Ditch the big reveals and share design work early

Abstract drawing: How to share your design work early and often

In the show ‘Fixer Upper,’ a dream team of a couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines take the worst house in the best neighborhood and turn it into their clients' dream home. At the end of the show the family stands in front of their new home, blocked by a billboard-sized before picture of the home. “Are you ready to see your new home?” The picture splits open with a jaw-dropping reveal. It's a magical moment filled with tears, shouts, and hugs.

As designers, we want these magical moments in our day-to-day. With grand visions we dream of the big reveal when our bosses and colleagues are amazed by the work that we have been grinding on for weeks or months.

Unfortunately, our day jobs are not perfectly edited TV shows. I have been in the industry long enough to get burned waiting too long to share my work. I am no longer a fan of big reveals when it comes to sharing work internally. Too often those reveals shatter when someone pokes a hole in a flow or points out a missing requirement. It never fails that an opportunity is missed when you learn a teammate is working on something that would benefit from interoperability with your new feature. The setbacks are made worse because you could have received the feedback weeks ago if you were willing to share your work.

Not sharing work early and often is one of the recurring missteps I have seen designers make in every organization I have been a part of.

Why do designers wait to share work? We wait because:

  • Fear of being slowed down
  • It feels like unnecessary work
  • Not wanting to be told ‘no’
  • It doesn't feel safe to share
  • Wanting ‘that moment’
  • Wanting others to think highly of our work and skill
  • We want to be the ones to solve the problem
  • We tie our value and self-worth to our ideas and work

These are valid reasons. The problem is they place the focus on us. When we do this, success or failure rests solely on our shoulders. Not sharing work is tragic because it isolates individuals, places design in a black box, and doesn’t educate or let others participate in the creation process. Letting others in should elevate the quality of our work, not detract from it.

I have spent my career surrounded by extremely talented folks and I tend to leave the conversation with a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ moment. It is why I love to share early. Getting helpful feedback isn’t a dig against my ability, I am one person with a ‘limited’ perspective. Whenever I show work with others, they see things I can’t, and it is better to see these things early.

So how do you bring people in early?

Kick-offs and ideation sessions

I believe designers will benefit from honing their facilitation skills. Facilitation allows you to lead productive sketching and brainstorming sessions with individuals at all levels within a company. People don’t need to be designers to bring great UX risks and opportunities to the table. I have found that running cross-functional workshops around managing UX risks and opportunities is extremely beneficial. 

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”

I’ve been trying to become more proficient in creating quick prototypes to share as soon as possible. These prototypes don’t need to be polished; they need to give others the idea of an experience. Prototypes help stakeholders and partners visualize experiences, poke holes in assumptions, and offer better paths forward. Figma makes it easy to create quick clickable prototypes and there are a ton of great resources out there.

Create a Loom walk-through of your prototype or design

We don’t need meetings to move work forward. Loom makes it easy to record your screen and talk through your designs. I believe that recording a Loom walk-through of a prototype can be more impactful than a prototype by itself. Why? Figma prototypes are powerful, but they have limits. Controlling the narrative and giving people a glimpse into an experience can help a prototype come to life. It allows you to tell a better story and keep stakeholders focused on the feedback you are looking for.

Show your work to stakeholders and decision-makers before big meetings.

This may seem counterintuitive, but it works. Have a big meeting with a director or VP? Why not let them in on what you are thinking before the meeting? This is where Looms can shine. A recording allows you to create content for busy people to consume on their own time, and it will enable them to engage with your work before the big event. If you are working towards the same objective, you don’t need the pageantry and mystery of a big reveal. Instead, bring stakeholders in beforehand and give them time to ask questions or provide feedback before ‘the review.’ 

Sharing work is vulnerable. But remember that your teammates’ perspectives and feedback are some of your most powerful assets. So let them in on what you are doing, and create better work together.

Sharing early work takes effort, practice, and vulnerability. But it is a skill that will set you apart. 

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—@kylelambert