Ever feel like you are caught in the product design whirlpool? Your team continues to redesign, rework, and rethink the same (or similar) features – you can’t seem to gain traction. When your team gets caught in this vicious cycle, it can feel disheartening for everyone.
The good news is that it’s usually a communication issue, and you can fix it with a good design process using an alchemy of listening, consistency, and documentation.We have a few tips on how to get unstuck, create alignment within your team, and create an amazing design process, including:
- Why listening is sacrosanct (and how to do it well)
- How to bond your team around a common goal
- Five rules to establish consistent design practices
- How to shape decisions and track the process together
Let’s jump in and tame the design chaos.
A Little Bit of Understanding Starts With a Lot of Listening
Design churn happens to the best of us, usually because there are too many opinions in the room. As a result, focusing on one solution or idea can seem impossible through all the noise.
Setting aside time to talk with your team early in the design process helps create the foundation of trust and alignment. Your ultimate goal is to get your team invested in the process — and make sure they feel heard.
To do this, go on a stakeholder listening tour. A listening tour creates a baseline understanding across the team about what is happening. It also boosts morale and trust by making everyone feel their voices are heard.
Just like it sounds, you’ll go on a “tour” to listen to all your key players. Ask specific questions that can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to coax their thoughts about design, your team’s processes, and where they see opportunities for improvement. Trust us; you’ll learn a lot.
How to Host Stakeholder Listening Sessions
Schedule 30 to 60 minutes with key stakeholders, one at a time. When you meet, start by asking questions about the current design process. You need to hear their perspective on what is working and what needs improvement.
Ask questions about their role in design as it relates to the process pain point in question. For example, what kind of experience do they want the design to create for customers? Take notes as you go, and record the meeting to help you remember your conversation later.
After you’ve talked to everyone, organize and read your notes. Pick out the similarities and highlight the differences. Next, group your findings into themes. For example, maybe you’ve discovered that many people on your team are frustrated by a lack of a robust design system. Or perhaps you’ll learn that your remote team feels disconnected.
Present these common threads back to your team. In doing so, you’re establishing basic building blocks of communication. I hear you; I understand you. You are acknowledging an issue and are interested in their opinion on how to improve it.
Talking about the common issues with your team gives everyone a chance to understand the specific problems that are tangling the process — and gives you the plan to tackle them.
Come Together Behind a Shared Goal to Unify Your Product Team
Design churn often happens when there’s a lack of unity or focus (or even understanding!) around what you’re trying to offer your customers. So alongside listening to your collaborators, unifying your team around one shared vision is another step to getting everyone on the same page and designing with intention.
Your next exercise is to create a set of user experience principles. Think of them as a contract between you and your customer. These are short, inspiring statements describing the unique way you want the customer to experience your product.
Experience principles encapsulate your institutional knowledge, how you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors, and mutually agreed-upon criteria for decision-making.
The goal of defining your experience principles is to erase any ambiguity about the type of experience you are creating and, in turn, reduce the churn you might be experiencing. Most importantly, they help your team to focus on designing the right features.
How to Define Your Experience Principles Together
Schedule an hour-long workshop with your team and any key collaborators (especially if they have strong opinions about the design). It’s most helpful to send a survey a week before meeting as a group to get the juices flowing and the team excited. In the survey, ask your team to:
- Use three words to describe the ideal user experience.
- Define how you should distinguish yourself from the competition.
- Think about outcomes you want to avoid.
Next, take the responses into a whiteboard tool such as miro or FigJam. Organize the answers into clusters of values (the three words), differentiators (the ways you can distinguish yourself), and anti-experience (ways you can get it wrong).
When you meet as a group, invite your team to the whiteboard tool and review the clusters. (Teams tend to love seeing the ways they align here. It makes them feel like they’re not on an island.)
If there are enough people on your team, break into small groups. Have each group define your customer’s values when using your product. For example, if you’re a food-based subscription service, do your customers value healthy options? Do they love quick recipes so they can spend more time with their family? Write a short statement about why those values are essential.
At the end of the workshop, take the value statements and refine them to be easy to remember.
Pro-tip: Make sure to design your values to be on-brand. Ultimately, you want your team to love them so much that they print them out and keep them visible while working.
After your experience principles are defined, schedule another meeting to share them with the team. And make sure to call out how you all worked together to create this shared vision.
Not so great at facilitating these types of exercises? We are here to help. Everyday Industries can come in and do that for you. We can find the threads that are worth unraveling. Plus, as an objective third party, we’re better positioned to bring everyone to a consensus and ensure all voices are heard.
Creating a Consistent Design Process Keeps Everyone Laser Focused on Designing the Best Product Possible
Creating a consistent design process focuses the conversation around the product, not “where’s this file?” or “Why don’t we have a system for this?”
