Over the years I have had more experience working with developers than with designers. However in the past two years I have been more involved with managing and creating design. One of the key goals I had was to structure the processes that would allow me to prove my designs.
Design is not an exact science, but it still has rules. That means that there is a way of creating designs, but no definitive way of knowing in advance whether they will be right for your purposes. I believe that there are tools and processes we can use to increase the probability of designs being fit for purpose and, just as importantly, of convincing others that your design is the right one.
Tools for proving design
Trends give an overarching view of where people, industry, designers and technology are heading. Trend research usually collates the past two years of an area. All trends start as a seed of inspiration. What you’re doing with your research is tracking the development of that seed to see if it grows into a trend. From the data you gather, you can create a trends report that groups the data in meaningful ways. As well as helping you see where your design fits in current trends, it can also be used to remind stakeholders of things they’ve seen, while reassuring them that you’re considering the wider market and not designing in a vacuum.
Measurements and evaluation
Being patient and focused are rare traits in designers. There is always this drive to change and inspire, to revolutionize to make something interesting again. However, it is extremely important to harness that creativity for critical and incremental development too. Reflecting on your design, testing and measuring it is essential for proving its value to others. To be able to prove a new concept you should measure the previous one, or if it’s completely new, measure it in comparison to other similar concepts.
You can measure design by conducting user testing, focus groups or even guerrilla testing internally. If the measurements to which you test are agreed and respected by the stakeholders it gives your design substantial support.
To gain credibility for your design you can’t just settle for internet-based research. For example judging a product review on an app has very limited information. Talking to well-known experts will allow you to learn from people who founded the industry and their name can lend credibility to your design, especially if your stakeholders have heard of them. Moreover these experts or advisors cycle through many companies and often have a good sense of what is happening overall. Experts shouldn’t be just design experts, they could be experts in technology, strategy, marketing, or any field relevant to your product.
Benchmarking is an activity we do naturally all the time. We always compare our product to others and sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side. From my experience it looks greener when we don’t thoroughly understand the strategy or refuse to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of our workplace.
Keep a catalog of things that interest you and try to cluster and compare to see improvements and direction. Be mindful of the limitations it imposes on your mind, not everything should be about catching up with competitors. The fact that the market hasn’t done something already doesn’t mean you’ve identified a golden opportunity, it just means that you ought to find the reason it’s not been done already and then see if it matches up with your company’s strategy.
Whether you create or rely on strategy, it is always important to understand it and interpret it in a way that will show links between it and your design. Strategy usually relies on knowing the current situation, the goal and how to get there. The change log is very valuable for this purpose – track your competitors and try to understand their strategy and then use that to your advantage.
Looking at the history of your company is extremely important. Know the past to learn for the future. Somewhere there might be a database of useful information about success stories and failures. The faster you understand how the company gained its success, the more quickly you’ll understand if your direction is aligned with theirs. Be mindful of politics; you might present something that has already been tried and rejected by stakeholders.
Designing together helps gain support on the ground and puts the design suggestion under multiple lenses. It is also essential to help you learn more about the company. The more communication and the more knowledge that goes into a design, the better it will be.
Using these tools is not enough to convince stakeholders though, you’ve got to tell a story. Using these methods could be tricky. You might realize you’ve got the problem right but not the solution, or there might be contradictions between the results you get when testing. When weaved into a compelling story you allow your client to focus on the narrative.
A good designer breaks the product and its context to bits, make sense of them, looks at them through a different lens and then reconstructs the product to make it better.
Communicating that process to stakeholders is important when proving a design. It gives them the why behind the what and often that understanding is what you need to gain support.
Thank you for everyone that helped me and advised me about this post: Carlos Wydler, Oded Ben Yehuda.