Defending your design decisions
Something no one ever tells you about working as a product designer is that you are constantly defending your decisions. As soon as you start designing wire frames, you’ll be questioned about your choices. This process is consistent throughout the development and launch of the product. It’s a back-and-forth, and involves as much problem-solving as defense of ideas. There should be a healthy mix of collaboration and disagreement in deciding on a workable solution.
It’s all just pixels until it’s in code
Then comes post-launch, and the gathering of feedback from users in the form of emails, customer service calls and analytics data. This part is tough. You’ll be called to defend decisions many months after you actually made them. You went on with your life, but the business and your customers are stuck with the outcomes of your choices that made it into the product.
If you’ve kept a decent journal, then you’ll have at least some reference for the context around what were probably difficult choices. Once it’s in code, you’ll get a chance to use it and with the benefit of distance have a fair gauge of how your gut instincts and company process are leading towards (or away from) good design.
In an iterative design organization, it’s OK to revise based on seeing live code, it’s just not ideal. It means that other projects will have to be pushed back, deadlines missed, etc. Obviously, it’s something to avoid if you can. So to avoid this, you want to be able to: 1) make good decisions; and 2) defend your good decisions.
Making good decisions (a non-exhaustive list)
- Include relevant people in decision-making meetings and conversations
- (Know who relevant people are)
- Note exceptions. If your product manager gets his or her way with something you disagree with, make a note of it in your work journal
- (Keep a work journal)
- Research patterns and existing solutions – be informed of what’s come before
- Design in the right order – start on a whiteboard or paper, then move to hand-drawn wire frames, then to hi-fi mockups
- Make your mockups clickable, and share these with the team and potential users
So you’ve made what you feel are well-informed ‘good’ decisions. Now it’s months later, and someone is calling you out in a meeting for a decision they disagree with. What do you do?
Mounting a spirited defense
- Stay calm
- Remind anyone questioning the results that you went through a process to get there (you did go through a robust process, right?)
- Recall all the work, feedback and rounds of iterations that went into the current design being called into question
- Challenge the challenger; if there’s no user base and bank of statistics about use, then all questioning is speculative.
- I repeat: in the absence of data, all questioning is speculative
- Cite analytic data. Cite feedback, or lack thereof.
- Story wins. Tell a compelling story about the problem you were trying to solve, the research you did to understand how others have solved this problem.
- In the face of contrary proof of success or failure, don’t be afraid to change your mind in a strong, sure way. Nothing diffuses attack like agreement
If worst comes to worst, ask that your design be shown to actual users in order to gather data about how they use it. Leaders are often wrong, but they stick to their guns given the information they have at hand. If the information changes (as in solid data from users) then don’t be afraid to change your mind.
And remember that this back and forth is part of being a professional designer. Professionals have been on the extreme end of both sides. If you’re right or if you’re wrong, remember that people respect an even demeanor.