In the very beginning of the design process, I run into two types of challenges while learning about my client as well as their project scope. There are challenges and requests that are straightforward to understand and solve, such as creating missing content blocks or discussing functional or technical requirements. However, there are also other types of challenges that are ambiguous and difficult to execute on—and which involve subjective opinions or creative thinking. For example, when a client says they want a website to be more sophisticated, intelligent, and the content more user-engaging, how do you interpret what this means?
In such cases, it is challenging because there are so many ways to approach their requests, but no definitive answer exists. I might have a general sense of what the values mean to the client, though everything I recommend may be reasonable and valid, none of it may be on point in the eyes of my clients. So how can I make sure that my understanding matches what the client articulate? This is not just between my team and clients, it involves everyone in the design project. When multiple stakeholders are involved, how do I ensure that everyone on the same page about what they agreed upon?
In my experience, one approach I find helpful is to make it explicit to talk about everyone’s values and emotions regarding the subject matter in hand. By discussing values and asking participants to prioritize common ones, they create a shared understanding of what values are most important at the individual, the organization level and fully articulate exactly what each value means. This is fairly simple to do, but powerful and effective in 3 outcomes.
OUTCOME 1: It gives everyone to create common languages.
For example, when multiple stakeholders mention “rapport with users” or “be a good mentor”, discussing explicitly what each means gives everyone a clear picture of what it entails and how to do it. It also gives people time to reflect and articulate what they mean as well. By sharing and prioritizing, the organizational values and intentions are refined and clearly stated.
OUTCOME 2: Established values become guiding principles for future design decisions.
As time goes by and more people are involved in the project, demands for more features increases and decisions can be made last minute. Having clear values can greatly help later in the design and development phases when last minute feature demands and requests are made, often causing people to make decisions in a hurry.
OUTCOME 3: It may offer different perspectives on approaching problems.
When you focus on a problem and what it is, you may have fixated on certain ways to solve the issue. By focusing on underlying intentions and values, you may uncover different perspectives on how to approach the issue or become more open to hearing radically different ideas.
Two design tools that I use to discuss values and emotions are called the Value Sort and the Value Mapping activities. Value Sort is choosing values from a pre-defined value list. Value Mapping is when participants are asked to write down values. I usually adapt the activities to the scope of the client’s needs, so it is slightly different every time it’s done. However, the general rules are:
- Form a group of 2-3 people. This can be done as an individual or group activity.
- Ask participants to brainstorm values and emotions they would like to communicate on a piece of paper (I recommend Post-its or Index cards.)
- Ask participants to write down the values (Value Mapping) or choose from a set of pre-defined value list (Value Sort). Value Mapping is good when asking people to uncover what underlying values/intentions they want. Value Sort is good when dealing with a large group and know in general what values the organization wants.
- Have participants arrange their values into different category buckets, “Most Important Values” “Sometimes Important or Nice to have” and “Not Necessary or Not Important”.
- Ask participants to keep no more than 3-5 values in the Most Important category. The goal is to see what everyone identify as the most important values. Then ask them to describe what each value in the most important category means in their own words.
- Share values with other groups.
At WSOL, we strongly believe that aligning client values helps to drive projects quicker towards success. Using value mapping and value sorting during our client workshops ensures that everyone is using the same definitions when speaking about project values. If you know other tools for sharing values or know different tactics to discuss abstract design ideas, please share.