A Designer’s Guide to Working With Other People

Note: This is Part 20 of the Ruminations for Aspiring Designers series.

As a designer, you’re almost always in a “supporting role” in the business of design. The lead role belongs to businesspeople or key stakeholders.

That means you’re not “running your own show” in most cases. You have to work with other people – “non-designers”.

It can get tricky or upsetting at times.

So here are some tiny little tips.

Your Job Title Doesn’t Matter

Your job title doesn’t mean anything to them. No need to emphasize that you’re a designer.

Why? Because they don’t care.

They don’t care about your job title, they don’t care about your design jargons, they don’t care about your design processes and methods, they don’t even care about your designs.

They’ll only remember the name of the colleague who actually helped them. They’ll only get the opportunities to appreciate design by being willing to listen to what that colleague has to say about it.

They don’t give a shit about design until you helped.

Curb Your Urge to Argue

Arguing is kind of nice when and only when there’s deep trust and synergy between you and others. Otherwise, it’d only make you seem like a sensitive and defensive jerk.

There’s nothing wrong in pushing for good design and backing it up through objective evidence and rational persuasion, but sometimes, evidence and logic don’t work when people don’t trust you enough – sometimes they don’t even know enough to be able to understand what you’re bringing to the table.

So what to do?

Be patient, start small, help people and build up your influence.

There will be a time, and more times to come, when people are willing to listen to you. They won’t be by default, they only become to be.

Sometimes, being a negotiator is part of being a designer.

Curb Your Urge to Explain

Aren’t we designers supposed to clearly explain and convincingly justify our design decisions?

Yes, but a design decision can also be a managerial, operational or even political one. In fact, the more important the decision is, the more likely it’s also managerial, operational or political.

Sometimes you’re simply not in a position, nor qualified, to explain something that has implications on those thorny issues.

Plus, it can be really hard to explain when you’re asked a question that’s poorly framed. Same case when your own question is poorly framed.

So the first step to address this urge to explain is to reframe either the question itself or the context where it is asked, in a way that makes you more qualified to address it and your explanation more legitimate.

“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”

That tagline from The Social Network is totally hyperbole, but the vibe is right.

To make friends, help them first. Especially when helping them is not in your job description.

You will encounter a few enemy-like antagonists along the way. But here’s the thing: with the right move, you can even collaborate with your enemies.

You’re not going to please everyone and you don’t have to. You just need to be strategic.

Curb Your Urge to Complain

Who wants to hear others complaining?

Do you like to hear it?

Just don’t.

Conclusion

Getting along with others in your organization is obviously critical to your job as a designer. In most cases, you do need to learn to work with anyone.

No designer deserves the arrogance of expert superiority, professional privilege, a false sense of self-importance or the delusion of the saviour complex. No one does.

Are you humble enough to be a designer?

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