The Best Advice for Designers that Designers Will Not Want to Read

Greg Robleto
4 min readApr 19, 2023

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Empathy is a core skill for every designer.

Displaying empathy for their users’ needs, wants, and behaviors lead to understanding. Understanding unlocks possibilities. Possibilities lead to better products and experiences tailored to users’ needs.

The user group that Designers often ignore

Ironically, a group that Design teams do not provide the same amount of understanding and empathy toward is the group that signs their paychecks: the executives or leaders of the company.

Two Twitter threads by Andy Budd, opened my eyes to how pervasive an issue this is and changed my perception by changing my perspective.

Designers are Playing Chess. The Business is Playing Poker

Reading this thread opened my eyes to the different methodologies designers and business use to create products. The game's metaphor is particularly apt.

Andy explains how it is a misalignment of the concept of waste.

If 70% of new features have no discernable impact, the Design Team wants to slow down, expand the research and improve the process to reduce that percentage of ineffective features.

Meanwhile, Andy explains, the business chooses to move at a faster velocity; to churn through that 70% ineffective to get to that 30% of highly impactful features.

The takeaway that Designers likely don’t want to hear is that the business picks the game. And as much as they want to be at a chessboard, they are sitting at the poker table.

The result of asking DALL-E for “a table with one person playing chess and the other playing poker.”

Ignoring the Obvious

Just as it’s a known best practice for designers to not fall in love with their work, they, too should not fall in love with the process.

Truth be told, there isn’t even one process to fall in love with. There are multiple top-tier design process alternatives from Design Thinking to Double Diamond to Lean UX and beyond.

In this second thread, Andy Budd addresses the resentment designers feel when solutions are handed down or the design process is not respected, but illuminates that feelings of resentment can go both ways.

And resentment from executives can be much more easily acted upon. Teams of talented and passionate designers who push too hard for the “right way” can get labeled as obstructionists and cut out of the process. Those “obvious” solutions they are trying to intercept and improve start going directly to engineers to avoid the design “speed bumps.”

Andy recommends focusing on being aligned than being “right.” The solution can be a starting point, a demonstration of willingness to keep aligned. From there, it can be refined and redesigned if need be. It could also be a good solution. It’s not ridiculous to think those executives would also know their users and their needs.

It’s an unpleasant truth many designers won’t want to read, but it’s essential to understand and internalize that even the best design process doesn’t work if it isn’t aligned with the goals of the business.

The result of asking DALL-E for “a designer making others slow down“”

How I’ve internalized these perspectives

Today, when I find myself in a meeting where Designers are venting about the executive’s solutions or the business not respecting the design process, I listen, I empathize, and then I play devil’s advocate and try to illuminate the position of the business. I work patiently with the frustrated Designers to find alignment by helping them reframe their perspectives with empathy and understanding of the broader picture.

Disclaimers: This post is based on connecting two Twitter threads to experiences I have known or been made aware of. References do not reflect any particular individuals… except Andy Budd, who was intentionally referenced being the individual who wrote the two Twitter threads. This article does not speak for him or represent the views or opinions of any of my current or former employers. Finally, I’ll use this space if you are still reading to say I am underwhelmed with DALL-E. While it is certainly impressive that it can produce images like this, these particular images took many tries to craft, and the results are just passable. This effort will allow me to sleep easy, knowing we are still a few stages away from the AI robots taking over.

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Greg Robleto

Creative leader at the intersection of design, product, and tech. Writing mostly about design, CSS, product strategy, leadership, investing, and more.