Mastering Design Communication: Insights from ‘Articulating Design Decisions’

Murphy Trueman
4 min readMay 3, 2024

When I started my design career over thirteen years ago, one of the first things I learned was that I would need to spend a lot of time justifying my design decisions.

Design is one of those interesting career paths where everyone has their own style, visual preferences, and opinions; it’s easy to criticise but difficult to explain or direct steps to improvement — it’s all subjective.

One of the first projects I worked on was a website that I designed and built for a local author. We went through endless rounds of feedback about navigation patterns, subtle background textures, and text sizes.

There was a lot of “why is this text this size?”, “why aren’t these buttons the same colour?”, “can we make the text blue instead of black”… At the time, I knew that I made the decisions intentionally, but I had trouble relaying that back to a non-designer. And as it turns out, “because it’s right”, “because that’s how I was taught”, and “X company does it this way” doesn’t cut it.

I spent years honing my skills and learning how to tailor that communication to give stakeholders just enough detail, while communicating design decisions and creative concepts confidently and effectively. And to this day, I’m constantly tweaking and refining my approach.

One of the tools that has helped me along that journey is a book by Tom Greever, called Articulating Design Decisions. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve read the book at least five times, and that I recommend it to almost every designer I meet.

Below, I’ll walk you through some of the key takeaways from the book that have helped me throughout my career, but I highly recommend ordering a copy for yourself ASAP.

To preface these key takeaways, I’ll start by detailing the 3 things Tom believes a designer should be able to articulate about their designs. Keep these in mind as we progress through the rest of the article.

  1. What problem does the design solve?
  2. How does it affect the user?
  3. Why is it better than the alternative?

And with that in mind…

Listen, don’t defend

Active listening is an essential skill to master to ensure your ideas are taken seriously by team members and stakeholders. No matter how experienced you are, presenting your work can be stressful. In some instances, this stress can be projected as defensive behaviour, which is counterproductive and can sometimes escalate disagreements.

The goal is to remain open-minded and respectful of others’ opinions. Remember that there are often multiple solutions to a problem; we uncover gold when we bring people with diverse backgrounds together to solve those problems, together.

Communicate with structure and purpose

Even when prioritising listening, it’s important to be prepared to speak and to be able to structure your communications. This means controlling your message and being ready to explain the reasons behind any decision, at any given moment.

Try to use strategies that optimise memory by breaking up information and repeating key messages. Master the art of the pause, and ensure the conversation remains centred around evidence and research on what works; don’t let the final decision come down to a subjective opinion.

Be yourself

Remain authentic and genuine in your interactions — by being genuine, you foster credibility, increase your impact and create a more open environment for collaboration.

By staying true to yourself, you cultivate a deeper connection with stakeholders. Share your passion and enthusiasm, as well as the journey that led to your design decisions. Narrating your decisions’ challenges, successes, and human aspects will make your communication more relatable and impactful.

Speak confidently, but remain open

When you present your designs, speak with confidence — confidently explaining your choices while being receptive to others’ input is another way to build trust. By speaking confidently, you’re expressing a strong belief in your design decisions; you believe in the rationale behind your decisions, showing that you’ve considered the user experience and business goals.

Coupling confidence with openness fosters productive dialogue.

Explain your thinking, not just your design // Tell stories, not just facts

When explaining your design decisions, it’s crucial to go beyond just listing technical details and provide a narrative that captivates and informs your audience. By sharing the journey behind your decisions, you bridge the gap between your design and its purpose, fostering transparency and collaboration.

Imagine you’re a product designer tasked with creating a new mobile app. You start by setting the scene, describing the problem you’re addressing and the user needs that you’re aiming to fulfil. This lays the foundation for your narrative, grounding your audience in the context of your design process.

As you delve into your journey, recount the collaborative efforts, challenges, and iterations that shaped your solution. Highlight how user feedback and empathy guided your choices, ensuring your design remains user-centric and impactful.

By sharing both the obstacles faced and the triumphs achieved, you infuse your narrative with a sense of problem-solving and innovation. You’ll showcase the thoughtfulness and intentionality behind your decisions, making them more relatable and memorable to stakeholders.

When concluding your story, highlight the positive outcomes of your design choices, demonstrating their tangible benefits. By transforming your design rationale into a compelling narrative, you enhance understanding and foster appreciation for your work.

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Murphy Trueman

Design lead, specialising in design systems. 13+ years of driving digital transformation through data-driven, human-centred design & systems thinking.