Malgorzata Ciesielska

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Ultracrepidarianism can eat up your time and design effort

You are running one of those big design projects. You have been working on it for a month now, doing research, gathering all requirements, and carrying out user needs and business analysis. You have also run a brainstorming and ideation session. What is more, you have consulted your outputs with the development team to verify the proposal feasibility. You have prepared a series of wireframes of your design solutions to present it to the business stakeholders in a compound form. You know the project deadline is tight. You sent the design proposal on Friday afternoon only to receive the feedback a week later that refutes your design proposal based on agreed requirements and expectations. Does it ring a bell?

Undoubtedly, feedback drives change and through a change, the desired result becomes more tangible. What is more, feedback also helps you to grow as designers. When we learn we are eventually in a position to use the new knowledge in other situations such as interacting with other people or applying our design expertise to a project. We start to think beyond our current limitations, we expand and create better quality and more valuable solutions.

Feedback can be a mixed blessing. Delivering specific, truthful and focused feedback is a blessing. However, it is not always the case. What if the provided feedback only contradicts what has been already agreed and worked on based on gathered data. And then the design dilemma is looming large in front of us: ignoring feedback can kill communication channel established with stakeholders and no communication leads to silence, stagnation and most unwillingly to project termination. On the other hand, accepting everything at face value undermines you as designers and your precious pearls of wisdom, which you have been meticulously collecting thorough a number of years.

Now, question is, how to better handle such situation or even make everything possible to eradicate it from your work-life?

Here is my design prescription:

1. RECAPTURE THE CONTEXT

The proper delivery of feedback is fundamental but to make that happen, you need to set the context right; provide a recapture of what has already been agreed and what is the common understanding so that it is obvious to everyone. Thus, all people involved will not start deviating from the topic too much but keep to the point and agreement. This is especially valid at the beginning of building a design solution where interactions, architecture and high-level concepts are on board.

2. DEFINE EXPECTATIONS

Verbalize what is expected from your stakeholders at a given point of the design phase. It is often the case that the provided feedback is very fine but simply does not apply to a given design phase, for example, you have provided the design solution with respect to an online form and suddenly your stakeholders provide feedback about a logo, button colours or the size of cards. From hindsight I can say, prepare a list of things you want your stakeholders to provide feedback about and what is most important for you at a given design stage. A good example could be a list with a number of items, for example:

  • Does the provided state of objects reflect the current stairs of affairs?
  • Please provide the comment about the proposed list of information available of each of the cards?
  • Is there any piece of information that might be tentative to a given group of users?
  • Does the designed graph is legible for you? Do you find it easy to read?

However, keep it simple and short. Start with a general one, such as: “How do you find the design?” and then go to more detailed ones.

At the end of the day, you will know what you planned to learn from your stakeholders, and you gave them every opportunity to air their views.

3. TIME IS TICKING

Set a timeline. It might seem to be pushy at first but bear in mind that you are in charge of the design project and you need to pace it in a way to allow yourself for project incubation period (time during which you should leave your design to mature. Set your mind off the design for a while and get a perspective again) and creative thinking. Nothing good comes out of time pressure and stress.

4. USE SMART ARGUMENTS

When you receive comments that seem to stray from what you have asked for or, what is even less desired, contradicts UX heuristics of good design, don’t ignore it. Try to be an Evangelist in such a situation and teach your stakeholders so that such arguments are unlikely to be aired again. When this does happen, try using qualitative and quantitative data based on research to support your arguments and design decisions. Try avoiding saying: “I think” or “in my opinion”. It might sound subjective from your stakeholders’ perspective. One of the examples, which are commonly used by our stakeholders is colour application: “I want to see more colours in the design. Right now it seems to be a little bit boring”. Then try to explain that a user needs to see trends and colours are applied to facilitate a user with spotting the trends and with too much colour that might not be possible. If you find time for that, you can do an experiment with your stakeholders and run a short test to prove your argument.

5. HAVE IT ALL WRITTEN

Document comments, feedback and decisions. Don’t rely on your memory. We sometimes have it like a sieve. As designers, we might become frustrated when we receive feedback which is opposite to what has been already agreed. Keep a verbatim record of what has been discussed with your stakeholders. Send them meeting notes to summarize the most crucial comments and design decisions with a short explanation of why it has been concluded this way. It will be a good reference point for everyone, not only designers. Make your stakeholders aware that any change of decision about what has been already concluded translates into a change of design delivery date and extra cost. At the end of the day, they might become more cautious about what they say.

6. BENCH YOUR EGO   

Don’t take things personally. If you want to keep walking straight and forward this is one thing you should embed in your brain when receiving feedback. After all, this is what you wanted to receive from your stakeholders so live with it. It won’t kill you, it will make you stronger and more mature as a designer. You build a design solution for people so it goes without saying that there will be people who might find your proposal controversial or doubtful. If you are open to opinions without being defensive you will be able to flourish, so let go off your EGO and enjoy discussions and the fruits you might reap from exchanging opinions. Instead of putting a long face, say THANK YOU and learn.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Now, what is this “Ultracrepidarianism” all about? Ultracrepidarianism is the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge. Now you know how to face it and what might help you to get the most out of your stakeholders’ feedback session. Great feedback is a two-way communication. The idea is a trigger of feedback. As designers, we nicely pack is and polish to then present it to stakeholders. Defend your idea but remember that feedback can sometimes give this idea a new life. Provide your stakeholders with an outlet for comments even though they might sometimes be ultracrepidarians. At the end of the day, it may speed up and improve our professional development when orchestrated in the right way. Make sure that you are the one who orchestrates the feedback session and its form.