Invision is writing a piece on the design team at Sprout Social, and they asked us to answer some questions about design and how we work at Sprout. I wanted to post my answers here as well since most of them probably won’t make it into the finished piece.

What’s your best advice for designers who are the only designer at the org, or even designers who can’t seem to get buy-in from executives?

The best way to get buy in is to give others no reason not to buy in. Do the due diligence of research, testing, and building before you go to bat for your ideas. Talk to people one-on-one and try to understand their hesitations to being on board with your idea. Once you know the problem, you can chase solutions.

Do other teams (like marketing, engineering, etc.) there use design thinking or any design methodologies/skills?

Every person at Sprout that touches any aspect of the product is a designer. Engineers think about how to design scalable systems so that they can realize new features. The education team designs resources and methods to teach users how to best take advantage of the product.

Our responsibility as designers is to realize that everyone here at the org designs in some way, and sometimes they need help in understanding the best way to design effectively to solve whatever problem they are tasked with. We can’t hold design as a practice hostage, as if it’s only for the select few. We need to give away our tools and knowledge so that everyone can get better.

How can we all give better design feedback?

When giving feedback, try as hard as you can not to be prescriptive about the solution. If you’re thinking in terms of the how, you might be missing important details in the why of the problem.

I like to try to create a common foundation for feedback by framing it in a standard way:

The objectives for a product are to…

1. Reach its goals…
2. For the given audiences (personas)…
3. By creating a design with the right behaviors and characteristics (principles)…
4. To produce the desired experience when used in the applicable contexts (scenarios)

Imagine you’re having a heart-to-heart with a young designer. Give her 5-10 pieces of your very best advice.

  1. Start your process with words. Design is about communication, and writing is the purest form of that.
  2. A picture says a thousand words. If you can create a great solution with writing, you’re on track to producing an even better visual design.
  3. Just as writers edit their words, go back and edit your designs. Remove unnecessary flourishes and distill the design into the purest form of itself.
  4. Understand that when you’re designing software, you can’t design an experience for a user because you can’t control the experience. A user’s experience is personal and specific to them and their environment. All you can do as a designer is architect solutions that will not disrupt a user’s experience.
  5. Show your designs to people who don’t know anything about the problem you are trying to solve. Make it clear for them.
  6. Don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m doing.