Becoming a leader in product design requires a lot more than stellar design craftsmanship. Communication is the other part of the equation. So says Meghan Schofield, a creative director at Google whose team designs, builds and maintains customer experience centers for the company.
According to Meghan, “a really big and important part of our job as designers, creative directors, and people in this world is being able to communicate and to take in feedback.” But it’s equally important to note that good communication isn’t just essential when it comes to feedback and reviews. Meghan notes that excellent communication is a necessary part of day-to-day design collaboration, too.
“I'm one of those people who really likes to work things out with some input,” she says. “I don't want to be that person in the corner that comes up with this big thing and then reveals it. I am an iterator.”
So what makes for a well-rounded design communicator? Here are some tips that will help you all the way through the design process.
What’s in a review? Differentiating formal feedback from everyday collaboration
There's formal feedback and then there's informal reviews, and a whole host of other conversations, discussions, and meetings in between. That’s a natural part of any process. But to prevent your conversations from derailing your progress, every designer needs to know how to drive group discussions effectively.
Throughout the lifecycle of a project, you’ll likely have a range of meetings at various frequencies.
Meghan’s typical list of design meetings include:
- Daily team syncs and standups
- Weekly design team meetings
- Weekly cross-functional team meetings
- Stakeholder review meetings (usually scheduled at project milestones)
For the meetings that are fewer and farther between, such as stakeholder review meetings, you’ll need to really master how to set the right context for meeting attendees and avoid the pitfalls of digressions and distractions.
“We need them to understand what we’re building for them, on their behalf, so we really need to have our [business partners’] brains in the process,” says Meghan. Remember, the first set of clients you have to pass your designs through are your internal ones.
Formal review meetings aside, the process of design means that things are perpetually in review. So, to be an effective communicator in all of these scenarios, you need to learn how to drive these conversations.
When hosting and facilitating any kind of meeting or discussion, Meghan says to pay attention to two core elements: your invite list (who’s the necessary audience for this conversation?) and your set up (how will you set the context for this conversation so that it’s maximally productive?).
“We're not just designing the product, we're designing the process for people engaging with us in these reviews. You have to be cognizant of who you’re bringing to the table and making sure the time spent is productive,” says Meghan. “And for some people, a select amount of designs is smart, because they're not designers. They don't think like we do. But then for other people, being really open about your work is probably important.”
Avoiding “design by committee”
Design leadership is also a practice in confidence (not arrogance, confidence). “I would say it's really important to establish yourself as the trusted advisor in the room,” says Meghan. Take charge of your meetings and find a way to establish your authority, “or it can easily get out of hand.”
That includes reigning in stakeholder feedback. “We have a thing that we use in our team called a stakeholder feedback tracker,” she says. “I write down everything the stakeholder tells me and then assign it a priority. It doesn't mean that we're going to change the plans, but it shows that it’s been written down.”
The number one thing not to do? Don’t get defensive over your designs. “Take the curious, open stance with anybody who is in that room with you so that it doesn't devolve into everybody throwing in their own color scheme – and now you have a rainbow and it doesn't make sense for your problem,” says Meghan.
When possible, work in the open
Asynchronous work is a boon for product designers. It lets you share where you’re at in the process and allow others to peek in, which may mean a little less explaining (ideally).
Naturally, Meghan uses Google tools most often, but she shared that her main format for sharing ideas asynchronously is the ever simple slide deck. “I do a lot of sketching early on in particular and then I screenshot it and put it in a slide deck so that people can see,” she says.
“I think an important element of working in the open is having confidence and humility as a designer to be able to take in some feedback, while also holding your opinions strongly, but not preciously.”
Best practices for remote design reviews
Unlike many who found themselves foisted into a new virtual world since the start of the pandemic, Meghan has worked on global teams for years, so she’s not new to the concept of remote design reviews.
Like any other meeting, knowing how to control and curtail potential distractions is key to keeping a review meeting on track. When it comes to virtual meetings, Meghan says you’ll need to brush up on skills like:
- Practice putting your pointer in the right place when speaking and screen sharing, so that attendees can follow what you’re saying
- Make slide decks visually interesting and simple; avoid reams of text as everyone reads at different speeds
- Put in a little extra effort to be animated or speak in an engaging way so that your message doesn’t fall flat
- When appropriate, ask everyone to post their favorite emoji at the end of the call so that you enjoy yourselves a friendly emoji party and celebrate a job well done
I would be inclined to propose that we, as designers, actually, spend a significant amount of time, not designing, but in fact communicating, reviewing, justifying and defending.
Meghan Schofield | Experience Design Manager and Creative Strategist at Google
It’s clear from Meghan’s ample experience that good communication and collaboration are both processes that designers must learn to design for themselves.
“I would be inclined to propose that we, as designers, actually, spend a significant amount of time, not designing, but in fact communicating, reviewing, justifying and defending,” Meghan says.
“It’s important to find [design] folks who understand the importance of design thinking and being the creative, trusted partner in the room, as well as running a process, being able to keep people focused, being able to facilitate discussion – all of the other things we’ve talked about here.”
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring snippets from Same Page — our event series that explores the design process. Explore In the Margin to see full-length recordings and more content on the design process.