Making Design Less Subjective

Design is subjective. Dealing with projects that have an extensive process and expansive stakeholder group, can be challenging. The key in alignment is not about defending the work but about bringing people along throughout the entire process and aligning at key moments along the way.

In order to do that, we need to look at the work holistically — showing the evolution of the work and how every decision depends on the last step we made.

First and foremost, ground the work in research. This is a given but needs to be noted. It’s important as designers to make sure any questions that need to be answered for the design stage are included in the research phase or discovery phase. Information from stakeholder interviews will guide the goals and objectives. Data from participant interviews frame the recommendations and define the solution. Consider how the goals and objectives map to the design work. This is what you’re going to use as your guiding path moving forward.

Streamline the presentation of the work. How the work is presented matters just as much as the solution. Modify the process as needed to cater to the audience you’re presenting to. If our stakeholders’ comprehension level goes up, we can get to a decision more efficiently because the mind isn’t bogged down trying to decipher a document.

Build a bridge. When creating the site map and flows pull data from the research that indicates what was important to each audience and where in the site map it will be addressed. This starts building a foundation in data and information that was heard coming straight from stakeholders and interview participants. As we outline what was important to each audience, the content strategy emerges as well.

Diving deeper into the site map, outline the goals, content and actions needed for each particular section or page. This will further prioritize the content, creating a hierarchy of content blocks which will define the layout of the wireframes.

Say no to lorem ipsum. If you want the wireframe process and subsequent design process to go smoothly don’t use lorem ipsum. Using real content allows those reviewing to see examples of how the proposed content blocks can be used. How many times have you designed a content block only to have a client ask, “What would I use that for?” Part of making design less subjective is getting ahead of the questions our stakeholders might ask. And getting ahead of questions in the wireframing process will only benefit the next phase of the work.

Pause for a Design Kickoff. This is SO important. A project cycle can be long. Design is typically part of a larger multi-disciplinary endeavor. Instead of rolling right into visual design, take a moment to pause and consider how the work should evolve further from a brand perspective.

Align on expectations. A brand style guide is not a creative brief. It is exactly what the name infers — it is a guide — but not necessarily the only way forward. Use the design kickoff as an opportunity to align on the brand and consider elements that can be pushed further. This might seem basic but it avoids any questions that would otherwise derail the design process.

Set the tone. Review other work, whether that’s competitors’ work or work outside of your stakeholder industry. Ask stakeholders to come to the meeting with design examples they like and have them ready to share and explain why they chose what they did. This exercise helps set expectations and aligns everyone on a given look and feel. Design terms can mean different things to different people. Discussing elements that are liked or disliked and agreeing on terms and definitions is paramount.

Use the foundation that’s been built
Tie the goals and objectives to the work that’s being presented.

Relate the concepts to the research, pointing out precisely why certain design decisions were made and explaining how those decisions relate back to the audience.

Remind stakeholders that the design process is another step in the evolution of the work.

Set the foundation for the concepts by reiterating the goals outlined during the site map and flow phase.

Relate each concept to the audience and how the visuals complement their needs.

Discuss each concept in terms of the hierarchy that’s been created and how the visuals support that hierarchy.

Talk about each concept in terms of the visual language it creates and the pattern that follows.

Expand on how those patterns are used and how they map back to the brand and the overall objectives.

Finally, note where the brand guidelines have been considered and where creative license was taken.

Last but not least, iterate and finalize. It’s a rolling process and the phases within the process depend on each other. Do things always work out smoothly? No, but the idea is to create a foundation one phase at a time, build upon our learnings, and move towards a point where the decision process becomes more efficient and — in the end — easier.