By Liang-Cheng Lin, Senior Experience Design Manager, Adobe
Being a successful designer extends well beyond possessing excellent design skills, to include being able to build and maintain relationships with product teams and colleagues. While there are many great design spec producers, earning the trust and respect of those around you is a critical piece of the puzzle.
As designers, we’re constantly being reminded of how important it is to build empathy with users. Establishing a rapport with our colleagues and partners follows the same philosophy—we need to learn their goals and motivations to build a foundation for success.
Based on my work with fellow designers creating experiences for Adobe Document Cloud, here are some ways we can better equip ourselves to earn trust and establish respect as we strive to become more competitive designers.
Engage and Involve
Actively engaging people and getting involved is a smart way to create a great impression, especially with people you have yet to work with. For a senior designer, with relationships already established, it may be easier to secure a design-driven conversation from the beginning. But, if this isn’t you, the following tips can help.
Be a Humble Learner. Even if you’re familiar with the domain, take some time to review available materials. By looking over requirements, use cases, analytics data, etc., you may discover valuable information or new trends that you were not aware of.
Identify Key Players or Influencers from the Product Team. There are likely people around you who can help develop your personal growth. Make an effort to get acquainted with them and take some time to learn about their goals and interests.
Be Proactive and Make Suggestions. Rather than waiting for others to inquire, be proactive by proposing actions the team should consider.
Ask Questions. Don’t just listen passively. Be sure to ask questions. Not only will this help you understand faster, but it also shows your intention to learn.
Trust and Credibility Builds Over Time. Making a great first impression is a good first step. However, you still need to work at maintaining relationships you build over time.
You’re not engaging and getting involved if you’re unable to:
- Describe the essence of the project.
- Remember the project schedule and key milestones.
- Meet with the product manager and engineers regularly.
Immerse and Internalize
Building empathy with users is a critical component of great design. But, immersing yourself and internalizing the insight you gain is just as important. This process shows the team that you truly understand the context and can help others push boundaries.
Conduct Research. Do a deep dive into user problems to identify pain relievers and gain creators. In addition to materials the product team provides, is there anything else you can contribute that wasn’t covered? Conducting primary and secondary research by talking with users–and exploring trends and associated ideas will help you grasp insights and the essence of the design problem you need to solve.
Challenge the Assumptions. Product managers often have assumptions built in about how a particular project should proceed. If you’ve done the homework and looked at the data, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. In many cases, product managers look forward to designers pushing back with a better approach that can help move the team forward. Aspire to be a product expert!
Facilitate Design Discussion and Instill Design-Thinking. Designers are in high demand today, and people look forward to their involvement. Maximize this opportunity by finding your own niche via whiteboard drawing, experience maps, affinity diagrams and low or mid-fidelity mockups to demonstrate design passion and professionalism.
You’re not immersing and internalizing enough if you’re unable to:
- Summarize findings from primary or secondary research.
- Articulate who the targeted users are and identify their pain points.
- Summarize major technical constraints.
- Provide various design options to validate hypothesis, then iterate and refine toward the final design.
Negotiate and Implement
This is a critical phase to put your creativity into reality. It requires patience, tactics, perseverance, flexibility—and a variety of soft skills to move forward to the destination.
Know That There Is No Perfect Spec. We can spend hours talking about what makes a perfect design spec. But, one thing is clear: A perfect spec doesn’t guarantee the quality of a final product. If engineering can’t build a product per your perfect spec, then your spec will simply be artwork and all the efforts devoted to making a perfect spec will be in vain.
Hunt for UI/UX Bugs. Conduct regular UI bugs review meetings, filing and tracking them in a shared spreadsheet (with prioritization). Be sure to download and try builds frequently, while exploring the most efficient and effective communication channels with product teams.
Maximize User Benefits When Making Trade-Off Decisions. Prioritization is critical at this phase. When the schedule gets tight, engineering isn’t able to fix every bug we report. Equip yourself with supportive data or rationale to back up your argument. Consider how many users and how often users will encounter this issue, and user value, to decide what order you’d like the engineering team to tackle the issues. In other words, pick the right battle. The key to success at this phase is following the above principles, while being flexible with tailored tactics.
Keep Your Promises, While Admitting Your Shortcomings. Keep your promises to deliver on time and let others know as early as possible when you can’t keep a promise. Finally, admit your shortcomings—honesty can only boost your credibility.
Raise the red flag as soon as you find:
- Implementation doesn’t match design specs.
- Engineering misinterprets your delivered design specs.
- The Product team is making UI/UX decisions without involving the Design team.
Repurpose and Extend
Once the product gets shipped, take a step back to reflect, share openly and then look ahead.
Give Mutual Support and Praise. Engineers are the people who help make your design come true. Recognizing and appreciating their hard work will help establish camaraderie. Be generous about sharing ownership and credit. You’ll be surprised by how much they appreciate the creative ideas you contributed to the delivered product—and how accomplished they feel executing it.
Set Up a Post Mortem. Reflecting on what went well and what didn’t is the perfect way to turn past experience and lessons into guidance for new projects. Gather everyone who was involved in the project and discuss (with an open mind) how to optimize the process and avoid mistakes the next time around.
Explore New Domains but Stay Connected. As a manager, I always appreciate when a direct report initiates a conversation around setting up new goals or proposing a new project. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to explore new domains and be sure to maintain connections with former product team members—they may be partners in upcoming projects or potential references in the future.
The way you work—how you treat project partners, handle and resolve conflicts and communicate—builds your brand, image, trust and credibility.
Be sure to remember the moments when colleagues express their appreciation or frustration and know the reasons why. Insist on principles, while being flexible with tactics. In the end, the point is to find your own niche, establish your own style and consistently demonstrate design professionalism.
The demand for UX Designers will only increase as we become increasingly connected to digital media and services.