Jun 20, 2024

Presenting design directions like a pro

Creator of Dive

Director of design at Meta AI

I like to think of building software products as exploring a cave…

Your role as the designer is to:

  1. Venture ahead

  2. Illuminate potential routes

  3. Share your findings with the group

  4. Propose a direction

  5. Help get the team there

Think of prototypes as your flashlights.

They’re how you spot risks, visualize opportunities, and get people excited about potential futures.

But there’s an art to sharing them effectively with your team 👇

Directions > concepts

Early in the design process you’re likely making a huge mess in Figma and experimenting with dozens of different concepts to see what feels right.

Suppose you narrow in on six designs that you think show a lot of potential.

The mistake many designers make is presenting these as six separate concepts to the team.

“if you're just sharing a whole bunch of work and you don't really make it clear what you were toiling over. You're going to get feedback all over the place” — Alex Cornell

That’s why I find the cave analogy so useful. It forces you to create a mental map and identify distinct routes that your team can take.

Each route might contain various concepts, but that’s not important just yet. First, you need to help stakeholders choose a high-level direction.

Here are some strategies to help you present these directions more effectively 👇

Establish your spectrum

“It’s important to establish the framework that was guiding your explorations so that it can create an architecture around the ideas that you show” — Alex Cornell

My go-to framework is a spectrum.

I begin by asking myself, “What’s the main variable that will dictate what we design and ship for this project?”

Then I anchor my routes at key points along that spectrum.

Many times the main difference between directions is appetite (how much time/resources we’re willing to invest).

Another spectrum I frequently used at Maven was power vs. simplicity.

Take email marketing for instance. Should we allow instructors to customize their own automation systems, or design an 80/20 solution that works right out of the box?

I usually begin my presentations with a simple visual representation of my spectrum. This helps people understand my mental model before we dive into specific concepts.

Help the team compare routes

I use simple pros/cons lists so frequently that I even turned it into a component 😅

But you can’t stop there…

You need to make a clear recommendation.

That's why Alex's dialogue typically looks something like this 👇

“As a result of all that background that you now you have, you could kind of either go this way or that way. Here are the reasons why you might go one way or the other. And here's a prototype of each of them. But this is why I think option two is the best direction” — Alex Cornell

Emphasize the tradeoffs

Another benefit of the cave/route analogy is it’s easier to communicate tradeoffs.

“Understand that if we go this way. We're not going that way, and there's certain things down that way that we liked, but we're leaving them behind.” — Alex Cornell

So when you’re presenting your ideas, make it clear what you’re saying no to by going down a specific path.

Name your prototypes

This is something that Alex did a lot while designing the Linear mobile app 👇

“Sometimes it's even worth giving each prototype a name. You know, this is the no menu option vs. the gestural option.”

Naming your prototypes gives stakeholders vocabulary which makes it easier to refer back to your designs.

But you already knew why naming is so important

Use my favorite phrase

Don’t forget to stress the fact that you’re not committing to a specific UI concept at this stage. You’re merely aligning on the map and choosing a high-level route to take.

One way I reinforce this idea is by overusing the phrase:

“it could look something like this”

This tiny disclaimer is a powerful communication tool and a great way to avoid visual nit-picking.

Now I know what you’re thinking… wouldn’t it be more obvious if the designs were low fidelity?

Possibly.

But you often get better feedback when something looks and feels real.

When you’re exploring a cave, high fidelity prototypes serve as the brightest flashlights 😉

Mastering the art of influence

When you think about storytelling in design... Alex Cornell is often the person that comes to mind. And that's a big reason why he's one of the most requested guests on the show.

So this episode is a deep dive into the finer details of communication:

  • The story behind his startup Cocoon

  • How Alex leverages his background in video

  • Alex’s precision and obsession with language

  • Why Alex left linear to work on generative AI at Meta

  • Why getting buy-in for your ideas is kind of like a math proof

  • Behind-the-scenes of the wild videos Alex made at Facebook

  • Lessons learned designing the Substack and Linear mobile apps

  • The mental models Alex uses to construct compelling narratives

  • a lot more

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

I like to think of building software products as exploring a cave…

Your role as the designer is to:

  1. Venture ahead

  2. Illuminate potential routes

  3. Share your findings with the group

  4. Propose a direction

  5. Help get the team there

Think of prototypes as your flashlights.

