November AMA: Ask Me Anything relevant to your interests
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By Cat Lo profile image Cat Lo
5 min read

November AMA: Ask Me Anything relevant to your interests

Subscriber lead question post for November.

Last week, my dad visited me in New York for the second time in 18 years. We had a meaningful heart-to-heart about the future. In remembrance of my cousin's late husband, we held a piano recital.

(L) New Gilder Center at Museum of Natural History, (R) My dad trying to punch out AI on Oculus.

Thank you, Briana, for supporting this newsletter as a premium subscriber.

"Love reading your articles! They've been super helpful for me, really like reading about your thoughts and mini life updates. Could really relate the recent one about re-org/leadership changes"

I asked her what topics she would like to know, she sent topics of her interest. I'll respond in a brief AMA format and deep dive in the coming weeks.

Q: How do you handle vague situations & problem spaces?

Would love to read more content about how you handle different challenges. What if there was a design you've spent a lot of time on but other teams said that it wouldn't work for a certain group of people. Or maybe it's a design that's about to go out about a new feature but you're figuring out the onboarding and how to get people used to the new way things work?

Navigating ambiguous situations is an essential skill in design, and it requires a balanced approach of reflection, action, and evaluation. To stretch the muscle of dealing with ambiguous situations requires developing instinct and practice.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I need guidance on how to approach this problem?
  2. Is the issue well-defined, allowing for an autonomous approach?
  3. Can I develop a strategy and implement a process?

Three key elements are crucial for making decisions in these contexts:

  1. Critical Thinking. Prioritize thorough information gathering and analysis before making a decision. Question underlying assumptions and employ the 5 W's (Who, What, When, Where, Why) to identify the core issue.
  2. Emotional Intelligence. How much do you know about yourself vs others? Do you understand your partners, managers, peers, what they are faced with and why?
  3. Consultation and Autonomy: While it's beneficial to seek advice from trusted sources, the ultimate decision should be yours. Try to challenge your own assumptions and ideas by consulting others, but make the final call independently.

Designers should allocate up to 50% of project time to accurately define the problem, understand why it needs solving, and assess its worth. If feedback indicates that the design won't meet certain use cases, consider whether you've overlooked a specific user group that could be the design's target. Don't hesitate to question the relevancy and scope of your project.

As for my personal approach, my attitude is that everybody is an idiot. While leadership may have greater experience, I stand by my convictions until proven otherwise. I disagree and commit to decisions, but I'd put up a solid case. When I know that the other party doesn't understand, I don't ask for permission to provide clarity.

Q: I've always been a solo designer, how and when to advocate?

I still struggle with saying no to projects or trying to convince people that one design is better than another. I feel like I don't really have the seniority and I'm not sure how to get buy in from other people?

Advocacy in a design role, boils down to building trust and influence. Trust is not handed to you, but earned. To build trust:

  1. Be Reliable: Consistency is key. Always deliver what you promise. This establishes a track record that people can trust.
  2. Know Your Worth: Identify the unique skills and perspectives you bring to the team. Keep an updated list of your contributions and don't hesitate to share these in appropriate settings.
  3. Communicate Effectively: Tailor your communication style to your audience. Avoid jargon when talking to people outside your field. Timing, setting, and evidence are crucial when you're trying to persuade.
  4. Demonstrate Competence: Excellence in your work speaks volumes. When you consistently produce high-quality work, you earn the right to be heard. Build relationships with allies and colleagues who can vouch for your contributions.

I recommend reading Articulating Design Decisions, it speaks to understanding your audience, defending without being defensive, and how to speak with clarity and confidence.

Gaining buy-in when you don't have formal authority can be challenging but it's not impossible. If you lack the power to directly influence the project's direction, focus on building a coalition of supporters for your ideas. My previous posts discuss this concept of 'influence without authority' in greater detail.

Remember, your aim is to gain influence through a combination of trust, skill, and effective communication. Once you’ve built that foundation, advocating for yourself and your designs becomes a more manageable task. 😃

Q: How do designers and different teams come together to create a cohesive design experience?

How to avoid repeat work, if teams end up working on the same things, and if similar solutions were created, how do they decide which one to move forward with?

They don't. Kidding. Not. 😤

Collaboration across teams is indeed challenging, often fraught with friction and office politics. However, it's crucial aspect for creating a cohesive design experience.

  1. Define Roles Clearly: Utilize a RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) to clarify roles and responsibilities before the project starts. A well-defined RACI chart helps set expectations, thereby minimizing chaos and overlap.
  2. Prioritization Framework: Deciding which design to move forward with should be based on a consistent framework that everyone agrees on. Is your organization data-driven, or does it rely on the Highest Paid Person's Opinion (HiPPO)? Knowing this can help you tailor your arguments and solutions accordingly.
  3. Effective Communication: Understanding your audience is key. Different stakeholders may require different styles of communication. The mantra should be "Be bright, be brief, be gone," focusing on conveying your message as clearly and quickly as possible while respecting other people's time and input.
  4. Manage Politics: It's important to recognize the interpersonal dynamics and power structures at play. Skillfully navigating these can help you gain the buy-in you need to move your designs forward.
highest paid person opinion hippo

Q: How designers collaborate with research and use it to defend design decisions?

How does research impact design & product decisions? How it's used / how it influences product decisions? What happens when a design goes out and research shows that it's not performing as expected, how do they use the new data to pivot?

Discovery research brings qualitative and quantitative data to clarify the problem statement. It brings insight to the why and what users do. When I write research reports, they are written with recommendations and ranking of the biggest opportunities with actionable insights.

Validation testing/research is about a particular design implementation, testing how successful it is against a defined criterion. ie. I want to increase the click-through rate of this page, our goal is from 20-30%. Our first test, it only went up by 5%. How will we get the additional 15%? You'd experiment with different designs!

The value of research, is how it's tied to design decisions. Design influences product by designing the future north star vision, driven by the results from research, and get partners thinking beyond the current state. The ability to influence partners to align and inspired to your future designs relies on your skills to execute, and understanding of the business.

P.S. Did you know my topics are provided by readers like you? Hit "reply" if you want me to address a question or send feedback!

By Cat Lo profile image Cat Lo
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