Decisions in the Making        

How to Make the Tough Call as a Designer

July 31, 2017

By: Thomas Richardson, Industrial Designer, Beyond Design, Inc.

Decision making is a vital part of what we do in both our personal and professional worlds. Whether they’re irrationally driven by acting on impulses of pure emotion or taking calculated measures to ensure precise outcomes. The gravity of these decisions come with a varying degree of consequences, from trivial decisions we make in our personal lives which may affect those around us to key decisions we make as professionals that can impact a vast number of people and organizations. As we’ve all experienced, at one time or another, it can be quite challenging to make an ideal decision based on strategy and logic alone.

What makes us unique as human beings is the way we control our behavior and actions through critical thinking. Although, being human often means we are subject to defy logic and reflect on our experience and intuition, using our gut. So, how do we find the balance between critical thinking and rash decision making in the professional world? We do this by first by weighing our options as professionals and secondly acting on them using our profound human intuition.

Making the Right Call as a Leader
The hardest decisions tend to be the ones we face in the professional setting as managers or leaders. In the design world, it is at the end of an iterative phase where we face our toughest decisions. At the forefront of trends and technological advancements, designers leverage experience and knowledge, driven by elements of creativity, to push beyond the status quo. Utilizing various iterative processes such as design thinking we break down problems and develop better possible solutions. Driving towards potential solutions is the point in which ambiguity can begin to build and key decisions need to be made. Up to this point, an enormous amount of effort has been put in to discover answers, constraints have been accounted (timelines, capabilities, budget, user acceptance, etc.), and there still isn’t a definitive solution to grasp. As a leader, it’s at this point where your expertise and judgment will be weighed and measured. A decision must be made, a decision which you can stand behind and persuade other to follow.

Source: Executive Education University of Florida.

Asking Questions and Gaining Answers
When all conventional tools of analysis have been exhausted how do we get these decisions right? We begin by drawing on our experience, resourced, and intuition (“your gut feeling”) as both a professional and humans. Framing the situation using 5 key questions to converge down to the best solution by gauging ramifications, professional duties, feasibility, core values, and personal intuition. Asking these questions will help cut through complexities, understand critical trade-offs, and develop plausible solutions for even the toughest decisions.

What are the Ramifications?
Taking a step back, begin focusing on a more broad perspective. Hone in on the overarching principles and key elements each solution offers both the stakeholders and end users. Too often people become so in tune with a solution on such a granular level they become caught up in the trivial details. Try to discover solutions which carry a quality importance, validity, and significance. While altogether weighing out who will benefit and who will suffer, allowing yourself to foresee outlining solutions that carry value for all parties.

Who and What is Effected
● Who is the primary beneficiary (organization or user)?
● Who are the stakeholder and end users?
● Who will benefit and who will suffer?
● What are the facts?
● What are the issues?

Source: iStock by Getty Images.

What Are Your Responsibilities as a Designer?
Designers are tasked with the responsibility of designing mass-produced products that are bought, used, and consumed on by daily basis. In doing so, we must keep in consideration the usability and ergonomics of a product while working to improve the aesthetics, engineering, and manufacturability. To ensure alignment the best possible solution, we must know what we as designers and human beings owe other people, putting aside ego’s. This practice may exclude some options that may look rather attractive.

● What is the scope of the project?
● What is the true root of the problem?
● What is best for the user?
● What is best for the client?
● Did you ask the right questions?
● Did you discover the right answers?

We combined ergonomics and usability to design the Best Med temple thermometer.

Ensure and Assure
An ideal world is one with relatively unlimited capabilities, allowing designers to effortlessly push the status quo. Realistically we are often grounded by limited capacities, uncertainties, and political resistance. It’s often here where the best solutions perish. Weighed down by constraints, design solutions must be resilient and have a strong case to further evolution.

● What are the capabilities?
● What are the internal conflicts?
● What are the uncertainties?
● Are the solutions manageable or future focused?
● What is the user acceptance rate?
● Will it stick or will it fade?

Know Your Values
After reviewing the solutions laid out you might find that they gather great user acceptance, there’s a balance of ramifications, and the world is ready for them yet they are just not in-line with what we stand to offer and our core values as humans and organizations. The hard part is taking the time to be introspective and identify what you believe and why you believe it. As a leader, it’s key to articulate what your personal principles to help guide you in making wise decisions in difficult situations. Ask these questions:

● What core values and principles apply to the specific situation?
● What is the Organization’s thinking/intent?
● What are the givens, laws or ethical considerations impacting the decision?
● What policies or precedents might apply?
● What is the intent of the policies (rather than just the words)?

Even when weighed down by client, budget, or time, this is when designers must be resilient with their decision making.

Using Your Profound Intuition
This question is reserved for last to avoid the potential for subjective influence during the preliminary process of decision making. While measuring the consequences of a solution you must hold back your ideal solutions, in order to absorb and digest criteria that pertain to stakeholders and end users. Although, if at this point a solution has not been chosen you must make a decision and move forward with confidence using your profound human intuition to weigh out the ideal solution.

● What are the pros and cons of the ideal solutions?
● What can you live with?
● Make a decision.

Source: Resources of Business Analytics

When faced with difficult professional decisions, work through it first of all with knowledge and expertise as a professional. Gather the best information and data, and consult with experts and stakeholders. After weighing out all concerns, by laying out all findings, resolve it then as a human being using the outlined fundamental questions. Professionals are not paid to look things up in a book or apply an algorithm we are made to use our judgment. Using our judgment first as a professional and then a human being is the best way to approach making tough professional decisions.

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