Presenter(s):  Cindy Alvarez

Date-Time:  August 15, 2019 @ 10:20 AM

Key Takeaways

Enhance PM-UX collaboration by focusing on a mutual understanding of the customer problem and desired outcomes.  Bring customers into the design process early, develop a shared language, and encourage open, honest dialog to achieve the best results.


Cindy Alvarez started by describing a frequent experience in PM-UX collaboration – people talking past each other.  In describing this experience, she called attention to the “Curse of Knowledge” – in communicating, it is hard for us to remember/realize that others don’t have the same background knowledge, which makes it hard to see why they do not understand our ideas.  Everyone experiences this, and Cindy Alvarez offers some techniques to address it.

Alvarez mentioned her #1 pet peeve:  a customer offers to mock up what they are thinking and asks the design team to simply make it pretty or make it pop.  For the designer in this case, she advises the best response is to allow the customer to sketch it out, then have a conversation about what they are thinking to reach a mutual understanding of the problem.

The customer problem comes first.  Think in terms of:  the customer needs to solve _______;  the customer is likely in this state of mind _______; if the customer only does ONE thing, we hope it is _______; and what else is competing for their attention?  What do we most want the customer to do here?

Alvarez encourages designers to bring the customer in early into the design process in order to achieve a better result.  This can seem frightening, as customers can inject unhelpful ideas or distractions.  However, it solves a ton of design problems overall and avoids a lot of last-minute input.

When bringing customers in early, remain open to alternative solutions and sensitive to added risk for the design team.  For example, we know style guides help us work faster.  When a customer suggests something different, it risks breaking the normal workflow pattern.  Inform the customer you have something that works, that they are asking the design team to add risk to the project, and look to understand “why” – i.e., the customer’s underlying concern.  Sometimes it is okay to take on risk, but if you are in a hurry or your design team is already stressed out, that may not be time to do so.

Alvarez discussed pitfalls in design review and helpful solutions.

During design review, it is easy to diminish meeting value by focusing on tiny adjustments to mock ups.  People do not always know what to critique and tend to jump on the obvious or the easiest things to think about, mentally setting aside more difficult but important considerations.  This can derail the conversation, sending it down the wrong path.  If this happens, realign expectations.  Acknowledge imperfections in design and focus attention on desired outcomes with the product.

When experiencing poor expectation alignment – for example, a design that is “way off” from customer expectations – ask, “What’s the best way I can give feedback?” “What will help you the most?”  Keep the focus on a product’s desired outcome.

Alvarez emphasized the importance of direct and honest feedback during design review, adding that when everyone is nodding politely you get mediocre results.

To help open, honest dialog, she suggests creating a shared language – words or short phrase that everyone understands.  Shared language offers a frame of reference for navigating the thornier discussions.   To develop a shared language, consider drawing up a list of questions on a white board, so anyone can just point to something – a key word or desired outcome – to help make a point or tactfully address a sensitive subject.

She advocated empowering people to feel unafraid about speaking up.  She cited Japanese car production as an example, where anyone on the assembly line can “pull the cord” (halt production) if they see a problem.  It is our duty as designers to pull the cord if we see something wrong.  Empower your people to do so.

To generate useful feedback, focus the conversation.  For example, “On this page, what is the one thing you are concerned about, and how do we make that one thing more obvious and attractive in a way that will achieve the desired effect?”

Alvarez discussed the 30/90 concept in design review.

In a 30 percent feedback review, you still have time to adjust, so focus feedback on broad concept and core use cases.  Pay attention to workflow – does it align with the customer’s mental model?  It is not too late to scrap the whole thing if there are fundamental issues or the team is missing context.

In a 90 percent review, focus feedback on visual polish, copy, and consistency.  It is too late for major changes, but we can support new edge cases if the team can identify them here.

Listen, don’t respond.  Repeat a customer’s comments/concerns back to them.  While this may feel condescending, it is really okay.  If you are misaligned on expectations, take some time to think about the feedback first and then get back, rather than attempting mock ups on the fly.  Most people do not do their best on the spot.  Even 15 or 30 minutes can be enough time to step away, consider feedback, and reconvene.  One best practice:  gather feedback, go to lunch, then reconvene to discuss.  If necessary, call a colleague to get another opinion or perspective.

Misalignment of expectations in design often comes down to different understandings of the customer problem.