Designing for Suits


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This presentation was given at the Web Directions South '09 Conference.

during the preso I showed some videos. they're uploaded here:
PART 1 -
PART 2 -
PART 3 -

Description from the conference material:
Designing websites in amongst the "suits" and their business models, targets, projections and synergies (ha!) can be death by dot point. or fun.
What are manager types actually thinking when they brief (or don't) you. How do you translate their KPI's into interface designs that...

a) get their point across & achieve their targets
b) contribute to a profitable business, and
c) are easy to use (who would have thought the users get a say! ;-)

Pete gets on their case (may contain potentially funny video interviews) to find out what they're thinking.

* (otherwise know as managers/clients. i just like the billy walsh character in entourage)

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  • Hiya, theres notes for each slide hidden in the Notes tab up there...including links to videos that were played as part of the preso

    enjoy... Pete
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  • *** Apologies for using Arial. Looks hideous. I used Helvetica Rounded Bold in the presentation at Web Directions ‘09. But it wouldn’t embed properly in Powerpoint. So, thus, I give you, Arial. *** Heya, I’m Pete Ottery. I’m a designer at News Digital Media in Sydney. Clarify “Designing” - this sessions is not a photoshop tutorial. Clarify “Suits” - managers, clients, executives, essentially someone that is a bigger fish than you, with no design background.
  • I got the term "suits" from the TV show Entourage - where the outrageous film director Billy Walsh detests the film studio "suits". highly recommended.
  • Now, a short story to kick things off. Years ago i was a young spritely designer (at a company that will go unnamed) looking after a team of designers and we had a "reshuffle" in management, i think it was due to...
  • … “ Synergy”, or it may have been...
  • ...or maybe "rightsizing", and I found myself with a manager that didn't really know the specifics of web design. I was used to having a boss that had a creative background, and this person did not. The team was in a bit or disarray, I was stressed and had stuff that I wanted this manager to sort out.
  • She said her management approach was about me needing to "manage up". She wasn't going to manage me or actively help the team. It was my duty to sort stuff out myself, and if i couldn't, and as a bit of a last resort, then take it to her.In short, I was furious. I felt like I had been dropped in the deep end, and I was wondering what was in this managers job description, if it wasn't helping me.I was venting to my older/wiser brother about it, he's a bit of a suit himself at a large bank, looking after IT infrastructure etc, and over the years I've got a lot of good advice from him.I told him how I couldn't believe that they'd put someone in charge that didn't even know what CSS stood for, had no idea what the difference between fixed width and fluid was, and thought a spinning flash version of our logo could be a good idea, about the "manage up" farce. I was livid. I asked him what he thought.
  • He said "I probably would have told you the same thing“ That kind’ve rattled me a bit, but when its your brother, you’ve got to listen.He asked me what her responsibilities were. ok, well there was a multimillion dollar merger going on, a network rebranding exercise, she's also looking after another bigger team as well as ours since that reshuffle.It started to dawn on me that I had thought she should dedicate about 30% of her time to me, when it was actually more like 3%.And as i was a bit jaded by the restructure, I wanted to throw lists of dot points at her of stuff I was dealing with, and problems for her to solve. I guess I was trying to prove how much of a hole I was in, and "teach her a lesson". Maybe I'd even get another resource out of it.I was in effect, taking my problems to her.and then my brother said something that I've never forgotten.
  • At that point I started thinking a bit more strategically. I changed my approach to dealing with managers, the "suits", to work out what they need, rather than what I want.
  • Now, that doesn't mean just being a subservient ass kisser. It just means being a bit smarter about doing your work. Knowing which buttons to push to get the outcome you want.Now, I know theres a lot of smart people in the room. I questioned whether this preso was needed - but I don’t think any of us are perfect
  • I looked at historical news data - note the increase in “stupid manager”. Is google news archives a good test of getting a generational viewpoint?
  • But yes, there is some sense in these graphs. Note the rise in “teenage drinking” around the free love/swinging 60’s, then the out of control mentions in the last 20 years
  • 1 tool that is amazing for putting your finger on the pulse of the internet all at once is fact, the idea for this presentation came from reading design blogs, and eavesdropping on twitter.Design, particularly web design, must be one of the jobs that is most neatly aligned with the explosion that is, the internet. Meaning, if youre a web designer, you're all over the internet, and we're all reading each others "99 tips to being a better designer", "300" resources to become a photoshop master, etc etc. So we're all swimming around in each others regurgitated do's and dont's lists. We have a job that has a steep learning curve. There's a million things to be aware of, browser support, colour contrast, grids.My theory is, We have an industry that has a great pride in what it does, but I think we also have an industry (and this is the first of my massive generalizations, so grain of salt etc) that thinks its sh!t doesn't stink. If we come up against a client or manager that isn't into our designs, or what we have to say, we immediately think its them, not us. After all, we've read the "99 tips to being a better designer" blogpost.I know this because I eavesdrop on twitter.
  • Heres the last 8 weeks worth of searching for these terms on twitter... Anyway - completely unscientific, and a bit of fun. The basic point I wanted to make with this was - if you dug into all these little rants - I'd tip there'd be a fair share of "suits" that weren't the problem. The designers are falling short.So how are they falling short...?
