Designing for influence: Lessons learned from my failures in engaging stakeholders

06 June, 2023 - 5 min read

In the past two years, I have been part of the Enterprise team at Tokopedia. Although it's within the same company, the vibe between the Marketplace and Enterprise is truly different.

One of the things that I often experience is the abundance and diversity of stakeholders. As a result, I have encountered several failures in the practices.

Influence plays a pivotal role in the success of design initiatives. The ability to persuade stakeholders and gain their support is essential for designers to see their visions come to life and make a lasting impact.

But why do I struggle to effectively influence stakeholders, while others thrive in this realm?

Why did that happen?

I shed light on the reasons behind the failures and provide actionable strategies to overcome these hurdles. By understanding these challenges and employing the suggested approaches, we as designer can enhance their ability to influence stakeholders, drive decision-making, and ultimately achieve the desired outcomes.

1. Communication Gap

it could be situation when designers trying to effectively communicate their ideas, concepts, and design solutions to stakeholders who may not have a deep understanding of design terminology or processes.

Rather than using technical design terms, simplify the language and relate it to familiar concepts that the stakeholders can understand. For example, instead of referring to visual hierarchy, explain how certain elements are prioritized to guide users' attention. Relate design choices to familiar experiences or commonly understood principles to establish a connection with the stakeholders' frame of reference.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Use Plain Language
    Instead of relying on design jargon, use clear and simple language to explain design concepts. Break down complex ideas into easily understandable terms. For example, instead of using the term "information architecture," you can explain it as the organization and structure of content on a website.
  • Provide Visual Aids
    Utilize visual aids, such as sketches, diagrams, or interactive prototypes, to demonstrate design ideas. Visual representations can often convey information more effectively than verbal explanations alone.
  • Seek Feedback and Clarification
    Encourage stakeholders to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the design process. Actively listen to their concerns and address any misunderstandings promptly.

2. Lack of Empathy

This is when designers fail to understand and appreciate the perspective, needs, and concerns of stakeholders.

Empathy plays a crucial role in influencing stakeholders because it allows designers to establish a deeper connection, build trust, and align their design solutions with the stakeholders' goals and objectives.

Designers often have a strong focus on the aesthetics, functionality, and user experience of their designs. However, stakeholders, such as clients, executives, or end-users, have their own set of priorities, challenges, and expectations. Failing to empathize with these stakeholders can result in a disconnect between the designer's vision and the stakeholders' needs, leading to resistance or rejection of the design proposals.

So, you can try to:

  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes
    Take the time to understand the stakeholders' perspective. Consider their goals, challenges, and motivations. Ask yourself: What are their priorities? What are their pain points? How can your design solutions address their needs?
  • Collaborate and Seek Input
    Actively involve stakeholders in the design process. Encourage their participation, opinions, and feedback. Value their expertise and seek their insights. By involving them, you not only show that you value their input but also gain a deeper understanding of their perspectives. Collaborative design sessions and workshops can foster a sense of ownership and shared decision-making.
  • Communicate the Benefits
    When presenting design solutions, highlight how your designs can address the stakeholders' goals or challenges. Focus on the benefits and value that your design brings to their specific context. By clearly articulating how your designs can contribute to their success, you increase the likelihood of gaining their support.

3. Failure to Demonstrate Value

Stakeholders, whether they are clients, executives, or decision-makers, are often driven by tangible outcomes and results.

If designers cannot clearly demonstrate the value and benefits of their designs, it becomes difficult to gain stakeholder support and influence their decisions.

