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Saying Yes, Saying No: A Designer’s Balancing Act

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As designers, in order to come up with innovative solutions, we must embrace a “yes, and” mindset. But to really get the job done, our most important weapon is the ability to say “no.” To be successful, we have to constantly find a balance between a mindset of “yes” and a mindset of “no.”

This balance is at the core of finding and implementing creative solutions to meet business needs, yet it is a challenging balance to sustain, and not a skill that is taught (directly) in design school. This is one of those soft skills you learn by doing, on the job, with real requirements.

Open, explore, narrow, close

This balance is inherent in common design thinking practices. It is the essence of good ideation to open, explore, narrow, and close.

drawn diagram
From the Gamestorming playbook

This framework for ideation and decision making is one way to handle the yes/no balancing act, by providing a process for switching contexts through the phases of open, explore, narrow, and close.

We can use this technique to guide clients through the design process, giving them a healthy way to participate more actively in the project and feel ownership over the results.

Internalizing the critic

But to be honest, it’s hard. Constantly on our feet, switching gears. Demanding from ourselves creative solutions and fresh concepts, while at the same time cutting features and design elements to simplify. Saying no to our own work constantly.

It is a labor of love and a state of constant compromise. But if done right, this narrowing in on the true goals of a project and putting the rest in the icebox will result in a better product.

We are not alone

In short, we designers occupy an interesting space where our responsibilities are to envision the unimagined, explore infinite possibilities, and make the critical decisions to narrow in on the right solution.

We are not alone in shouldering this balancing act – our project managers are our greatest partners in understanding and guiding the decisions that we have to make at every stage of the project. Working together, we can develop a practice for client engagement that cultivates a healthy balance between “yes” and “no.”

Cultivating Yes and No

This takes practice. Practice critiquing your own work. Practice receiving feedback. Practice facilitating workshops with clients. And the more experience you have handling complex requirements, the better you will get at this balancing act. Be open to influence and also confident in your decisions, and you will grow as a designer.

How do you facilitate getting good feedback in your design process?

How do you productively engage your clients in ideation?