  • When I was initially thinking about this presentation, I started thinking about the points I could make, and maybe use some examples & talk about my experiences with managers. What I've found that works, and what doesn't. But I figured that would just be my opinion. So I thought it would be cool to hear it straight from the people in question. Interview some managers about what they think about design and designers. Personally, I was also interested to hear what they said when they weren't in the middle of a project.
  • So I interviewed 4 managers. Managers I've worked with previously that I felt were really good at what they did.
  • And then I thought it would also be cool to talk to some other designers as well. To get some other views and approaches into the mix.
  • So the rest of this presentation is in 3 sections. I asked questions based loosly around what could be considered to be 3 basic parts of the design process... - The brief.- The middle bit - doing work.- Feedback.I've got some videos for each of those parts, and then I'll have some takeout points that I collected.
  • Video that was played at this point:
  • 1. in amongst budgets & meetings, design is a fun part of their job and - 2. they have an idea of how good you are and will provide a brief accordingly (perhaps long and detailed for a newbie, or short and to the point for a senior)
  • My personal experience with briefs, and I've been "client-side" for a while now, working inside a large organization, so these ideas may differ if youre in an agency:A formatted document with templated questions is needed when youre a junior-mid level, and is required experience so that you can throw it away when you move to a senior level. This is a visual design brief I'm talking about - on a large project you would likely still want to retain a "functional spec" or similar. I think written briefs are too often used as an ass covering device - when what is really needed is a face to face talk in the most relaxed mode you can get them. over a coffee is perfect. take notes and distribute the notes back to them a day later. Resist the urge to "Educate the Client". Unless they ask for it, now is probably not a good time to launch into a lecture on grids, white-space, standards etc. You should be the one educating yourself on their business, how they've stayed afloat and managed to employ you, and how you can contribute to nailing some of the problems they have. If you gain one thing out of a kickoff meeting or trying to get a brief of sorts, its to earn their trust. If its a new relationship, you arent entitled to their trust, it needs to be earned. You can earn trust by displaying how interested you are in THEIR work, and how you can contribute to solving their problems. You won't earn trust by putting the focus on you - & talking about how awesome your grid layouts are, or how light the code will be using CSS (even if you know they will end up liking that stuff)
  • Video that was played at this point:
  • So from the managers the majors points I got were:They all respect the influence of good quality design, and that awareness of quality seems to be growing. They like to be included in the process & initial concepts. I agree, It can be difficult for a designer to show early concepts - but if you present them in that light "these are early concepts" - you'll buy some more trust by including them in that process
  • And from the designers the major points I got were:Designers block is common. Its nice to know I'm not the only one that gets stuck every now and again. Reducing the choices given seems to be the favoured route - perhaps showing the path you followed to get there. These guys recognise the need to address the project objectives first when presenting designs
  • If I had anything to add here it would tease out a bit more detail of that last point.And this is really crux of my whole presentation.setting aside photoshop & tools for a minute and just looking at our own personality and attitudeHR departments sometimes put employees through these self assessment/improvement courses.
  • One that I was introduced to years ago involved "DISC profiling" - published by a guy called William Marston in about 1928.
  • The basic gist was, people generally have a personality style that predominantly falls into 1 of 4 quadrants. Based on what quadrant the person is in themselves, you can then work out how to best interact with this type of With DOMINANT people, focus on facts & ideas rather than people. With INFLUENTIAL people, listen to them talk about their ideas, dont spend too much time on details etc etcNow, day to day, I can't remember which quadrant is which, and which personalities react to what - but the important lesson to learn here is that ...
  • You can adjust your delivery to suit the suit.Its basically "put yourself in their shoes". but go deeper than that. modify your behaviour to suit theirs. work out what they want out of each step. ie: 1) it might be early days and theyre just doubting yr skills & ability to deliver on time, so give them some examples of something you may have done previously & exactly how long it took. 2) it might be they're concerned about the time & budget blowing out so give them a dated plan with milestones showing when you'll expect to have stuff done by, and what deliverables you'll supply 3) Managers are all over this type of approach - DISC profiling - so they respond well if they know you are actively trying to improve communication. Literally tell them you are happy to adjust your approach to suit theirs. Again, this is not a lesson in "Becoming an ass kisser". Its just being smart & open about how you work. Remove problems that they may have. If you're going to be working with these people on a project for weeks or months, you may aswell make life easy for yourself.
  • Video played at this point:
  • The main points I got out of that was around taking feedback personally. Designers trying not to, and managers wishing we didn't.I'll note Andy was the only designer there that said he didn't take feedback personally. I have a theory on this, and that is, at the time this was shot, Andy was the only designer that was also a parent. Jewels has since had a little girl, but Andy had a little boy, Sam, about 7 years ago. When that happened, I definitely noticed that Andy became razor sharp as a designer. More focussed, pragmatic and more efficient with the time he had available. So perhaps thats a reason for everyone to go out and have kids. I'm interested to see if anything happens with me.
  • further reading... DISC profiling ( ) Article - Design Observer: Ten Graphic Design Paradoxes (
  • A serious thank you to all the managers and designers that agreed to be in the videos. Its no small contribution, and I really thank you for pitching in.
  • Designing for Suits

