5 ways to break through design-by-committee

Good design speaks for itself.

Then why is it so difficult to convince non-designer of the optimal path?

It's because this is a myth and a limiting belief.

In a room full of designers with equal abilities, the best communicated idea "wins".

And the responsibility to communicate well is on you - the designer.

In fact, your ability to articulate design decisions will influence whether your culture feels like "design by committee" or an effective collaboration where you still have agency.

If you're experiencing a culture where you feel defeated or overruled by stakeholders, this is for you.

1. Stop being an author, start being a translator

One of the clearest moments of maturity in my career was when I stopped trying to be the author of the best ideas and started trying to translate the knowledge in the room into something tangible that we could use to make decisions. Not only did this mindset shift allow me to shed the part of my ego that married itself to my work, but it helped me to develop a deep appreciation for and seek out non-design expertise to leverage for stronger design ideation.

2. Adjust your vocabulary

I'm 100% guilty of using phrases like "the stakeholder swoop n' poop" or "HIPPO (highest paid person's opinion)". But as Tom Greever, author of Articulating Design Decisions, points out: comparing our stakeholders to fat animals that shit all over our work is not a healthy perspective to take to collaboration. We aren't "fighting", "winning", or "losing" - we are "serving", "facilitating", and "empowering". Adopting this approach allows you to begin the real work of empathizing with your stakeholders and what they're trying to accomplish.

3. Give people the space to talk

I will often rehearse my talking points under my breath. I'll talk myself through my decision making. It helps me to filter my ideas. You may not be the same way, but consider that many are. Give your team room to talk aloud. They may talk themselves into your proposal. Remember that they don't always have the benefit of spending the same amount of time and mental capacity to think through the problems the way you do. Do a good job of bringing them along on that journey when you go through it or give them the space to go through it themselves.

4. Respond to everything with "Yes, and..."

Psychologically, hearing the word "yes" diffuses conflict. Plus, leading with a "yes" does not mean we are agreeing with a direction. Instead, it acts as acknowledgement of voice and expertise of others in the room. This allows you to explore new ideas in the room without dismissing your own or those of other participants.

5. Use asynchronous communication

Get into a habit of creating short videos to demonstrate your work to stakeholders outside of meetings. Allow them to formulate ideas on their own time. Keep the videos 5 minutes or less, write a quick script, rehearse, use great tools like Loom or Descript. This communication style is great for giving people room to think and acts as a historical artifact or anchor for product decisions

The more time you invest into being intentional about how - and when - you communicate, the more it will start to pay for itself over time: more time for design work, less time spent on redundant meetings, healthier decisions, stronger cohesion, and a better overall product.

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