Effective communication with designers

As a manager, you might struggle to communicate the vision you have in your head with a designer. It might look like designers come from another planet but they are humans too, and it takes years of study to understand the basics of good design and then some more years

As a manager, you might struggle to communicate the vision you have in your head with a designer. It might look like designers come from another planet but they are humans too, and it takes years of study to understand the basics of good design and then some more years to master UI/UX design. Often we don’t know how to set clear goals for design work or fail to give context for the job. It happens because the design is perceived as an art that is based on some abstract concepts and not on rules, data on facts. The reality is that great design follows a set of strict rules and is much closer to the science where form follows function, not the opposite. Here are few tips to set up the process that will make next time you collaborate with a designer more effective and delightful.

  1. Write down design requirements. The same way software developers love having written specification, designers need at least some sort of design specs to know what you want. It can take different forms, ranging from a list of elements each  UI screen should have to a set of wireframes and a flow diagram describing your understanding of the user experience. The more information you provide the closer the result will be to what you want. It’s essential to store requirements in an easily accessible way where you can collaborate on them and answer questions, Google Docs or Dropbox Paper is perfect for that.
  2. Set priorities. Often the list of requirements looks more like a laundry list merged by interviewing all stakeholders. The reality is that it usually contains items that are impossible to have in a good design, so you need to highlight items that are important and those that are just nice-to-haves. A prioritized list conveys a hierarchy of things that have to be emphasized. Without prioritization, every item seems to be important, which means that nothing is. When everything has the same level of emphasis, there’s no direction in design which affects the outcome negatively.
  3. Provide examples. We all have different opinions and our own set of things we like and don’t like. Examples are the perfect way of describing to a designer what you wish to create. Visuals are a great way to communicate things like color and layout preference visually. It’s also important to briefly describe why you like something and why you don’t. If you’re getting a set of UI screens designed send few screenshots of apps that you find well-designed with your comments. A picture is worth a thousand words. It leaves less room for misinterpretation.
  4. Avoid generic terms. Most of the times communication with designers comes in the form of vague and subjective abstractions — asking to do something cool, fun, sexy and sleek is not going to help the designer understand you. The designer has no way of knowing what “cool” or “fun” means to you. Using these terms in your communication is a recipe for disaster and will make you spend a lot of time revising the designs. The best way to deal with this is to provide visual examples of what is cool and fun for you. You will be amazed how quickly a designer can understand and use specific examples of style when given clear directions.
  5. Provide context. The design is based on context. Describing what you want to be done is not enough, it’s important to tell the designer why you want to do it and for whom. Visual designs depend on the intent of the business to reach its goals and the intent of users to achieve theirs. Key is to find the middle ground where both goals meet. If you want your product to be understood by the wide audience you need to describe the context and tell what message you expect people to see.
  6. Give constructive feedback. The hardest thing about working with designers is giving honest but constructive feedback on their work. After all, your designer was giving her best effort to create something you like, and that satisfies all requirements. If you’re not a fan of it you need to relax and be open about it — it’s quite common to go through several rounds to get something that will make you feel good, and designers are used to it. The more details and feedback you can provide after each round the sooner you’ll get to the final version.
  7. Copy is your responsibility. It’s not uncommon for a designer to expect the copy to be ready before design starts. Of course, they can come up with their temporary version of call-to-action and put some dummy text where selling text should be, but don’t expect that copy to be any good. Most of the times design is very dependent on the copy so make sure you have everything prepared somewhere in a Google Doc to be used in a design. Make sure to proof-read your designs after they are ready — no matter how experienced your designer is she will make mistakes. Sometimes the cost of the error is too high so make sure you check and re-check.
  8. Organize the process. It’s essential to organize the design process using the right tools from the very beginning. Use Google Docs and Google Drive or equivalent to work with requirements and visual examples. Use something that leaves a paper trail for communication so that you can go back to discussed issues whenever you need to. Write down meeting summaries so that nothing gets lost. Make sure you have all source files for all design revisions and assets that are used in them. Check that there are no copyright issues with the assets. Simple rules like that will save you a ton of time in case something goes wrong.

UI and UX design is an integral part of software development and should be approached thoughtfully. Many companies struggle to create a design-first process because they don’t know how to communicate design ideas effectively. We are exposed to outstanding design every day, and this gives us an unrealistic sense that design is simple and something that can be quickly done by anyone from the first try. In reality, early versions of the designs are rarely perfect, and it takes many iterations and a lot of communication to push the design to perfection. Treating designers as skilled and thoughtful professionals will help them get the work done and implement your personal vision into something beautiful, usable and loved by users.

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