    1. 1. Designing for Suits. (Or how Suits think)
    2. 3. A short story.
    3. 4. Synergy.
    4. 5. Down RightSizing. ™
    5. 6. “ Manage Up”
    6. 7. He said: “ I probably would have told you the same thing”
    7. 8. “ The best thing to do here is actually the opposite of what you’re doing.” “ Remove problems for her.”
    8. 9. “ Even if they’re not one of your problems to begin with.”
    9. 10. “ Be someone that removes problems, instead of adding them, & you’ll get a licence to do whatever you want.” “ Don’t be surprised if they promote you.”
    10. 11. Work out what they need. Rather than what you want.
    11. 12. (Not a) Subservient Ass Kisser ™
    12. 13. Search for... “ stupid manager”
    13. 14. Search for... “ teenage drinking”
    14. 17. ?
    15. 18. The Suits.
    16. 19. John Allan CEO Darren Burden Director of News & Sport Fairfax Digital Gloria Poulakis General Manager Nick Leeder COO News Digital Media
    17. 20. The Designers.
    18. 21. Andy Coffey Art Director - Sport C4 Jewels Miller Senior Designer Isobar Simon Wright Art Director
    19. 22. <ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Intros / The Brief. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>The Middle Bit. ie: Work </li></ul><ul><li>Feedback. </li></ul>
    20. 23. <ul><ul><ul><li>WATCH THE VIDEO… </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Intros / The Brief. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    21. 24. <ul><ul><ul><li>Key points from The Suits: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This is a fun part of their job </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>They’re adjusting their approach based on the designers capability </li></ul></ul></ul>
    22. 25. <ul><ul><ul><li>From The Designers: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Recognising they are expected to fill in the blanks </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Actively trying to extract the relevant bits to get started </li></ul></ul></ul>
    23. 26. <ul><ul><ul><li>In my experience: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A brief template is good in the early days </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Good briefs are done over coffee </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Resist “Educating the client” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Earn their trust </li></ul></ul></ul>
    24. 27. <ul><ul><ul><li>WATCH THE VIDEO… </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The Middle Bit. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(Otherwise known as Work) </li></ul></ul></ul>
    25. 28. <ul><ul><ul><li>Key points from The Suits: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>They respect the influence of good quality design </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>They like being included in the process & seeing early concepts </li></ul></ul></ul>
    26. 29. <ul><ul><ul><li>From The Designers: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Designers block is common </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Reduce the options given </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Address the project objectives first when presenting </li></ul></ul></ul>
    27. 30. <ul><ul><ul><li>DISC Profiling </li></ul></ul></ul>
    28. 31. William Moulton Marston Ph.D. 1893-1947
    29. 32. High D = Active in dealing with problems and challenges. They are: demanding, egocentric, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D = Want to do more research before committing to a decision. They are: conservative, cooperative, calculating, cautious, agreeable, modest and peaceful. High I = Influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are: convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, trusting, and optimistic. Low I = Influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are: reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical. High C = Adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. They are: careful, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful. Low C = Challenge the rules and want independence. They are: self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and careless with details. High S = Want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. They are: calm, patient, possessive, predictable, consistent, poker faced. Low S = Like change and variety. They are: restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive. D Dominance I Influence S Steadiness C Conscientious
    30. 33. Adjust your delivery to suit The Suit.
    31. 34. <ul><ul><ul><li>WATCH THE VIDEO… </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The Feedback. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    32. 35. <ul><ul><ul><li>Key point: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Taking feedback personally. Designers trying not to, and Suits wishing we didn’t. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    33. 36. <ul><ul><ul><li>The Summary </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Remove problems, & Suits will be quick to assess you as valuable. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Adjust your approach to suit The Suit </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Be proactive, positive & genuine with your communication </li></ul></ul></ul>
    34. 37. <ul><ul><ul><li>Further Reading </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>DISC profiling </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Article Design Observer: Ten Graphic Design Paradoxes </li></ul></ul></ul>
    35. 38. <ul><ul><ul><li>Contact/Feedback </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>twitter @c41 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>website </li></ul></ul></ul>
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