On Defending Your Designs

3 steps to answering questions about your solutions

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I was sitting at my desk drawing portraits of Don Norman on Post-its (as ya do) when I got asked the most random question. We have one of those little survey things on our website at CareerFoundry and people that are interested in our courses ask us basic questions about design. Here’s one we got today:

Q: How do I answer questions like, “Why did you choose to design it this way instead of another way?” or, “how did you end up with that design solution?”

It was so brave and honest. My feeling is that this is a question that many people are probably too afraid to ask. I decided to throw together a little listicle because I know y’all love those…

1. Refocus their inquiry on the problem

When asked how you arrived at a design solution, always start with the problem. This will help clarify why you did what you did and refocus the conversation around the original reason for the project.

Ninety percent of misunderstandings around deliverables happen because people never agreed on which problem needs to be solved. Say it loud and say it often: 👏 What’s 👏 the 👏 problem 👏 we’re 👏 trying 👏 to 👏 solve? 👏

2. Walk them through your process

The simplest strategy for defense is a good explanation. If you’re a beginner, you may not really have a process, and the sheer thought of describing a design process might make you sweat through your ironic t-shirt. Don’t fret, just talk about what was interesting to you about the project. People like to hear people talk about stuff they’re excited about.

If you walk them through your process in a way that’s easy to follow, that’s usually enough to satisfy a curious stakeholder. If you really know your process, and you can match a narrative about the user’s needs to the stakeholder’s needs then congratulations because you’re a fucking wizard. Afterward, they may even start championing the idea on your behalf. Technically, that makes them your hype man.

3. Allow space in your defense for improvements

Defending your design doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let any feedback get through your defenses. You should always be on the lookout for ways to improve. Feedback is what makes the dreamback…🤔

When people question you about your design, they’re interested in your work (which is like, half the battle at most companies). These curious users are in a unique position to point out flaws or blind spots that you may have missed so roll out the red carpet and cherish them like they’re your only surviving grandma.

TL;DR: Don’t defend…demystify

If you’ve been paying attention so far, then you may have noticed that defending a design has very little to do with actually defending. That’s because when people ask how you came up with a design, they’re not attacking you.

People usually ask these questions out of curiosity, not concern. They’re probably just intrigued by your design magic and want to know what’s up your wizard sleeve. Unlike magicians, designers should reveal the secrets behind their tricks. Take it as an opportunity to demystify the design process and strengthen your designs through some spur-of-the-moment feedback.