Grounding design decisions in unimpeachable reasoning.
In order for our work to be successful, it is important that our design decisions are understood and supported by all our stakeholders.
Lack of clear articulation leads to ambiguity, which is often the reason why great ideas die a slow, painful death. In order to ensure that our work sees the light of day, it is our job to communicate the value of our decisions beyond mere pixels and screens.
By tightly articulating our decisions, we establish clear intent. We help build consensus and confidence in our stakeholders, which helps change the view that design is a black box.
To successfully articulate our design decisions to stakeholders, whether it is our clients, our peers, or sometimes even ourselves, we follow this three step process -
- Define the problem
- Present the solution
- Demonstrate advantages over alternatives
Step 1: Define the problem
We define our problems through a detailed problem checklist. To craft the checklist, we try and put together a holistic problem definition that can be broken down into the following components:
To help the audience gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem, it’s important to set the stage for the problem at hand. Context covers the environment in which the problem is situated along with other factors (actors, space, conditions etc) that might have an influence on the problem.
It helps when the audience can clearly picture who the user is, not just within the context of the problem, but also beyond that. User description is often informed by the awareness of the audience. If the audience is completely unaware, we help them empathise with the user by starting with a comprehensive user persona, followed by a brief description of ‘a day in the life’ of the user, before we move on to the user’s behaviour within the contextual setting of the problem.
This is where the meat of the matter lies. What is the user trying to accomplish? What does the user desire? What does the user struggle with? These are all ways of asking the same question — What are the goals of the user?
The Problem Checklist
The interplay between the user, their goals, and the contextual setting within which the problem lies, leads to the creation of a checklist of small problems, all of which add up to a holistic articulation of the overall problem. The solution must address all (or most) of the problems in this checklist for the problem to be solved.
Tips for success: - Set the stage; tell the user’s story when placed within the context. - Ensure every problem in the checklist leverages the interplay between the three components: context, user, goals. - Move on to the solution only after you’re satisfied with the audience’s understanding of the problem.
Step 2: Present the solution
After we’ve helped the audience gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem, we help them visualise how our solution addresses all its complex facets. We begin by going over the first problem in the checklist, and demonstrating how our design decisions address it. We then repeat this for every problem in the checklist till we’re done with the complete list. It’s as simple as that.
Step 3: Demonstrate advantage over alternatives
We’ve just made a case for our design by demonstrating how it solves every possible problem that needs solving. What’s left to do? Turns out, a lot! How do our stakeholders know that what we’ve just presented is the best solution possible? When we see our stakeholders struggling with FOMO for a solution that’s even better, we help them see how we’ve evaluated other possible approaches against the one we’ve just presented. Sometimes, clear demonstration of the advantages of the selected approach over the rest helps build the confidence required for the decision to move forward.
Tips for success: – Present a comparison with alternatives only if necessary; sometimes the selected approach doesn’t need further convincing. – Use the checklist for comparison, much like a pricing table. – Sometimes the winning solution might solve less number of problems than the alternatives, but the problems it does solve are worth the trade-off. Help your audience understand that by categorising those problems as “must haves” and the less important ones as “nice to haves”.