comes to the varying perspectives of people on the same design rationale. As such we understand the challenges in getting everyone on the same page and the need for articulating design decisions well.
From challenge to confidence: How do we articulate design decisions?
When articulating design decisions, we always present the logic behind each decision from the user's perspective. We support our decisions with data and insights from competitive landscapes, user personas, user journey maps, industry best practices, and research insights. For all the key decisions, we document and explain how it impacts the user experience and makes users’ journey easier.
Moreover, we highlight how each design decision aligns with the business objectives of the client. We present the potential business impact of UI/UX design decisions and how they can help the client grow their product or service. By articulating the design decisions emphasizing its purpose, we showcase our intent to resonate with clients and users alike. With good communication and evidence to support our decisions, we turn challenging situations into opportune scenarios for emphasizing our expertise and building strong relationships with clients.
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