May 25, 2017

How do you communicate the value of design?

Advice for when others don't understand the role of design

Perhaps you work at a company where design doesn’t have a seat at the the table, or the CEO doesn’t believe in being ‘design driven’. Your co-workers may think design is just a collection of pretty colours and fonts you sprinkle over top of whatever content they give you.

When working with people who don’t understand the value of design, it can be challenging to do purposeful work. As a designer we know that design is about problem solving. It’s our job to approach a problem objectively and use a design process to produce the best solution for the problem.

However, not everyone understands design in this way. Maybe it’s not obvious to them that there’s a problem that needs solving. Or, they struggle to understand how design can help uncover a solution and convincing them seems like an insurmountable challenge.

A good designer knows not only how to solve problems with good design, but also knows how to communicate design decisions and the value it can bring to the company.

For example, design can help to:

Explore, test and iterate on ideas

Communicate MVP’s or concepts to stakeholders, allowing for quicker buy-in

Create empathy and enjoyable experiences for customers/users

Move your team faster by testing and prototyping early in the process

Uncover and solve existing problems or blockages

If you’re working in a small company — perhaps you’re the only designer — it can be difficult to not only introduce design into the company, but communicate the potential benefits and value. In these small places, design is often viewed not only as an after-thought, but a job that’s purely visual.

What can design do?

While design does contain important visual aspects and components, there’s a lot more that design can do than making things look good. It’s easy to forget that this isn’t always obvious to non-designers.

Just like a product owner doesn’t just choose features to build, they shape the future of the product. A designer doesn’t just push pixels, they solve problems and create enjoyable experiences.

Instead of communicating to a gatekeeper how design can be used to make things ‘look better’, talk about the different disciplines of design and how these disciplines can help achieve success in certain areas of the business. You may be the only designer and have experience in one discipline, but that shouldn’t hold you back from learning and welcoming others into your process. Such as:

User research

User testing

Idea exploration


Iteration and refactoring

Design language & tone

Design systems

You don’t need to be a skilled professional in each of these areas however it’s good to be familiar.

Incorporating the above disciplines into your workflow or company can help to improve and communicate your product or service. Perhaps prospects find your product confusing or struggle to understand where it fits in their workflow. How can you use design to help communicate and explain these core benefits, while positioning your product in a way that’s understandable and encourages them to learn more?

When in doubt, look at your competitors. Are they moving faster than you? What are they doing design-wise that’s enabling them to be further ahead? Is design enabling them to ship faster, better products? Is it helping them to communicate a clear, consistent message? Take a look into what your competitors are doing and explore how your company could use design to catchup or get ahead.

Talk to the gatekeeper

To get buy-in for bringing design to the table it’s likely you’ll need to get past a gatekeeper. This could be your manager, boss or perhaps the CEO. Remember, people are busy. Before jumping to the conclusion that they don’t care about design, there’s a possibility they do — however have been focused on others areas of the business.

What does your gatekeeper care most about? A CEO is much more likely to be focused on big picture items like profitability and growth, than design. In that case it’s your job to communicate to her how design can contribute to the success of big picture items. However you communicate, always ensure that your goals align with those of the company.

Once you’ve identified your gatekeeper, schedule a conversation with them. Be prepared and have a plan in place for how you’d like to introduce design into the existing workplace and what value that could bring. Show that you’ve considered how it may affect other teams, current and future projects.

Talk numbers — not just visuals. Ask a marketer to walk you through some numbers and highlight where there are existing gaps, lulls or opportunities. Bring these figures to the gatekeeper. Perhaps the current on boarding process isn’t converting very well — consider from a design perspective how design could contribute to the success of conversion.

You’ve taken the time to communicate the value of design to the gatekeeper, described it’s benefits to the company and positioned design as a problem solver. While all of these benefits sound like a no-brainer, there’s still a chance you’ll receive push-back. Be prepared to have a discussion about why design is worth investing in and make it known that you’re willing to be flexible.

While it’s important to discuss the benefits of design, if you’re receiving push-back you may want to change tactic and communicate what might happen if they continue not to value design. Will the company fall behind? Keep standing still? Waste more time?

You got buy-in!

Congratulations! Here’s a party emoji to celebrate that you got the stamp of approval to invest more company time and resources into design = 🎉

Now that you’ve got buy-in, what’s next?

Keep an open line of communication 

This is just as important for teams and solo designers. Don’t silo yourself from the rest of the company. Keep those especially close to you informed with your projects and progress. When given the opportunity, be prepared to show and talk about your work.

Invite others into you process 

Design isn’t a one-woman sport. You may need to work closely with developers, marketers and product owners. Make sure to schedule time with them discuss the problem you’re trying to solve and solutions you’re going to take. Ensure that everyone understands their role in the project and how they should be contributing. Remember, you’re a team!

Stay flexible 

Especially important in the beginning as you’ll likely experience bumps along the way. Some team members may be completely new to the concept of design and may need some time to adjust. Make sure you’re open to suggestions and feedback from others.

As with the introduction of anything new to a company, it can take time for others to adapt. If you got this far, be patient and open to having discussions and check-in’s to see how things are tracking and what influence design is having on others in the team. Resistance is completely normal and shouldn’t be taken personally. Take the time to refer to the goals of the company and how design can contribute towards its success.

Good luck!

Did you enjoy this post? I write a lot about digital product design, productivity and content. Subscribe to my mailing list to receive new thoughts straight to your inbox.

© Copyright Femke van Schoonhoven 2020. Site designed and built by yours truly using Webflow.