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Designing Without Compromise

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‘Compromise’ is the worst word in design. We value elegance, simplicity, and vision. But if we’re working with stakeholders, there are always differences of opinion, give-and-take, and conflicts. So, do we have to choose between being arseholes or being mediocre? This talk will share some stories and techniques about how to do work you’re proud of and still look at yourself in the mirror.

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Designing Without Compromise

  1. 1. Designing without compromise @gilescolborne
  2. 2. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne As a designer, what i seek is simplicity. i mean the kind of elegant simplicity where there’s a clarity of purpose. The designed object (or interaction, or service) speaks to the user with a consistent, clear, single-minded voice. Simplicity Always seems radical because it is rare.
  3. 3. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne More often we have a mish-mash of ideas. Different voices trying to speak at once. ‘design’ ends up being about gluing the bits together.
  4. 4. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne We know the causes… A senior stakeholder seagulls into a meeting and demands a feature gets included. Poop! A business analyst gathers a long list of requirements from stakeholders and ranks them according to a score. Design that! A couple of managers sit in on a design meeting and decide they should each contribute one idea. One each is fair, right? Maybe you’ve bitched about situations like that in the past…
  5. 5. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne Some designers turn into hand grenades, tossed into meetings and ready to explode in a tantrum. Not a good look. But What’s the alternative? Muddling through at the expense of your integrity? Leaving the meeting feeling like you’ve let yourself down? What an awful choice.
  6. 6. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne For me each of those situations has one thing in common: a failure to deal with conflict. as Tyler Durden says in ‘Fight Club’, most people will do anything to avoid A fight. Even, it turns out, give up on their principles.
  7. 7. @gilescolborne Some people see conflict differently. Chris Voss is a former Fbi hostage negotiator. He doesn’t like compromise either. He points out that you can’t compromise with kidnappers. “i’ll pay you half the ransom, you half-kill the hostages” doesn’t really work.
  8. 8. @gilescolborne So he’s interested in dealing with conflict. in fact, He says you should look forward to the moment the other side says ‘no’. Only then do you get to do your most creative work.
  9. 9. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne So this isn’t about fighting. This is about Constructive conflict. Constructive conflict leads to Agreement, clarity, speaking with one voice. simplicity.
  10. 10. @gilescolborne The skilful leader subdues the enemy without any fighting. Sun Tzu, The Art of War Sun tzu points out that you can have conflict without fighting - if you’re skilful. Skill comes from practice and preparation.
  11. 11. @gilescolborne That’s why we have ‘discover’ phases at the start of design projects. They’re not for reading background documents. They’re for drawing up your battle plan.
  12. 12. @gilescolborne Start with yourself But preparation should start closer to home. We all carry some personal baggage into conflict. Past experiences. we walk into the room feeling angry, or anxious, or intimidated. The most important preparation is mastering those feelings.
  13. 13. @gilescolborne Do you sound like An angry or sarcastic parent? An anxious or naughty child? recognise your emotions, but don’t dwell on them. instead, choose to be creative! Ask yourself: Why might a reasonable person acT as they do? when you’re ready, You’ll be able to ask questions as one adult to another. you’ll be curious about finding answers. listen to the stories you tell yourself about the people you’re facing. Start with yourself
  14. 14. @gilescolborne For a specific project, my goals may be different or just more specific. But understanding my goals, and the reasons behind them, helps me recognise when those things are being compromised. You should also think about what you’re really trying to achieve. what are your goals? For example, i want the design to be ‘Simple’. i want that because clarity of purpose makes things better for the user. making things better for the user makes for better business.
  15. 15. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne Finally, it’s important to know when you’re undermining yourself by being perfectionist. educational psychologist Carol dwek points out that, in the long run, people who focus on improving achieve more than those who aim for perfection. Your goal isn’t to ‘design what’s perfect’. You want to maximise improvement. that’s what you should be going in to discuss.
  16. 16. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne Goal setting like This isn’t the same as compromise. Bad compromises are about avoiding conflict by giving up on something that matters. this is about making sure you set yourself realistic targets so you can focus.
  17. 17. @gilescolborne Once you’ve got yourself in the right mindset, you’re ready to think about the people you’re dealing with. constructive conflict, requires trust. Trust makes it okay to explore disagreements. One way to build trust is to recognise shared goals. it’s also a good way to explore the motivations of the other person. So ask about their goals. Ask ‘why?’ and look for the higher goal. Sooner or later, you’ll find a place of agreement and trust.
  18. 18. @gilescolborne@gilescolborne For me, that’s the real value of user centred design. Bring a group of stakeholders into a room to watch a user test and you can often feel the tension of interdepartmental conflicts. But as they watch the user test, they align. Silos break down. They realise they all want to help the user.
  19. 19. @gilescolborne Exploring goals also builds trust because it encourages you to listen deeply to the other person. Listening is respectful. it builds trust by showing you care. Summarising what you’ve heard also helps in two ways. it reinforces that you want to listen, and it gives the other person a chance to clarify any complex points. Now you can explore points of disagreement. ‘We both want X, so i’m curious about y.’ remember, bring curiosity, not opposition.
  20. 20. @gilescolborne What about this is important to you? How did we get to this point? How do we solve this? How am I supposed to accomplish that? Anything else? questions like these help you explore disagreement with curiosity. They also get you working together on a solution-The essence of creative conflict.
  21. 21. @gilescolborne One more thing. No matter how tempting, Don’t take silence for Agreement. Silence often means someone is sitting on concerns or hasn’t understood. it means trouble later. You want a decision, or clarity on how a decision will be made.
  22. 22. @gilescolborne What’s it like in practice? WEll… A colleague of mine was working on an ecommerce site. the ultimate seagull manager - one of the most senior people in the company - kept popping up in meetings changing the colour of buttons to black. His subordinates were all rather afraid of him. instead of confronting him they tried agreeing to turn bits of the design black - and made jokes about it behind his back, like naughty children. BUY
  23. 23. @gilescolborne My colleague realised she was getting drawn into Parent- child behaviour and she needed to step out of that. So she focussed on shared goals - a site that worked for the users and refreshed the brand. Then she asked him - i can see you’re not happy with the design direction. what’s the real problem here? BUY He said - haven’t you seen our competitor? They’re modern, simple.
  24. 24. @gilescolborne So it wasn’t really the colour scheme that he cared about, it was the feeling of being modern and simple. They talked about what it meant to be modern and simple and agreed that was what they both wanted. Then they talked about colours… …and how they needed to be on brand. And how the website needed to match the stores. And how much a rebrand would cost… BUY
  25. 25. @gilescolborne She asked him what to do. He said ‘make it modern and simple, but stick to the brand.’ And after that, the problem of the black and white colour went away. simple as that. Sometimes conflict is like that. Once we make it easy to talk about what we want, and why, we learn something important and the conflict goes away. BUY
  26. 26. @gilescolborne ALSO: BUY MY BOOK! So… Conflict is the point of maximum creativity. recognise how you feel about conflict. Ask ‘why might the other person behave like this?’ and Decide to be curious. Listen, and discuss shared goals. And use clever questions to co- create solutions. Simple.
  27. 27. @gilescolborne The skilful leader subdues the enemy without any fighting. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  28. 28. Thank you! @gilescolborne

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