If you want to be a successful designer, get ready to demonstrate your value and why you deserve a seat at the table, your entire life.
Over three years ago, I started working with a client that didn't want design. There were many times when I questioned why my job is necessary. Design is the understaffed underdog. While the company quickly staffed up more developers, designers are under the constant shortage of asking for more headcount.
Even though it's clear that designers were in demand, and the client is pleased with the work quality, the business had its reasons not to supply that demand. One of the reasons, I believe, that attributed to that was design did not demonstrate our worth in a way the client understood us. I'd presumed people cared about design, but never set my frame of mind that people may not care enough to understand.
In this product and feature-driven company, designers could be seen as the bottleneck and blocker from releasing. The amount of time designers spend going through all the iterations deserves to be in the final product. At the same time, designers need to know when to get out of the way.
Designers love to claim the idea that they are the most empathetic and understand the users more than anybody. We don't. It's impossible for a single human being to understand every type of user and anticipate their actions. This is why you need groups of people with different backgrounds, so the intersection of differing opinions is how great ideas are created and how things improve. The more you know, the less you know. It's the law of being an idiot.
Don't get me wrong. I love working in a small team of designers, and much prefer it that way. In the past six months, I had succeeded in getting the verbal ok to create a tool that would benefit everyone, but it took so much longer than I'd hope. Even though the wind is knocked out of my sails, I'm glad it's finally started.
I've realized that once you're a designer for life, you have to defend your value for life. It is way too easy to get angry from someone making yet another "stupid" design comment, believe me, I do. At the same time, if designers continue to talk about design in a way no one understands, then they will be in the corner by themselves, wondering why people don't care about what they have to say.
Sometimes, when the design is explained in 3-4 different ways, my patience wears thin when the receiver doesn't pay the same respects. To rebuild the bridge of communication, I've tried to open up to the possibility that I'm entirely wrong, then make the conscious effort to understand.
Design is so squishy and hard to quantify, using numbers could be an excellent approach to prove user behavior, but what if the client does not make decisions based on that? The client can declare, despite the numbers, they want to go against it for X and Y reasons. At the end of the day, the client chooses how they want to spend their money and time.
Numbers are a hard thing to use with a business to talk about design or user behavior because it's easy to get them wrong.
Was the test conducted properly?
When and how is it measured?
How were the results interpreted?
Even if the client is open to conducting studies, these are long-term investments done throughout the year and would require an on-going team.
Business is a cold world, where they want to extract as much value as possible for as little as possible. Some companies try to be design-centered, and then ones who are in it for operational efficiency. In the end, business cares about making revenue.
To understand business is to know what they care for… if it's about making money, what is their cultural approach to technology, and how do they perceive success and satisfaction? If you want the business to understand you, map your design goals to those of the company to explain your perceived value, and what it cost equally on the outside.
Before you can determine what your values are, think about what's your purpose and what motivates you to continue working. To transform the culture and minds of a long-established corporation requires you to bring them into your world, walk to their side, with grounded energy, emotional connection, and active listening.
People are not looking to me to be the genius, but to the ability to quickly understand, validate their dilemma, and conceptualize solutions. Everyone has a framework of what they're listening for, exact keywords that signal the cue of understanding. I am looking for patterns and themes to latching onto and find the solution in the delta of opinions.
Designers have to prove their worth for the rest of their lives. If this is the absolute truth, why not take the approach of being in the front lines of evaluation. Being comfortable in being judged by groups of people is something all designers should get used to and learn to improve continuously.