A Step-By-Step Guide To Losing Your Authority As A Designer
Innocent until proven guilty
When we go to work, power is inherently given to us as designers — although we often don’t realise it.
But as we work through the process and engage the client at different stages — that power can be built upon, or stripped away bit by bit, depending on how we show up.
So, keen to erode your credibility? Great! Here are 12 things I’ve seen in my career that do the trick every time!
When you’re on a project, it’s your job to own the design and figure out the solutions. Others can contribute — but if you want to remain in control of the project (leading the design) that’s what you have to do. Mike Monteiro says it well in his book “Design Is A Job” — At all costs, avoid letting ‘Designing by committee’ or ‘Backseat driving’ happen… rather find a polite way to pause the conversation. Then go away to find a solution which you can present back later, or you’ll end a pixel pushing pawn for the rest of the project.
Designing with data is a beautiful thing, but use relevant data that paints a complete picture. Choose to harp on about just one metric like Bounce rate — without Total traffic or Page value, and it’ll be hard to persuade anyone. Some more unconvincing data points are:
- Heatmaps — they can help build a case, but heatmaps alone seldom win pitches
- Customer interviews — really compelling IF done right. Asking leading questions or targeting only one type of user will lead to unreliable feedback, and your credibility will erode faster than a pee-hole in the snow!
Why is this unrealistic? Because A/B tests are great for some things — but there is a limit. You simply can’t A/B test your way to success; sometimes you have to use your judgement and park the designs that don’t make complete sense. Any seasoned pro on a product team will know that running lots of A/B test is mostly impractical, so using the old “we can just A/B test it” is sometimes really just another way of saying — I dunno?
Sometimes you can. Like if you’re a Design Lead with plenty of experience and battle scars to prove it. But for most of us, we don’t have that much power and we need to rationalise our decisions in a more persuasive way. Objective arguments that use tangible metrics, quantifiable comparisons, or sensible insights will always resonate better with you clients and stakeholders.
Know your audience and learn How to tailor your message accordingly. Defending decisions with “everything needs to be a multiple of 4!” is likely to be met with frustration — especially if it’s holding up progress. Sure, pixel perfection is important, but save that stuff for other designers or developers. Instead, rephrase the conversation in terms of the project goal, how the solution helps users, and what value it delivers for the business.
There’s a time and place for futuristic visions — but not all businesses are in that position. Most are simply trying to plug holes in an already leaky sales funnel. So if you’re working in a business that’s not ready for say, personalised virtual reality holograms — focus on helping them fix the problems they’re having right now. Do talk about what they could do in 5 years — but only after you’ve given them answers to today’s problems.
At university they teach us that design is about being creative, and because a lot of us do come from some sort of artsy background, it can make things difficult in the real world. We get offended when people don’t like our designs — but that’s the thing — it’s not about us.
I read A great quote: “Somewhere along the line I realized and accepted the truth: nobody really owns anything in a product made by a team… Each piece of work is a mere pebble tossed into a flowing river. Maybe your pebble will become bedrock… or, maybe it’ll quickly dissolve into dust when new pebbles come along and crash into it. Both of those outcomes are completely natural and worthy of celebration.”
Inspiration is different from flat out copying, and just because another company has done it, Doesn’t mean that approach will work for you. Approach a problem with the intention to identify the underlying problem first, then consider solutions and executions.
They’re often costly and avoidable. Two examples or varying severity I’ve seen:
- Using Soccer imagery for a Rugby website redesign pitch. The client took one look, and sent it back without any further feedback. Outcome: angry client, thinks the designer’s a tool. Friction from that point on.
- Spelling mistakes — Premiere League instead of Premier League 🤦. The C-suite makes jokes about the designer, and start to question the quality of the overall thinking. Authority points down 50!
Sometimes you’re entitled to being offended. Clients can be intentionally nasty with their feedback, but using that input to improve the design is the end goal — and maybe a chat with HR if applicable! Getting emotionally attached to your designs is not why we’re here — designers are hired to solve problems and deliver solutions that fit the brief.
Sure, more options mean more problems, so presenting fewer things usually helps get consensus. But in order to get to a solution, you have to consider a few approaches first. Because when stakeholders ask “have you tried x?” you need to be able to explain why that wouldn’t work, and how your solution does (unless of course you hadn’t considered it — in which case humility will be your saviour). Letting your client know that you’ve considered all the avenues, will help them trust in you you’ll keep on climbing that ladder of authority.
Sticking in headphones for half of the project — only to unveil your designs at the end is never good. Likely outcome: you’ll be labelled as a Rogue designer around the firm. Having regular design check-ins with the rest of the team lets them feed in, and avoids nasty surprises at crunch time.
As designers we often have more power than we’re aware of. Sometimes we walk into a project in the glow of our company’s reputation — but other times we need to build that trust from scratch. Either way, do all the things I’ve listed above and guarantee you’ll have a hard time getting buy in from your client or teams!