Things go much more smoothly when you allow things to happen instead of making them happen.

A friend and colleague told me this a long time ago. It has been a statement which has guided me throughout my career.

Many designers don’t actually design for themselves. Often, we position ourselves as champions of user motivations, objectives, and goals. Frequently, we use our voices to represent those who use products and services to represent them well. We spend days, months, and years getting as much information as we can to ensure users are delighted, but users aren’t the only ones we’re designing for.

We design for customers, communities, the planet, users, colleagues, companies, stakeholders, etc.

Each one of these groups have their own motivations, objectives, and goals. To be successful as designers, we also need to understand what makes colleagues, superiors, companies, and collaborators “tick.” Ignore this and you’ll be pushing against a brick wall time and time again. Perhaps you already are.

I believe influence, getting others to choose to do what you need them to do, is core to design success. It’s the art of letting others have my way.

I didn't always approach my work in this way. It wasn't until I reach a point where I had to work this way.

Some years ago, early in my career, I found myself arguing with my boss during a full-day review session in a room full of my peers about the right way to build and design the digital products we were all hired to create. During this session, I repeated provided guidance based on user research, design reviews, and user testing…data to back up the decisions we were making as a team. Time and time again, I was met with responses like, “When I do this…” or “I want to do…”, with a mix of how the design should “feel.”

I was upset that my boss thought we were just there to build the product he wanted to build. Each time I pushed back against his opinions, I was met with statements like, “I find that hard to believe.” I was right and the boss was wrong. I stated the obvious and the boss didn’t care.

After a break in the meeting, my friend and colleague sensed my frustration and provided me with the guidance above. I’ll state it again:

Things go much more smoothly when you allow things to happen instead of making them happen.

As I sat and reflected on that statement, I began to think of the motivations my boss might have had during the review. The review involved many members of the leadership team. My research pointed to behaviors and needs which were different to those that my boss believed in.

Maybe, my argument with him wasn’t really about being right or wrong, data driven, or building the 'right product.' It was about my boss wanting to be heard, especially in front of others. And there it was; boss’ motivation. Building a product in the right or wrong didn’t matter to him. My boss wanted to credit for the decisions we were making as a team.

And, my argument was getting in the way of us making and delivering a good product.

To ensure our customers, users, colleagues, and company benefitted from our team’s work, I needed to find a way to provide my boss with credit while ensuring he did what I needed him to do. I had to learn how to communicate within those constraints.

During the next product review, I just listened.

By listening, I understood the constraints from which to work. Instead of fighting for what I thought was right and what the data told me, I embraced those constraints, presented findings within those constraints, and the design path forward became obvious. The big boss was able to see the path without being told the path. The path was also the path I had intended all along.

Influence begets influence. By understanding motivations and constraints of those you work with, you can become influential not only as a designer, but also as a communicator, peer, colleague, and leader. So take a step back, listen to all those you design for, and let others have your way.

The art of letting others have your way

Things go much more smoothly when you allow things to happen instead of making them happen.