Part 1 of this series detailed some of the stresses around UX design meetings, how they are different from other meetings and my bout with a disorder known as Imposter Syndrome. Be sure to check out that article if you haven’t read it at: Are you an impostor at work?
In this article, I’ll provide six tips for getting through these design meetings – a UX meeting survival guide, if you will. You can use these tips as a way to move forward in iterating a design and, in some instances, just to get yourself started in the design process.
Establish the problem. Design is about solving problems. Figure out what the problem is and how the interface or product you develop will solve that problem. Unpacking this will generally lead to other problems that need solved and will most assuredly lead to richer information and your own increased understanding of the industry and the user. I can’t count how many times I have gone to an initial meeting where the stakeholder simply informs me they need a website. In each and every instance, as I would dig into the reasoning behind this need, I would discover a multitude of problems. What you will find most often is you are like Sherlock Holmes or Dick Tracy seeking clues and solving a mystery. The stakeholder usually does not know what the problem is. They rely on you to ferret that information out of them. Their pain point (or problem) – while they may know what it is – may not be easy for them to articulate. That is where good “interview techniques” come into play.
Ask questions – even when they are dumb and especially when you think you know the answer. Language is elusive and can mean different things to different people. I have been in meetings where the entire room walked out and I later discovered we all had very different interpretations of what was said in the meeting. This happens because language, ideas and concepts are naturally filtered through our world and professional experiences. This is why you should employ a tactic used in journalism and education where you repeat back what a person said or “teach back” what was said in order to extrapolate true meanings. So if a client states the interface should have a day, week and month view, dig deeper into that by repeating back to them what you heard and asking them about each individual view. Ensure you understand what problem this will solve and take copious notes. You may not absorb everything in the first meeting – especially if you work in healthcare like I do.
A picture is worth a thousand words. (A video is worth ten thousand words.) It is natural to go through several meetings talking over a software solution. But, you can shorten the number of meetings by sketching quick interfaces and talking through them with the stakeholders or people close enough to the project who will know. Showing a picture to someone breaks down the barriers we have in language and helps us get to a common tongue. You figure out really quick what you are thinking the interface should do and look like and what the other person is thinking. Gaps are quickly discovered and you can move forward in the iteration. Don’t spend a lot of time in software at this stage. Use pencil and paper or a whiteboard to sketch out ideas (see below). No one reacts to requirements. They will react to design. But, once you begin to solidify your ideas, create a prototype and record it. A “screencast” with a working prototype will truly break down communication barriers. I have found great success showing the interactions. I’ll post more on this in a future article when I cover UX specifications. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth ten-thousand.
The design is not you. Sure, it’s your idea and you put a lot of hours into it. But, it is not you the client is critiquing. Having your ideas critiqued can sting. But, if you can check your ego at the door and understand that not all ideas (or designs) will be winners right out of the gate, it will be easier to get through harsh critiques. I always go into a meeting and open it by stating: “We have an initial design and set of concepts we’d like to present for your feedback. We need to figure out what we got right and what we will need to change. Can you help us?” (Notice I use the word “we” and not “I.”) Go into the meeting with that attitude and you’ll find that you are able to listen in a detached way and are better able to iterate your design.
Requirements are not meant to be understood. So don’t feel bad. They are written from a different perspective and will sound foreign to you. Figuring out how to wade through them involves sketching out your interpretation and showing it to others. Or, just spend a lot of time at the whiteboard. Which brings me to…
Use the white board copiously and use it early in the design process. Fail fast and do it early. The best way to do this with design is to sketch out ideas. Run around to people’s desks with a white pad of paper and a pencil if you have to. But, the best way to ensure you are on the same page with your clients or stakeholders is to begin sketching early in the process to align your mental model with what is required. This also saves you a lot of time building complex designs using something like Axure or Adobe and gives you an opportunity solidify a design before making the time investment required to build wireframes and prototypes.
So there you have it – six ways to survive your first design meetings. You may not smooth out all of the bumps, but if you keep these things in mind, it will lessen your grief as you move through design projects. Use these tips and pick up a copy of Olivia Fox Cabane’s book, Charisma Myth while you’re at it. This book helped me push through a lot of difficult meetings and gives you tools to deal with difficult situations.