Approval politics

5 years ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

Watching the politics of politicians is frustrating and energy sapping. No matter who you barrack for they all have an angle, an agenda that can be contrary to the best interests of the people they represent.

If you’ve ever been involved in a design process you’ve more than likely experienced the aggravation of approval politics — just as disheartening as the stuff on TV.

You know how it goes, you and your highly qualified team have spent months pouring your intellect and experience into a project. As it’s nearing completion you watch in horror as all the months of hard work stall because one stakeholder’s view differs from that of the design team’s, the marketing research and 99.9{c2bc4dcc82a24c7a0a4780d09ca51e05a889725c4a6e53b8bbcdcdf364f60b87} of all the other stakeholders.

It’s a very frustrating position to find yourself in. Your team have lost countless hours of sleep worrying over every stage of the project. Despite having hurdles placed in the way they’ve managed to work out a solution to every problem. At each turn in the project the team has kept the vision on-track while incorporating disparate points of view that may not have been considered or fully understood.

Yet you now face your biggest challenge as the end nears, and all because of one inexperienced person and their personal preference that’s contrary to what the users want.

It’s frustrating when you watch an ego hijack a project, but they have now become your problem. You have one last negotiation before the project ends, if you fail to get your point across effectively you are one move away from having to turn the entire solution into something that will fail to engage the end-users and/or look damn ugly.

Lack of understanding = negotiation

As a designer there are several assumptions you make when you’re engaged to do work for a client, for example:

  1. The person(s) I’m dealing with has experience dealing with designers
  2. The person(s) I’m dealing with understands why it’s important to make big changes to a project early on — before it’s designed
  3. The person(s) I’m dealing with understands that owning a copy of InDesign doesn’t make them a designer; and that they will listen to professional advice
  4. The person(s) I’m dealing with understands why fact trumps opinion
  5. The person(s) I’m dealing with understands the design process and understands that you can’t just jump to step 3 without doing steps 1 and 2.

These assumptions can sometimes form the foundation of problems further down the track. It may seem counter intuitive, but these problems crop up regularly.

Let’s be honest, it can be offensive to a lot of people to ask them about their experience with any of the above points. People don’t like to feel that they don’t know something, especially when they’ve been tasked with delivering a design solution. That’s why it’s rare that someone raises their hand in a classroom and says ‘I don’t understand’. It’s more likely that everybody will just nod their head, pretending they understand.

When egos are being protected it should be obvious why these remain as unspoken foundational assumptions — people don’t like to feel uncomfortable.

Either way, as a designer, you have to confront the issue and gently negotiate your way forward. There are no standard rules here. Each case is different, each person is different.

It requires a gentle confidence and good negotiating skills to work around these hurdles and egos AND get approval to do what you know needs to be done.

Research is hard to argue against

People have a tendency to relax when their fears are addressed calmly and logically, without bruising their ego or uncovering their lack of experience. More often than not unspoken fears lie just beneath the surface of an objection.

If your project has been based on the research collected from your target audience, that’s a good place to start. Explaining how the research has informed an outcome of your design or marketing plan can calm hidden fears. Often the obstructive person may fear something they can’t articulate. If so, it’s imperative to get to the heart of that fear and demonstrate how the market research informed the outcome.

It can be helpful to walk through each step and show how it influenced the next step. More importantly, find the last step that everybody was happy with and then use it to uncover where, in their minds, the problem developed and then address that ‘problem’.

Address the underlying fears and you’ll be addressing your problem.