“Successfully working from home is a skill, just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill, and the traditional office culture doesn’t give us any reason to do that.”“What difference does any of this make if we can’t communicate it to the people who matter?”
—Holden Ford, Mindhunter (2017)
Holden Ford couldn’t have said it any better. As designers, the usual challenge that we face when working with customers is how to better understand what they really want. Most of the time, we just give up and let them have a lot of options to choose from based on our understanding of their needs. But communication is a transaction; it’s a two-way street. Working in a team also involves a lot of communication. So, how can we be more effective when communicating with people?
- Listen and understand: in the case of email-based instructions, read and understand. We recommend reading instructions at least three times—scan, get the gist, and write down the specifics. During this process, you are already forming an idea in your head, and you’ll have questions popping up. For face-to-face communication, listen intently, and never assume or jump to conclusions. And remember, being friendly goes a long way.
- Don’t hesitate to ask: this is only if you listened or read intently. If there are still missing pieces that you need to fully grasp the idea, prepare a list of well-thought-out questions. To minimize the amount of time the customer must spend responding, make sure your questions are well-formed to get all the information that you need. Some customers give vague requests. How do we make the design serve its purpose if we don’t have a clear idea about what the purpose is? Ask for inspiration, colors, dimensions, and ask who their target audience is. Make sure you get everything that you need.
- Know your audience: how we talk to others varies depending on their background or where they’re coming from. You can’t just ask a layman about DPIs and pixels—you need to explain it in a way he or she will understand. This also applies to your designs. If your audience/user is elderly, you’ll need to consider a bigger font size. Explain the options you provided. None of us can read minds, so we have to be as explicit as we can, especially if your customer is not a design expert like you. Make sure you are clear and easily understood.
- K.I.S.S.: Keep It Short and Simple: there is no need for complex sentences or pretentious words. Your goal is to create a common understanding, not a sleepy or confused audience. As a global team, English is the common language we speak, so it’s a requirement for applications here. It doesn’t matter if your English is perfect, you’re a designer, not an English teacher. What matters is how you utilize the language so you can better communicate and understand others, whether they are your customers or your teammates. Practice speaking plainly to avoid misunderstanding. Be clear, concise, and straightforward.
- Ask for and provide feedback: there’s no easier way to improve ourselves than receiving some good, constructive feedback. Considering all the tips above, help one another to improve and step up through discussions and idea exchanges.
Here, we embrace our collective responsibility to delight customers through proper communication and service. Every interaction comes from a place of inclusion, empathy, kindness, and respect. As a global team composed of diverse individuals, communication is very essential to collaborate seamlessly despite our boundaries and differences. Our design also communicates something to anyone who sees it. Communication is very important, and it’s everywhere.