Daniel Burka, one of the all-time greats of the design industry, once said that two-thirds of the design happens outside the design tools. That statement always stuck with me, and the more I grew as a designer, the more real it became.
We, as designers, love our tools—sometimes a bit too much for our own good. Our own love for pretty design prevents us from looking at the larger picture. We get so focused on the depth of a beautiful drop shadow or the gorgeous flow of a perfect gradient that we start making design decisions that are bad for us and the business.
If, as a designer, you are fed up with your great ideas being shot down every now and then or if you feel that no one is listening to you, let me let you in on a little secret. It’s kind of your own fault! To make things better, you can start by empathizing with the people who are running the business and paying for your role. Here are some pointers to get you started, and remember that your role exists only as long as the business runs.
Spend more time talking to people than you spend on your favorite design tool. Talk to the people who run the business to understand their goals and targets. Your work should be an answer to the business' frustrations, not to charm your or another designer’s eyes.
Knowing what to design when is an art that we all ought to get better at. Understand the business context and the need. You don’t have to spend 4 weeks on every design request. Understand the business objective. Everything is not supposed to look sophisticated and elegant.
Designers sometimes get frustrated about this, but a little education early on goes a long way. You may have a good reason to do a card sorting exercise, but all the business people heard was “bla-bla-bla along with a waste of time and money”. Try to help them understand the value of what you are talking about. Now, unless they are assholes, they will definitely hear you out.
Last on the list and possibly the most important point. You need to speak the language of the business. If business people are always talking about revenue and expenses in terms of dollars, you need to start talking about the value of design initiatives in terms of dollars too. If business people are making quarterly KPIs and targets, you should have KPIs and goals that cascade from them. If the business people are talking to each other in PPTs, don't fight that. Next time you present, spend an extra 15 minutes making a PPT yourself. Step out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the business side of things.
Empathy is the key to being successful. Designers must empathize with business people in the same way that they do with users and customers. If you start walking the walk and talking the talk of the business, they will see you as one of them, and you will not have to fight them anymore.
If you liked this, I also wrote recently on why Designers should not share Figma links with their business stakeholders which you will find interesting.