4 steps to getting buy-in to design principles

by Trenton Moss on 4 July 2018

We've been creating design principles for our clients for many years and have learnt that half the battle is defining them, the other half is about getting stakeholders' buy-in. There's a balance to be had between being collaborative and being quick - get this balance wrong and your design principles may not take off in the way you hoped.

There are a number of best practices we follow when creating design principles with our clients:

1. Provide context

Before engaging with a broad group of collaborators to create your design principles, be sure to:

  • Have done your user research (to establish customer needs) and senior stakeholder engagement (to establish business goals) and frame everything around these
  • Spend some time with a few colleagues in your immediate team to identify some of the themes the design principles might adhere to, based on customer needs and business goals
  • Flesh out these themes into a clear brief and use this to introduce the concept of design principles to your collaborators

You'll then be able to keep your collaborators on-track with a very tightly defined brief that almost feeds them the answers. If the brief is based on user needs (generated by research) and business goals (communicated by execs) then it aligns everyone really well.

2. Apply the 'not test'

Would there ever be a scenario where someone might not want to adhere to a design principle you create? If so then you're OK, if not then you're being too vague. For example, a principle like 'caring' would pass the test because many brands might not want to be caring; a principle like 'good experience' would fail because no one would ever say they don't want this.

Apply this test ruthlessly when creating your design principles – be sure to introduce it at the start of your workshops and get your collaborators to check each other's suggestions. The 'not test' is a brilliant test which you can apply to many aspects of your work and many things that you create.

3. Consider multiple ways of engagement

There are many ways to engage with your collaborators and the right way to do so depends on your culture, the people you're engaging with etc.

You can start by asking people to anonymously submit design principles (based on the context and brief you define) – once you get the full list, further narrow down the context and work out roughly what you think the outcome could be. Then, run a workshop with key stakeholders with this narrower context which increases the chances of getting to an outcome you're happy with.

The more narrow your brief, the more likely you are to get to a great result (provided the brief is based on user needs and business goals which collaborators can't disagree with).

4. Make it clear who's making the final decision

Right from the off, it's important everyone understands:

  • How the process is going to work
  • That there's no absolute correct answer
  • You'll never get to an outcome that everyone 100% agrees with
  • You're driving this forward and have decision-making authority

So be very explicit about what's going to happen – don't just send out an email and expect that everyone will read it.

You also need to plan carefully for how you'll engage with opinionated people - get them on your side and they'll help drive through the design principles across your teams. Don't get them on your side and your design principles may end up gathering dust over time.

In conclusion

It's super-important to create design principles with other stakeholders - otherwise, they're unlikely to buy-in to or actually use them. You might also want to bring in an agency (like Webcredible!) as third parties tend to get listened to more than in-house counterparts.

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Helen says 07:39am 01 Feb 2018

It would be really nice to see examples of principles you've come up with in your work with organisations

Helen says 07:40am 01 Feb 2018

Sorry - should also have said that otherwise a useful article!

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