Some strategies that I have been implementing are:

  • Clearly Articulate the Design Objectives
    Start by clearly stating the design objectives and how they align with the overall goals of the project or organization. Explain how your design solutions directly contribute to achieving those objectives. This establishes a clear connection between your designs and the desired outcomes, helping stakeholders understand the purpose and value of your work.
  • Utilize Data and Metrics
    Use data and metrics to support your design proposals. Conduct user research, perform usability testing, and gather relevant data to showcase the impact of your designs. Quantitative data, such as increased conversion rates, reduced bounce rates, or improved customer satisfaction scores, provides concrete evidence of the value your designs can bring.
  • Showcasing User Feedback
    Share direct quotes, testimonials, or user reviews that highlight the positive experiences and satisfaction resulting from your designs. This user-centric approach demonstrates that your designs have been validated and well-received by the intended audience, increasing stakeholder confidence in your proposals.
  • Visualize the Before and After
    Use visual representations or prototypes to showcase a comparison of the current state and the proposed design solutions. By illustrating the improvements and enhancements your designs bring, stakeholders can better understand the value and potential impact on the end-users or the business as a whole.

4. Limited Collaboration

This is the situation where designers fail to actively engage and collaborate with stakeholders throughout the design process.

Collaboration is essential for successful design outcomes because it allows stakeholders to contribute their expertise, insights, and perspectives, leading to a more holistic and well-rounded design solution.

To overcome that, I can implement the following strategies:

  1. Engage Stakeholders Early
    Involve stakeholders from the beginning of the design process. This ensures that their inputand perspectives are considered from the outset. By engaging stakeholders early, designers can gather valuable insights, clarify expectations, and establish a shared sense of ownership over the project.
  2. Conduct Workshops and Brainstorming Sessions
    Organize workshops, brainstorming sessions, or design thinking exercises that bring together designers and stakeholders. These collaborative sessions allow for the exploration of ideas, problem-solving, and shared decision-making. By actively involving stakeholders in generating and refining design concepts, you build a sense of collective ownership and create a space for mutual learning and innovation.
  3. Facilitate Effective Communication
    Ensure that communication channels are open, transparent, and effective. Foster regular and clear communication between designers and stakeholders through meetings, presentations, progress updates, and documentation.

5. Ignoring Constraints and Trade-offs

I know, we, designer, often strive for ideal solutions without fully considering the real-world constraints such as budget, time, technical feasibility, or organizational limitations. This oversight can result in a misalignment between designers and stakeholders, making it difficult to influence decisions and gain stakeholder buy-in.

To address the issue of ignoring constraints and trade-offs and effectively influence stakeholders, designers can adopt the following:

  1. Understand Stakeholder Constraints
    This includes factors such as budgetary constraints, resource availability, technological limitations, regulatory requirements, or time constraints. By gaining a thorough understanding of these constraints, designers can tailor their design solutions to fit within the realistic boundaries set by stakeholders.
  2. Prioritize Stakeholder Needs
    Collaborate closely with stakeholders to identify their key requirements and goals. This helps designers understand the trade-offs that may need to be made and prioritize design decisions that align with stakeholder needs and constraints.
  3. Present Alternatives and Options
    Offer stakeholders a range of design alternatives and options that address different constraints and trade-offs. Present the pros and cons of each option, including the associated implications and potential impacts.

6. Lack of Business Acumen

It is crucial for designers to grasp the business goals, objectives, and strategies of stakeholders, as well as the market dynamics and competitive landscape.

The following tips:

  1. Educate Yourself about the Business
    Take the initiative to learn about the stakeholders' business goals, strategies, and industry dynamics. Familiarize yourself with the market trends, target audience, and competitors.
  2. Connect Design to Business Outcomes
    Clearly articulate how your design solutions can contribute to achieving the stakeholders' business goals. Link your design decisions to tangible outcomes such as increased revenue, improved customer satisfaction, or enhanced brand reputation.
  3. Speak the Language of Business
    Adapt your communication style to resonate with stakeholders who may have a business background. Use business terminology and metrics to explain the value of your designs. Frame your design proposals in terms of return on investment, cost savings, or market differentiation. This demonstrates that you understand the business language and can effectively convey the benefits of your designs.
  4. Collaborate Across Disciplines
    Engage in cross-functional collaboration with stakeholders from different departments, such as marketing, sales, or product management. By working closely with these stakeholders, you gain insights into their perspectives and objectives, enhancing your understanding of the overall business landscape. Collaboration across disciplines fosters a holistic view of the business and strengthens your ability to influence stakeholders.

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