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Overcoming Stress in Design: Practical Advice for Young Designers

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

We all step into this design world full of passion and enthusiasm.

But over time, something changes without us even noticing. Our enthusiasm starts to fade, we get less thrilled, and our love for creativity mixes with feelings of insecurity. We all go through this in our careers, but somehow, we forget to discuss and speak about it.

Acknowledging the stress

Just talking about mindfulness won't miraculously make stress disappear. We often tend to discuss it most when we're knee-deep in anxiety. Why do stress and insecurity remain that unspoken companion on our creative journeys?

I don't want to paint a rosy picture of the ideal client or a project where everything falls in a perfect place. Meditation and walking won't help if your fundamentals are not correct. Stress is our body's response to pressure, and it's woven into life's fabric. Instead of sidestepping it, you need to embrace it and channel your focus into practical strategies for managing it.

The Source: Unrealistic Expectations

Let me tell you a designer's story we've all been part of.

We have got a new assignment, and we are all excited. We plunge into the work, headfirst and eager. We put in hours, days, maybe even weeks, pouring our creativity into crafting something amazing. It's a milestone moment when we finally unveil our creation to the stakeholders, expecting applause. But wait, their expressions aren't what we imagined. They're not as thrilled as we hoped they'd be.

Reality check...

Our masterpiece doesn't align with what stakeholders had in mind. Cue the shock, the scramble to figure out where things went wrong, and yes, the panic. Suddenly, time feels like it's slipping away, and the stress kicks in. It's like a domino effect – the more time you invest in work, the higher the panic climbs. You're not just worrying about the project outcome; you're worrying about the hours you've dedicated to it. Now you are in debt. You have more to deliver in less time.

Moral of the story;

I've discovered that stress often arises from mishandling expectations.

These expectations usually fall into two categories:

  1. The expectation of the End Result: managing the quality of end deliverables and the ultimate outcome of your project.

  2. The expectation of time frame: managing the expectation in terms of time and how soon we can achieve the desired result.

If you skillfully navigate these two types of expectations, your stress levels will decrease significantly.

The remedies: uncluttering the expectation

Before jumping to a creative solution, we must pause and align things to help us achieve a predictable result. I usually suggest these six steps:

  1. Understand Stakeholders' Expectations:

  2. Tell Them About Your Process:

  3. Create a Delivery Plan:

  4. Communicate With Clearly (Good News & Bad News):

  5. Maintain an Audit Trail

  6. Let Your Stakeholders Win

Well, it's easier said than done, so here are a few practical pieces of advice you must take care of while implementing the above pointers.

Understand Stakeholders' Expectations:

This is the most underrated step where things go wrong. So I suggest our designers act dumb and start with a blank canvas without any preconceived notion of requirement. We assume we know nothing about the requirements, and just let them explain what they want. Here are the key pointers to avoid misalignment

  • Consider conducting a workshop or a fun exercise for requirement gathering. During the process, focus on listening and documenting. Ask as many questions as you can ask them.

  • Encourage stakeholders to jot down their requirements instead of responding verbally. This allows them time to think and express themselves clearly, preventing misinterpretation.

  • During the discovery call, instead of focusing on your suggestions, seek their suggestions on how they would solve their current problem through design if they had to.

  • After gathering data, validate the problem statement with stakeholders to ensure complete understanding.

  • Document the agreed-upon deliverables and scope of work.

This comprehensive approach offers a crystal-clear view of stakeholders' needs. Once you're confident, you're ready for the next step.

Tell them about your process.

Explain to them your process well. The process might vary from person to person, project to project, but a few things you need to take care of are:

  • Tell them the outcome of each step involved in your process. Try to think or create concrete deliverables after each step. It gives you a sense of achievement and something to hold on to when things go south. For example, if you have done some visual research, present it as a visual board.

  • Tell them what is the stakeholder's role in your process and how much time and involvement you would need from them.

  • Ask what you would need in return from them to live upto their expectation.

