Hallway Studio

January 2, 2021

When you sit the chair and ask your hair stylist for a certain style of cut or color chances are they listened carefully, considered your face shape, hair type, how much time you spend your hair (not much if you are me) and your skill in doing hair (none if you are me).

Hopefully at the end of it all you looked in the mirror happy. You got something that was even better than you asked for. Understanding your wants, your life, your hair and using that knowledge to create a great look is what makes a stylist good. A good designer or product managers understands requests, goals and constraints and puts it into a solution that is even better than what they were asked to do.

Designers and Product managers often ask me how they can stop being seen as “order takers.” My answer is simple, don’t take the order. Consider what they are asking for, who the customer is, what the business objective is and try to come up with a solution that is what they asked for, but better. Or give them what they asked for and another option to consider.

You may be thinking that is it easy for me to say given the fancy title I have, but I haven’t always been in leadership. I started as an 18 year old intern. I won’t pretend that this works with everyone, some people can be very directive even if their directions are not great.

Many product and business people have complained to me over the years that their designers have to be told what to do and they don’t elevate the ideas. The space for you to create just might be open for you but you aren’t taking it. If you don’t try, you will be forever stuck in the space where people see you as an executor and not a partner.

Here are a couple of tips for designers trying to move beyond order taking  

  • Ask questions to understand the intent. Why are they proposing this solution? What do they hope will happen?
  • Learn about the business. How does it make money? What are the levers? What are the strategic goals?
  • Be more deliberate in presenting your ideas. Before you show them your design or options remind them of the intent and goals. Explain why your proposal meets their needs.

Here are a couple of tips for leaders to enable their designers more effectively  

  • Create context. Help your designer understand the product or business goals and your intent for this feature. That helps them make better decisions. People often vastly underestimate how much context people need and or how much they’ve given their team.
  • Establish constraints. Help the designer have a sense of where the boundaries are in terms of how big of an effort this will be and what can be changed.
  • Create space. Make sure the designer is invited to interpret the intent and work within in the constraints.

Image: Boone Drug in Boone, North Carolina. Boone is the home of Appalachian State University where my husband went to college. The food in Boone was amazing.

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