Defending Your Designs is Unconventional, Let’s Be Honest | by Briana Bui | Jan, 2023

As I was in my last meeting of the day with stakeholders, one of them asked, “why is it this way and not this way?” in regard to my design. For a second I went blank. I knew there was a reason I landed on this particular design decision, but I could not fully articulate that thought process. In fact, I caught myself wanting to say, “because it just works” or “it just felt right”. This was happening in a span of a millisecond or two. As I stumbled over my words, I ended up passing them over to my amazing colleague who was able to finish my thoughts for me. What’s worse is that within a matter of minutes, I ultimately gave the floor away to the stakeholder whose brain wasn’t jumbled like mine was.

“Well, I actually have quite a number of opinions about this one…”, they quickly chimed in.

As they should.

As anyone should in a culture where we invite all thoughts and opinions to the table to make our ideas better.

Where did that leave me, the designer?

Walking away asking myself why I couldn’t articulate and defend my designs.

Let’s be honest, defending your designs doesn’t come naturally. It’s not supposed to. It’s a muscle that needs to be worked through repetition. Equivalently, receiving challenges to your designs is relatively unnatural as well. Let alone growing the right layer of skin for it. It’s one of those unique fields where you’re supposed to be the expert, but everyone can have a say. Both the user and the stakeholders. What may feel even scarier is that the success of your design is out of your control and ultimately in the hands of the users.

I think back to the fundamentals of art. Anyone can appreciate good art when they see it. It’s the same for music, dance, and other forms of creative expression. I may not know how to paint, but I can appreciate a great painting when I see it. I may not know how to play piano, but I can appreciate good classical music when I hear it. The same can be said for product design. You may not know how to design an app, but you know a good app when you use it.

Tom Greever said it best in his book, “Articulating Design Decisions”,

“The phenomenon that a nonexpert can have an opinion about your design work is something that is almost entirely unique to design within today’s organizations.”

It’s not only unique, but it’s also foreign. At least, to me. Even with three years of UX and product design experience, there is still something very personal about the designing experience and perhaps it’s because, for better or for worse, I still perceive it as an art form. This is likely why defending and articulating my designs doesn’t come naturally.

Unlike art, you can’t design a product because it “feels right”. You need to design because it is right. “Right” being it is data-backed, usability tested, and projects an impactful ROI. That is why stakeholders have their opinions. That is why UX design and many other equivalent fields encounter the phenomenon of non-expert opinions. There is always something at stake and it’s more than just the designer and the ones on the receiving end (users) who get affected by your craft.

As we assume the role of UX designer at any level, designers are often taught that our opinion on design should be the most “right” and we should be able to back our “right” opinions with more rationale. While in theory, that may be true. In reality, that may be true too…some of the time…

“Your design may be revolutionary, but an aggressive and well-spoken salesperson is more likely to get his way if he can convince your boss that he’s right and you’re not”

(Tom Greevey — Articulating Design Decisions)

If we can’t properly articulate our design decisions, we may find ourselves making changes that can compromise our design.

So how can UX designers learn to defend their designs AND get stakeholder buy-in?

At the end of the day, stakeholders care about how your designs are going to solve the problem. Not how or why you did it, but will it work? Non-designer stakeholders project their experiences, observations, and subject matter expertise into your designs, not out of malicious intent, but because they also want the design to be successful. It’s up to you as the designer to decide how you want to digest that information and how to come prepared in order to reduce this back and forth as much as possible.

Problem space identification

One of the biggest discussion topics that drive the entire project is usually the problem space. Everyone from all teams, departments, you name it, is trying to better understand the problem space. Write down and document the problem space, so that when it comes to presenting your designs, you can refresh stakeholders’ minds as to which problems you were solving and how it was negatively impacting the users and/or the business. The goal here is to bring alignment on the problem(s) that we’re tackling within the scope of this project. This is also a good time to document any research or data you have to support the problem space identification.

Proposed solutions

Write out your proposed solutions to each problem. By writing them all out, you can take a step back and see all the plausible options at hand, and then prioritize them based on feasibility and UX and dev cost. When it comes to presenting these, the goal here is to get the stakeholders to follow your train of thought and have visibility into all the various options you had considered. This builds trust and authority, showing that you didn’t just whip up something without thought, but that you were purposeful and logical in your approach.

Showcase your design changes and how it affects the user

Every step of your design process should have been rooted in how it affects the user. It’s beneficial to document how this affects the user alongside your designs so that whether stakeholders are viewing your designs asynchronously or you’re presenting them in real-time, there’s a shared understanding of the projected impact of each design decision you made.


The key to successfully defending and articulating your designs isn’t limited to these approaches presented above; defending your designs may never feel perfectly comfortable. As designers, we are constantly learning how to navigate that foreign feeling and discomfort to successfully leverage our design work and advocate for strong and ethical UX.

What do you think?

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