How Designers Can Communicate With Non-Designers

Communicating with non-designers is something that is difficult for many designers, whether they are talking to clients, co-workers or their supervisors. It can be hard to share your thoughts and ideas with someone when it feels like you’re not even speaking the same language.

If you find this frustrating, imagine how it must feel for the other person. They may feel inadequate or inferior because they don’t understand what you mean. In some cases they may even pretend to understand to avoid embarrassment, which can lead to misunderstanding and problems on a project.

Good communication is the foundation of good creative process. Ensuring you are communicating your ideas and your execution a meaningful way that is easily understood, can be the difference between great projects and rapid career escalation or not meeting your obligations and being stagnant.

Keep Explanations Clear and Concise

Avoid using “design terms” and “jargon” in your explanations to non-designers. Consider how you would explain something you need to communicate to a grade school student, without being patronizing.

For example, here is a basic way to explain Typography to non-designers:

“Typography is an art where we try to make type readable, while also making it look interesting and communicate our ideas. Using a bold font and making the type red to help people understand it is an alert and important, is a good example of this.”

By explaining your design choices and decision in this way, you can help people understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Typically when you deal with non-designers they will appreciate you making things clear for them and giving examples that anyone can understand. Many designers struggle with the feeling that they need to use industry language to prove their credibility or intelligence, which unfortunately works against them.  Just keep it simple.

Use Visual Examples in Your Explanations

Have you ever come across “explainer videos”? They are a very popular phenomenon and have become a go-to resource in the tech industry for explaining complex ideas or technologies to consumers in a few short seconds or minutes. They are popular for the same reason presentation decks and PowerPoints are still a stable of many businesses. Visual presentations tend to eliminate a lot of guess work.

There is some irony in the fact that many designers don’t take advantage of visual communication internally when dealing with co-workers, supervisors, or clients when explaining things. This can take the form of simple wireframes or mockups, but also whiteboard illustrations.

You can use this to visually break down steps in a process, even if you can explain it clearly, the visual reference often helps. Diagrams of a workflow, even when this is done with simple post-it notes, can be effective in helping people understand both complex information or a high volume of information more intuitively. After all, seeing is believing.

Use List, Bullet Points and Small Numbers

Going back to the earlier topic of being concise, sometimes it is good to lead with numbers, particularly smaller numbers that make things easy to remember or don’t feel overwhelming. When explaining the design process to clients I often use three steps:

  1. Creative and Consulting: Let’s figure out what you need and do some initial mock-ups.
  2. Design and Execution: I will create something based on what we figured out together and handle revisions.
  3. Production and Delivery: Now I will polish the approved concept, make all the needed files and deliver them.

These clear and concise bullet points are easy enough for the client to remember, understand, and have a reasonable expectation of what will happen. When you can break things down like this, it removes anxiety, builds confidence and establishes trust. While this is clearly not the “formal design process” it is something that a non-designer can wrap their head around and feel certain that they understand, which of course makes all the difference the world when you’re asking someone to invest their hard earn money.

Like minimalism, less is more when communicating with those not familiar with your craft. Try not to over-explain or over-simplify. Find the right balance between being clear and concise without being curt or patronizing. Nobody enjoys being talked down to. Your job is to make people feel comfortable and informed. Much like what you would accomplish with a well-executed design. Consider this type of communication as simply another design challenge, using your creative and presentation skills to achieve the desired result or call to action.

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Posted on: October 23, 2015

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

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