Create a Delivery Plan:

Crafting a delivery plan might seem simple on the surface, but in reality, it's one of the more stressful aspects. Design isn't a clerical task (please note I'm not implying any disrespect to any profession). It's a domain that demands critical and creative thinking. Hence, estimating the time is tricky, often, we overestimate or underestimate the workload.

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Deliver the low-hanging fruit first: Begin by tackling the low-hanging fruit first; prioritize the completion of simple tasks that can have a significant impact. For instance, consider a scenario where we have a landing page for rewards and a journey to redeem reward points. In this case, prioritize working on the journeys ahead of the landing page or key pages. This approach not only provides clients with early deliveries that boost their confidence but also allows your design team ample time to contemplate more complex tasks.

  • Incorporate Feedback Time: Account for the time needed to gather and integrate feedback into your delivery plan/ timeline.

  • Scope Changes: If the project scope shifts, don't hastily adjust the existing timeline. Engage in a comprehensive discussion with stakeholders to understand the implications. Once the adjustment is agreed upon, integrate it into the delivery plan.

  • Communication is Key: Keep stakeholders in the loop regarding any changes – both positive and negative. Transparent communication is pivotal in maintaining trust and understanding throughout the process.

Clear and Effective Communication:

  • Prioritize written communication as a reliable means of conveying information. Opt for communication tools like Figma, Google Docs, or spreadsheets over verbal exchanges for greater clarity.

  • Keep in mind that effective communication is not just about the message itself, but also how it's delivered. When encountering challenges, engage with stakeholders by presenting potential solutions alongside the issue rather than merely highlighting the problem. This approach opens up discussions for potential remedies and allows for negotiation of timelines. For instance, consider a situation where you've been working on a dashboard that has undergone a series of feedback rounds. While you initially agreed with the feedback, you're not entirely satisfied with the final result. Instead of asking for suggestions on improvement, propose a solution that takes constraints into account, fostering a more constructive dialogue.

  • Avoid conveying messages with a negative tone.

  • In case a client or stakeholder expresses dissatisfaction, empathize with their perspective. Instead of dwelling on their criticism, seek clarification. For instance, if they say, "I don't like this card design," consider responding with, "Could you share a reference to help me better understand your preferences?" This approach fosters understanding and collaboration.

Maintain an Audit Trail

Allocate the last 15 minutes of each day before logging out to document your progress. At the end of the week or month, this practice will prove immensely valuable. We often refer to this as "packaging of work." Similar to products on supermarket shelves, our work too requires packaging to preserve its value and exude a premium quality.

The purpose behind this practice is twofold:

  1. It offers insights into your daily progress, providing a gauge of project velocity and how swiftly or gradually you're advancing.

  2. It serves as a comprehensive archive for your accomplished tasks, ensuring clarity on where your efforts have been invested.

Whether or not you choose to share this document with stakeholders is entirely your call. Its primary role is to aid your understanding and organization so that you know where things went south and how you can improve.

Let Your Stakeholders Win: A Designer's Strategy

Not every fight is worth picking, especially in the world of design. We often get so wrapped up in small details that we miss the big picture. As designers, we must decide what truly matters for users and the business.

Think about it: the colour of a button or the thickness of a font – these things seem important, but they won't make or break your product.

Here's the trick: Sometimes, it's smarter to let your stakeholders have their way. Don't argue over tiny things. Let them win on the small stuff so that you can work together on bigger decisions later.

It's like a design deal – give a little to get a lot. By letting them win small battles, you build trust for more important choices.

These Aren't Textbook Rules,

These aren't some rigid rules from a textbook; these pointers come straight from our day-to-day practices. Feel free to throw in your questions and suggestions. What strategies have clicked for you?

Just thinking...

What if you've given it your all and followed every tip in the article, but your partnership with stakeholders still feels off? Could it be a skill gap on your end or perhaps the client isn't the perfect match for your expertise?

Well, that looks like a topic for the next article.

Till then take care.

Ungrammary brings engineering and innovation to core in building products under its UX UI expertise. Stay tuned for fresh ideas and valuable insights that will enhance your digital journey.



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