Designers Finally Have a Spot at the Table… Now What?

Designers have been waiting for this moment for decades; principles like “design thinking” are finally becoming a forefront in many large businesses. Before companies like Apple, designers were not valued nearly as much as they are today. We have designed, photoshopped, and mocked up our way to the table. We’re finally in a place where we can help guide the company’s vision and culture.. so now what?

It can be daunting to suddenly be sitting in front of many high-level executives, all too busy to give you the time and energy you would like. So, how do you communicate to them and meet their needs, while still meeting the needs of the user?



Preparation & Research

As with any project the initial sprint should widely be research (personas, wireframing, concepting, sketching, list making, etc). The focus should remain on the end user; however, along with the end user personas, include an executive persona (you could call it “Stuckup Steve”, “Charlie Bigcheese”, “Egotistical Exec”, you get the picture). The purpose of this exec persona is twofold. It enables you to make design choices that reflect the large goals of the company and it also prepares you for the daunting meeting with execs. This way you won’t have to fabricate some BS about how changing the text to blue helps click-throughs; you would have already considered it and made the decision with their goals in mind.



Chances are these high-level folks haven’t even talked to an end-user in decades (if ever). It is likely they have become detached from design’s (specifically UX’s) goals. When I open a meeting I start by reminding the attendees of why we’re there. I quickly remind them of the meeting’s goals, project goals, and if applicable the current user struggles. This little opener should be no more than a few seconds. Remember, these folks think they don’t have time for you. This opener will put the goals in the forefront of their minds, and they will (hopefully) challenge your presentation on these goals.

As you begin presenting your work, or walking them through user stories, remember to relate to their objectives. It’s always important to keep your personas close by, but don’t stop with how it will benefit Midlife Mildred. Relate to the execs by stating how benefiting Mildred in this way will benefit their objectives (more click-throughs, signups, purchases, etc).

(Oh and it’s probably a good idea to leave the exec persona out of the meeting room, execs are fragile creatures and they may be offended if they see it.)



The execs are going to have something to say about your work. They couldn’t possibly hold an “o” title if they didn’t question everything, so be prepared. Your counter argument to a question can never be “because it makes this one user happy”… but it can be “because our testing shows that 35% of our users will be affected by it in X way and that’ll affect Y goal (Y goal being a goal from your exec persona).


 One last tip

If you start to realize that the productive part of the meeting is over, for example, the execs are questioning ridiculous parts of the prototype (“why is our URL…?”) then it’s time to put a bow on the meeting. You can do this by simply informing them of the next steps in order to move the project forward. I find that doing this provides an efficient and subtle way to wrap up the meeting so you can walk out like a champ.