UX Process
Aligning on a Design Direction with Your Team
September 20, 2020
by Maddy Beard

This week we’re gonna tackle a tough question that I don’t really have the ~right~ answer to, but I wanted to share my take anyway. Have you ever found yourself working on a project where you can’t seem to align on the visual direction? Or where there are so many opinions you have trouble vetting them? Or where you know you’ve got a great visual concept but the client doesn’t get it? Let’s be real… we’ve all been there at least once before.

I can think of a few different scenarios where this would come up and each one warrants a different approach. Let’s dive into them individually:

You’re working on a team of designers and can’t reach alignment.

In this case, you’re not the only one on the team who is “qualified” when it comes to visual design, so instead of leaning on the one designer in the room to make a final call, you’ll need to solve this a different way.

This is a great opportunity to look back at what should be your “north star:” your intended audience. Try not to get caught up in your personal style preferences and instead, align on who you’re trying to appeal to. Then you’ll be able to look critically at the visual direction as a team, and determine what’s working and what’s not. If necessary, site research and findings as proof of concept to get your point across to the team.

You could even settle it with a final vote after each person gives their rationale if that makes sense for the issue at hand. Once I was working on a team of 20 designers on a project. In the beginning of the project, a few of us presented concepts and then we all got a sticky note and silently walked around and stuck our sticky note on the direction we wanted to move forward with as a team.

You’re working with a client who doesn’t like the visual direction that you feel is strongest.

In this case, you have to strike a balance between pleasing the client and doing what’s best for their business. Again, it’s helpful to look back to the goal of the project: who are you trying to appeal to?

Having open conversations with your client from the very beginning can really help avoid these disagreements towards the end of the project when lots of work has already been done. From the beginning, when you’re showing initial directions, make sure you’re providing detailed rationale behind each concept. This will help you get buy-in from the get-go.

But if you still find yourself in this situation, my personal approach is to first restate your rationale. If they’re still not in agreement, ask about specifics: what do they like and not like and why? Then see if you can make small tweaks in order to get aligned. If not, then you may need to go back to the drawing board to find a solution that better fits their needs (or at least what they think their needs are.) It rarely bodes well to argue back and forth with a client, so put your ego aside, open your mind a little more and see if you can meet them where they’re at.

You’re working on a team of people across various disciplines and can’t reach alignment.

In this case, you as the designer should really have final say. Teams without clear roles can struggle to get things done effectively and peacefully. I think it’s great to get opinions from others, but only if they are A.) a fellow designer/creative director or B.) a part of the intended audience. If not, take feedback with a grain of salt.

Art is subjective, but design meant to communicate something is much less subjective. Yes, we’re all drawn to different things, but at a certain point you need to settle on a direction and move on. So try to have a north star that you’re able to come back to whenever there are questions or disagreements.