You need to recruit others to
be part of the change. The art
of persuasion is something that
designers are often uncomfortable
with, but it’s how we enable groups
to work together and do great things.
Get others to believe what you
believe so they’ll fight alongside you.
Ultimately, you have to hustle; walk
the walk and talk the talk. Be flexible
and creative about scheduling time
with someone. Read the memo before
the meeting. Do the research instead
of having an uninformed opinion.
Go the extra mile. Do the hard work,
especially when it’s the work that
others won’t do.
“LET THE WORK
SPEAK FOR ITSELF”
You’ve done a bunch of work and
now need to present it to someone
important, and you get this piece of
advice. Please, don’t ever let the work
speak for itself. It often speaks a secret
language only its creators understand,
especially during its infancy. It needs
you to speak for it until it’s mature
enough, and even then it needs as much
help as you can give it in order to fulfill
I’ve struggled with this in the past,
putting up work for feedback without
giving it a fighting chance. The feedback
would often be distracting or unhelpful
because they’d simply be reacting to
what they saw. I would do my best to
respond, but I would get defensive,
repetitive, and lose my confidence.
Ideas are cheap and design
proposals are fragile. Not until they
are hammered and hardened by a
robust design process are they able to
stand on their own and withstand a
proverbial beating. We are designers,
not artists, so our work has to address
a need, not just make a statement. Our
ideas have to go through a tremendous
amount of development and iteration
to become finished products.
Plan the communication so that
the work is received properly and
you get the outcome you need. I’m
not advocating the development
of dazzling B. S. skills (though
they certainly come in handy), but
I believe that great design work
deserves great communication.
Therefore, I advocate the following:
• Provide context
• Connect the dots
• Seek to understand.
You have to provide context that
allows people to see the work as
intended. Get them in the right frame
of mind to empathize with the user,
not just think of themselves. Is what
you’re showing a concept or a finished
design, so they can calibrate feedback
appropriately? Do they understand your
goal so that they’re not assuming it’s one
of their own?
It’s invaluable to connect the various
ideas and insights that led to the
solution. Don’t leave it up to others to
make the connections; do it for them. If
you can somehow make the solution feel
obvious or inevitable, you’ve won.
If colleagues have questions or
feedback, try to accept and understand
it. Don’t automatically defend or
revert to simply repeating yourself.
Often, just listening to someone helps
tremendously. Probe deeper and listen.
It may be that they’re missing some
necessary context or they’re giving you
some valuable insight that could make
the work stronger.
Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgment.
—Rita Mae Brown,
Will Rogers, Mark Twain…
Most advice is well-meaning, but some
advice can actually do more harm than
good. Many promise shortcuts—with
this one trick, you can have massive
impact. It’s an attractive proposition.
I’ve shared some ideas of how one might
avoid the pitfalls of these pernicious
pieces of advice. In my experience, there
aren’t any shortcuts. You can’t just go
with your gut and avoid the rigor of
developing good judgment.
DOI: 10.1145/3125401 © 2017 ACM 1072-5520/17/09 $15.00
own good judgment
through hard work
will pay off with
Nothing can replace doing the hard
work and earning the experience that
comes with it; developing your own
good judgment through hard work will
pay off with compound interest.
But how do you enable others to
do this? As leaders, this is our job. It
should go without saying that leading
by example is effective, but let’s not take
that for granted. “Do as I say but not
as I do” is one of the most destructive
ways to lead; hypocrisy is not a virtue.
If you have made the transition from
individual contributor to manager,
you know the challenge of going from
doing to enabling, especially when you
were promoted or hired because you
were great at the doing part. It’s hard
not to just do the work yourself, but you
must learn to enable others to do it even
better than you could have.
When someone is seemingly going
with their gut and nothing else, ask
questions. Get them to articulate their
rationale. If appropriate, point out
the cognitive biases that all of us are
prone to, then help them apply rigor in
their approach to make their solution
If someone’s being disruptive, seek
to understand why. If it’s just to be
disruptive, shut it down or divert it; it’s
not good for anyone. If there’s a good
reason for it, guide them on how they
can be more effective.
And if someone is letting the work
dangle without proper support, you can
help them drive the discussion to share
the context. Guide them to connect
the dots and to seek to understand the
feedback they receive.
That old proverb of giving someone a
fish rather than teaching them to fish is
still relevant. If people come to you for
wisdom, don’t give them the same tired,
bad advice or just give them the answer.
Help them earn valuable experience and
develop good judgment. Teach them to
fish and give them a fishing pole. You’ll
both catch lots of fish instead of talking
about the one that got away.
Paolo Malabuyo ( i4design.com; @wildchicken)
is a director of UX at Google and an adjunct
professor at CMU Silicon Valley. Previously
he worked at Netflix, Mercedes-Benz R&D,
Zynga, Microsoft/Xbox, Pelago, Oracle, and IBM.