The presenting of intent

Think about the project you’re working on. It’s likely focused on helping our customers achieve some sort of goal effectively. Maybe it’s surfacing a mistake in a pay run, or finding an old bill faster. As the designer, you create solutions to make that goal or outcome a reality. Jared Spool refers to design this way as “the rendering of intent.”

Discovery activities like talking to customers and studying analytics help product teams uncover what is happening, why, and what we’d like to change or do better. That’s the intention bit. Then we need to make that intention real, that’s the rendering. When designers share their work back to their peers and collaborators, we might be talking about drop-downs and buttons, but we are presenting a rendering of intent.

If design is about rendering intent, when we share our work, we should present clearly with strong intention. To explore this concept, let’s look at how it can play out in different scenarios.

Unclear intent, unclear presentation

What it looks like: Without clearly explaining the problem or the solution, your audience will be left wondering exactly what’s going on.

How to fix: Rather than working on the presentation, take a step back and ask yourself “What problem is this solving?” A good next step from there could be to spend time diverging, exploring and thinking through lots of options.

Unclear intent, clear presentation

What it looks like: The prototype is dazzling and everyone want to ship it, but it’s not solving the agreed on problem. You find yourself struggling to answer why you made certain design decisions.

How to fix: Step away from the tools. All the elements are there, but it’s important to return to research or re-interrogate the problem with others around a whiteboard. The design process is your friend here and there’s tons of methods that can be used to look at problem from a new angle.

Clear intent, unclear presentation

What it looks like: When we feel unsure about committing to a specific approach it’s easy to miscommunicate or even over-communicate rather than keeping things simple.

How to fix: Sometimes all it takes is rearranging your slide deck or talking through your work with peers to sharpen what you’re trying to say. These are quick tactical things that are easy to learn. If there’s good thinking, you’re 90% done!

Clear intent, clear presentation

What it looks like: It’s a cliche to say that good design is simple, but it’s true. The designer has done a ton of thinking, exploring and deliberating before settling on a strong approach that they feel confident in explaining (and defending if need be).

How to fix: Not much to fix here, but it’s important for a designer to remain flexible and open to feedback. Rather than dying on a hill, it’s more about having “strong opinions, loosely held”.

To present designs more effectively, aim to make a strong, clear argument for your solution. If you’re in a coaching position, here’s a few ideas I think might help designers:

  • Remind the designer that at the end of the day, this is your work, your thinking and we trust you know what’s best. 
  • There’s usually not one ‘right’ answer – there’s many ways to solve a problem. As long as you think it through, and answer the goal, you should be fine!

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