Better communication helps designers and non-designers work together.
As more organizations embrace design as something that should be valued and considered not just within the marketing and creative groups, but in every part of the business, designers are finding themselves working with more stakeholders than ever before. So it’s no surprise effective collaboration between designers and non-designers was a recurring topic at this year’s HOW Design Live conference.
“Communication is core to how people work together. It’s our primary mode of interacting with each other. If we can’t do that effectively, or do that in ways that put other people we work with on the defensive or in ways that don’t make sense, we’re stretching the relationships we have with our collaborators and our projects aren’t going to be very successful,” said Adam Connor, VP of Organization Design at Mad*Pow during his session on discussing design.
Peter Leeds, Director of Global Creative and Brand Activation at Pitney Bowes shared a similar perspective during InSource’s In-House Perspectives session. A non-designer himself, Peter explained why it’s so important for the designers on his team to help the non-designers better communicate with them.
“We all work with non-designers every day,” he said. “If those people don’t understand what you do, you’re missing an opportunity to engage with them as collaborators and strategic partners, and allow them to advocate for what you and your team do.”
But many of the discussions and sessions during the week of HOW surfaced challenges designers and non-designers alike are having when it comes to working together.
“We hear people say they’re having a hard time getting people to work together efficiently and effectively and take advantage of all the talent they have,” said Adam. “We work with not just designers, but all of their stakeholders to address their culture and behavior and change their interactions together.”
For Peter, fostering better collaboration begins with establishing a way of clearly communicating, so that designers and non-designers can easily understand one another.
“Not all of us can draw or work in the creative suite, but we all communicate in some way,” he explained. “It’s important that you give non-designers a strategy or ‘glossary’ that they can use for expressing design. If you give them the right tools to communicate with you better, it empowers them and makes it easier to collaborate. And more importantly, it allows them to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘great’ design.”
Not surprisingly, establishing better collaboration practices when it came to delivering and receiving feedback was top of mind for many HOW attendees. In Adam’s experience, making sure there’s strong alignment between creatives and their clients or other stakeholders at the onset of a project is critical to having productive critiquing conversations later.
“It’s important that you and your client have the same understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and the people who are involved because those components are what you can refer back to as you have a discussion,” he said. “If your clients are starting to give subjective feedback, you can say something like, ‘well we’ve talked in the past about who our audience is.’ You can have a discussion about who you’re designing for vs. your personal preferences. It’s often when teams and clients don’t have that shared understanding up front that you start to have those very difficult conversations later.”
Adam also suggested that coming back to those core objectives can help non-creative reviewers give more productive feedback on design.
“[When reviewing something,] ask yourself, what are the elements of this design that are related to our objective? What are the pieces that will or will not meet it? Based on that, do I think the objective will work towards those objectives? Why or why not? If you think through those questions to the best of your ability, then what you give back will be well-informed feedback.”
Of course, alignment at the onset of new creative work isn’t always enough to deter clients or other stakeholders from sometimes slipping into unproductive feedback habits. But in Adam’s experience, asking a series of questions can help creatives redirect the conversation and get a more relevant critique.
“One of the techniques I love is the ‘five whys.’ It’s just a tactic about drilling into the source of a challenge,” explained Adam. “If someone tells me, ‘I don’t like red’ then I’ll say ‘well can you tell me more about what the challenges with red are? How does red make you feel?’ You can keep asking these ‘why’ questions over and over until either the person starts relating their difficulty with the color red back to the problem you’re trying to solve or the audience at hand or, you’ll get them to realize it’s a personal preference that’s not related to the challenge at hand. It helps you get a little more information about the rationale behind what they’re trying to tell you.”