A Workshop for Practicing Design Communication

Communication is often a popular topic during my 1–1s with designers. Whether we discuss ways to better communicate ideas during client presentations or when collaborating with other team members, they’re consistently looking for new techniques to practice and improve.

While our 1–1 meetings yield some great conversation and individual feedback around communication, I thought it would be worthwhile to try something new and get the whole team involved. I did some research, but unable to find any relevant activities, I decided to create my own.

I like to think of it as a classic game of Pictionary, but… different and for designers.

Instead of drawing an object, we’re recreating a web page. Without seeing it. Confused? Read on.

Here’s how it works:

Note: Make sure to allot at least one hour for the workshop.

  1. First, break the team into pairs. Make sure everyone has a laptop. Pairs can and should be randomly selected. If you have an uneven team, it’s okay to have one group of 3.
  2. Next, assign one designer in each pair with the role of “director.” The director’s job will be to verbally communicate the design of a website’s homepage. The designer(s) not in the role of director will serve as “designer.”
  3. Ask all directors to select a website’s homepage without showing their partner. Once all directors have made their selections, walk around the room to make sure no one’s website selection is overly complicated or too simple.
  4. Explain the objective: “The objective of the workshop is for the designer in each pair to recreate the homepage of a website (director’s choice) with only the director’s verbal instructions.”
    Tip: Don’t let the team know what the objective of the workshop is until after Step #3. This is to avoid any bias when selecting websites.
  5. Get started.
  6. Leave enough time for follow-up questions at the end. (e.g. with 4 pairs, allow for about 10–15 minutes)

Workshop Rules

  • All communication must be verbal, no drawing or hand signals
  • If the designer happens to guess the website, resist the urge to bring it up on your computer

What the team can say:

  • Content types (e.g. button, testimonial, etc)
  • Audience — who might visit the site or the website’s target consumer
  • Category the website falls into (e.g. e-commerce, food, editorial, etc)

What the team can’t say:

  • Website’s brand name
  • Written content on the page
  • Anything that will expose the brand
  • Industry terms or “buzz words” (e.g. CTA, CMS, CRM, modal, etc)

Follow Up Questions

  • Did your team get as far as you had hoped? What do you think contributed most to your progress?
  • Designer: What was most unclear to you throughout the design process?
  • Presenter: What did you find to be most difficult to articulate?
  • Both: What did you find to be the biggest challenge in accomplishing the objective?
  • Both: If you were to do this exercise again, what would you do differently?

Diving Deeper

Great, now you know how it works. But how does this tie back to communication? Communication is an intricate topic because everyone communicates differently. This makes it difficult to find a clear communication technique that works for everyone but that’s not what this workshop is meant to do. Instead, it touches on key concepts that are helpful for everyone, no matter their style.

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

The workshop takes designers out of their every day context and gives them a task they’ve probably never had to do. By doing this, it becomes difficult to fall back on old habits. Given the pressure of time, it is in the designer’s best interest to avoid being overly verbose and to think through exactly how they will communicate what they see. Without the comfort of a visual, it is impossible to hide behind what’s on the screen or resort to bad form like the “real estate tour” (not selling the benefits of the work but simply reiterating what the audience can see).

Asking Questions

While much of the workshop is focused on what the director is saying, it’s also just as important to consider what the designer is asking. Like the key to any strong relationship, this workshop is about two-way communication. For the director to truly be successful, the designer needs to ask questions that will ultimately help them fill in the gaps. Good questions are the catalyst to better results.

Questions help us better understand the perspective of whoever we’re communicating with and help us find clarity in what we don’t understand. Does the client literally mean that they want the button to be pink and 3x larger or are they really just saying that they want it to be more prominent? Without asking questions we run the risk of misinterpretation, wasted time, and even worse, creating work that doesn’t fully address the goal.

Avoiding Buzz Words

As designers, we often forget that not everyone knows what a CTA is (obligatory definition: call-to-action). When we’re nervous during a presentation or even feeling too relaxed, we tend to fall back on these words and assume our audience knows what we’re talking about. The problem is that not everyone feels comfortable speaking up when they don’t recognize a term or maybe they think they know but they’ve actually got the wrong definition.

In the workshop, one of the rules is to avoid “industry terms or buzz words.” Sure, in a real presentation the designer might refer to a “modal” and then define it for their audience but for the sake of practice, the workshop forces the team to get creative and find new ways to communicate the same ideas.

Planning for the Road Ahead

At the foundation of every successful presentation is planning and pacing. Not only the pace at which ideas are discussed but the order in which those ideas are presented. While this workshop might not be quite as formal as a client presentation, the key to reaching the objective is planning for how to get there and making sure the pace of communication stays on track.

When I ran the workshop with the team at Barrel, it became very clear how integral it is to plan as it relates to pacing; good planning equals a better flow of ideas. For the teams who didn’t make it as far as others, I noticed that many of them jumped right in without planning ahead. At the end, the teams who were closer to completing the page took a more strategic approach by planning for the flow of the hour, often starting by laying down the basics (the grid of the page, font styles, etc.). By having a solid foundation in place, it became much easier to communicate ideas and work while headed toward the finish line.

Other Resources

Looking for ways to help yourself or your team better prepare for presentations? Check out the Designer Presentation Prep Checklist (use code: PREZPREP10) I created for the team at Barrel. It’s been incredibly useful in helping designers organize their thoughts when preparing for a presentation and make sure nothing gets missed.

This article was originally published on Prototypr.