Design Basics: 3 Ways to Put People Over Projects

Design Basics: 3 Ways to Put People Over Projects

March 5, 2014 by

When you hear the name Mario Andretti, what word comes to mind? I think of “speed.” His name has become synonymous with speed. I wonder what word people think of when they hear my name or see me walk into a room. How about you? If the people you work with were asked to give one word to describe you, what would they say?  Would they choose words like “kind, humble or helpful?” Or would they think of words with a negative twist like “pushy, controlling, opinionated or overbearing?”

Sadly, sometimes designers have earned a bad reputation for some of those negative words.

Let’s self assess. Do you play nice, or do you fight to get your way? The way you and I choose to relate with others determines how others feel about working with us. If we don’t get along, people will come to dread working with us. Whether it is fellow team members or our leaders, it’s within our power to shape whether people enjoy working with us.

We’ve talked before about setting expectations and there may be some things you need to teach non-designers. Both can go a long way to a more productive working relationship. But there are also a few things we can do as designers to make it more enjoyable for people to work with us:

1. Understand and Share Other’s Feelings
Relating well always starts with empathy. Understanding what is important to another person is vital to forging a path together. When designers are able to feel what another person feels and see things from their perspective, we will communicate in more helpful ways. It’s no longer about what “I” want or how “I” feel. Instead, I become focused on helping because I care more about people and find joy in helping meet a need.

2. Accept Input With Open Hands
Clinging and creating have a way of going together. How easy it is to cling to what we create? But when we do this, people get hurt. Our designs are an extension of what God has put within us. But we do not create to feel good about ourselves. We create to express God’s greatness. When we love God more than what we design, we give our creations back to him and hold them with open hands.

People are always more important than the product we are creating. Our perspective must continually come back to giving what we create back to God and inviting input from others. Welcoming input is essential to building strong relationships. It’s not always easy to receive the feedback, but I have found it’s much easier when we remove the personality from the process.

How do we do this? Here’s a practical suggestion: Provide three design options whenever possible. When there are three designs to choose from, people are more likely to find something they like, and a designer is able to find the “yes” more quickly.

In their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip and Dan Heath encourage creators to make it standard practice to provide more than one solution. Doing so helps non-designers gain clarity as they try to communicate what they are looking for and limits the designer’s frustration as they visually illustrate ideas that are abstract and highly subjective.

3. Explore Expectations With an Open Mind
We all come to projects with expectations. Those we serve have them too. Conversations about designs can be challenging, especially when people aren’t able to put into words what they expect to see. So how does a designer explore expectations without becoming extremely frustrated?  The best way I have found is to be willing to take time to ask probing, get-to-the-heart questions. Ultimately, this often leads to managing or even adjusting my own expectations. When I approach people with a desire to understand, they’ll know I care most about helping them succeed.

Flip Your Priorities from Projects to People
Just as Mario Andretti became known for speed, we too will become known for something. How do you want people you work with to think of you? Do they think you’re caring, kind or empathetic? Would they say you hold things loosely and value others’ input?  If not, it’s time to flip your priorities from projects to people; from getting what you want to giving what is needed. And the best way to start is to rebuild trust by asking forgiveness. Relating well happens when people know you care more about them than the project you are working together to complete.

More: Check out the rest of our Design Basics series.

Post By:

Gerry True

Gerry True serves as the communication arts pastor at Oak Hills Church where he currently leads four teams of artists who use their creativity in communication, production, worship and technical arts. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his beautiful wife Karen and two delightful leaders-in-the-making kids, and you can follow him on Twitter at @GerryTrue.
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