Why it’s so hard to work with designers

I often hear folks complaining about how hard it is to work with designers.  “They’re prima donnas,” people say.  “They always insist on getting their way.”

As a proud holder of a design degree from Stanford, I feel unusually qualified to respond to these criticisms.

Design is ultimately about making choices with limited information.  It that sense, it’s very much like entrepreneurship.  Every single product or web site that you see is the product of thousands of decisions, many of which were made unconsciously.

As a result, decisiveness is one of the most important traits of a designer.  We praise bold lines, not cautious incrementalism.

This actually caused me to struggle in design school.  Many of my classmates had firm convictions about everything.  When they approached a project, they had a firm point of view that they went after 100%.

In contrast, I always thought things like, “Well, there are many possible answers.”  Great for enlightened management, not so good for designing products.

My answer was to focus on process–I researched the problems, created numerous design iterations, and trusted that with enough feedback and revision, I could produce a good design.  But it was much harder for me than many of my classmates, even though according to things like grades and math skills, I was “smarter.”

Needless to say, when I got into the workplace, I got out of the design department pretty quickly, and shifted to the business side.

It takes unusual decisiveness to stare down the terrifying sight of a blank page and start drawing bold lines.  The kind of person who has strong opinions about everything isn’t always easy to get along with.  But that same strong personality is what allows your designer to do great work.

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