Design is not a linear process, and it can get clumsy quickly. With multiple iterations and directions coming from every which way, it’s easy for your files to become unorganized. So when your team needs to hunt and peck to find the latest design, you know it’s time to introduce some rigor and consistency into the design process.
Enter: A standardized, organized system that houses all your team’s designs. With it, your team can find the correct file, identify the most up-to-date information, and foster communication and collaboration.
How to Come Up With a Standardized Design System that Works
Consistency only works when there are clear rules in place for everyone to follow. Therefore, your job is to come up with some rules about your consistency system.
1. Create a cover page for all of your designs.
A crisp, clean cover page is the first step to creating consistency. It provides an easy way for team members to know, at-a-glance, if they are in the right place. A good cover page includes the following:
- The status (use a consistent font color and tag to show if the design is in concept, refinement, development-ready, or in production)
- A short descriptive title
- One sentence about the vision of the design (bonus points if it fulfills a customer need)
- A link to the assignment on your project management platform?
A design start date and end date (when it’s development-ready)
2. Organize each design file by review date.
For every review, create a new page. Organizing by date lets you demonstrate the thoughts from previous iterations in one handy location. For example, we’ve all been in design reviews when someone says, “Maybe we should have considered using tabs.” That’s your cue to jump into the past review dates and show them you did indeed consider using tabs — and here it is!
3. Present all design work as prototypes and flows.
When you show design work, make sure you present it in a prototype. Prototypes allow you to play with the experience as if it were real and in context (like on a phone or in your browser). As you click between screens, it’s easier to see how they connect and what states are needed.
4. Use a design system.
If you haven’t developed your design system by now, put this at the top of your list. A design system is your team’s North Star. Its go-to. Its ride or die. Without it, you can’t create consistency across designs.
5. Document detailed feedback in the file.
At the end of the design review, write out the feedback and any decisions made. Combat ambiguity by including details. For example, “Decided against tabs because they can’t accommodate all of our sections.”
By including documentation of the feedback, you are doing two things:
- You know exactly what was decided and why. You don’t have to go back through your notes to try and remember what you need to do. You’re saving your future self a headache!
- It creates alignment about the decisions that have been made. Remember the issue of having mixed feedback? By writing it out in the design review, everyone can track the thinking behind each decision.
High five! You just created an organized structure for design reviews that encourages collaboration, iteration, and documenting decisions.
Shape Better Design Decisions Together for a Stronger Stickier Product
Good design happens when a team of intelligent, opinionated people passes ideas and feedback back and forth. But sometimes, there are so many opinions it’s hard to find a clear direction.
One way to reduce the noise is by coming to a consensus on product design decisions together. You do this by documenting your decision-making steps and inviting your team to come along for the ride. In doing so, your team develops a deeper understanding of how you got to where you are, making connections and inferences along the way. From there, it’s easier to reach a consensus.
4 Tips for Building the Best Design Decisions
Start with the background story: How has your product evolved? Tell your product’s story by looking at previous design iterations, past user research, and a current competitive landscape analysis. Point out key takeaways from these sources, and emphasize how they influence the design. Leave room for others on your team to add their insights, for example: “I like how [our competition] does ______.”
Brainstorm the ideal user experience: Work with your team to think about critical details that would make an ideal user experience. First, review the flow as you understand it, so there’s no ambiguity left on the table. Then, note any special requirements. For example, you may find you need to design for users on multiple displays or that 80% of your users are on mobile. How do those requirements change the ideal user experience?
Document design decisions in reviews. Take notes in every review, period. And capture feedback on the fly. Some of the most useful insights may be quips and comments that you may have overlooked otherwise. Lastly, summarize the team’s decisions and list the areas that need more exploration and research.
Don’t forget about usability testing: Nothing provides more direction than inviting users to test your design. If you conduct usability testing, make sure you document any themes that surface. Then, when you review with your team, ask them what they were surprised about and note what that means for the design. Finally, bring those usability insights directly into your design work. Perhaps your results show that users didn’t understand how the product worked, prompting your team to review its onboarding process. Or you learned that a feature doesn’t add value as you imagined.
A Combination of Listening, Consistency & Documentation Tames the Chaos
To properly build decision-making, you must invite your team in and document your path. When your team participates in the rationale of how the product comes to be, they will be more invested. If they are a part of the decision-making, then they won’t feel the need to be heard (because they were!).
Likewise, when people are listened to from the get-go, they feel more respected and valued throughout the design process. Knowing they’ve been able to voice their concerns in a safe environment can free them up to focus on the task at hand, designing and building a better product.
Getting a team to band together takes consistent effort from everyone involved — and that’s on top of designing a great product that people love. Together, we could make it all happen. Let’s connect.