On designing with execs

Executives are kind of a funny lot. Not all are trained to be group collaborators yet coordinate with very strong personalities. Most are driven by fact-based proven statistical metrics yet want that elusive charm/desire factor for buzz and sales. Many speak of brand values of the company yet make agonizingly tough decisions that seem counter-intuitive, impacting the team or product. Whew! How in the world do you design with or for these folks? It can be a trying experience for the unprepared, no question!

Yet having the memorable opportunity to engage with executives to debate concepts and shape customer experience strategy…well that’s simply priceless! You want to make a great impression at the table, so to speak.

Below are a few lessons I’ve been quietly capturing lately, per recent experiences on various projects with execs:

Assert your point of view. You’re there for a reason, take advantage! Make your informed opinion known. That might mean talking over them and “elbowing” your way in a bit (many have strong points of view themselves to assert!) but they will respect your direct, candid perspective. (Corollary: Don’t apologize, ever, for anything. Simply assert and focus, very briefly. Execs are time-pressed!)

Simplify and explain the concept like to a child (not that execs are child-like, of course ;-) Use visuals! Avoid the temptation for geeky “design-speak”. Use various familiar analogies and metaphors, particularly from pop culture or everyday objects & tools. 

It’s ok to disagree, with defensible credible rationale. Beware: “because It’s cool” is not a useful rationale (unless speaking strictly of style trends)! There will be merciless disagreement if you say that. Be objective and reasoned.

Don’t attempt to wear hats you’re not qualified to wear, like marketing or engineering. If you don’t know, admit it and request proper inputs from those peers.

Many execs love to sketch and visualize their ideas! Let them and then leverage that for productive discussions. Poke holes and raise critical issues (respectfully ;-)

– They want specific, tangible, immediate ideas and actions, not abstractions or theory. Keep that at home. But explain the principles behind your suggestions, framed by concrete examples with real data as much as possible.

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