They’re how you spot risks, visualize opportunities, and get people excited about potential futures.

But there’s an art to sharing them effectively with your team 👇

Directions > concepts

Early in the design process you’re likely making a huge mess in Figma and experimenting with dozens of different concepts to see what feels right.

Suppose you narrow in on six designs that you think show a lot of potential.

The mistake many designers make is presenting these as six separate concepts to the team.

“if you're just sharing a whole bunch of work and you don't really make it clear what you were toiling over. You're going to get feedback all over the place” — Alex Cornell

That’s why I find the cave analogy so useful. It forces you to create a mental map and identify distinct routes that your team can take.

Each route might contain various concepts, but that’s not important just yet. First, you need to help stakeholders choose a high-level direction.

Here are some strategies to help you present these directions more effectively 👇

Establish your spectrum

“It’s important to establish the framework that was guiding your explorations so that it can create an architecture around the ideas that you show” — Alex Cornell

My go-to framework is a spectrum.

I begin by asking myself, “What’s the main variable that will dictate what we design and ship for this project?”

Then I anchor my routes at key points along that spectrum.

Many times the main difference between directions is appetite (how much time/resources we’re willing to invest).

Another spectrum I frequently used at Maven was power vs. simplicity.

Take email marketing for instance. Should we allow instructors to customize their own automation systems, or design an 80/20 solution that works right out of the box?

I usually begin my presentations with a simple visual representation of my spectrum. This helps people understand my mental model before we dive into specific concepts.

Help the team compare routes

I use simple pros/cons lists so frequently that I even turned it into a component 😅

But you can’t stop there…

You need to make a clear recommendation.

That's why Alex's dialogue typically looks something like this 👇

“As a result of all that background that you now you have, you could kind of either go this way or that way. Here are the reasons why you might go one way or the other. And here's a prototype of each of them. But this is why I think option two is the best direction” — Alex Cornell

Emphasize the tradeoffs

Another benefit of the cave/route analogy is it’s easier to communicate tradeoffs.

“Understand that if we go this way. We're not going that way, and there's certain things down that way that we liked, but we're leaving them behind.” — Alex Cornell

So when you’re presenting your ideas, make it clear what you’re saying no to by going down a specific path.

Name your prototypes

This is something that Alex did a lot while designing the Linear mobile app 👇

“Sometimes it's even worth giving each prototype a name. You know, this is the no menu option vs. the gestural option.”

Naming your prototypes gives stakeholders vocabulary which makes it easier to refer back to your designs.

But you already knew why naming is so important

Use my favorite phrase

Don’t forget to stress the fact that you’re not committing to a specific UI concept at this stage. You’re merely aligning on the map and choosing a high-level route to take.

One way I reinforce this idea is by overusing the phrase:

“it could look something like this”

This tiny disclaimer is a powerful communication tool and a great way to avoid visual nit-picking.

Now I know what you’re thinking… wouldn’t it be more obvious if the designs were low fidelity?

Possibly.

But you often get better feedback when something looks and feels real.

When you’re exploring a cave, high fidelity prototypes serve as the brightest flashlights 😉

Mastering the art of influence

When you think about storytelling in design... Alex Cornell is often the person that comes to mind. And that's a big reason why he's one of the most requested guests on the show.

So this episode is a deep dive into the finer details of communication:

  • The story behind his startup Cocoon

  • How Alex leverages his background in video

  • Alex’s precision and obsession with language

  • Why Alex left linear to work on generative AI at Meta

  • Why getting buy-in for your ideas is kind of like a math proof

  • Behind-the-scenes of the wild videos Alex made at Facebook

  • Lessons learned designing the Substack and Linear mobile apps

  • The mental models Alex uses to construct compelling narratives

  • a lot more

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

I like to think of building software products as exploring a cave…

Your role as the designer is to:

  1. Venture ahead

  2. Illuminate potential routes

  3. Share your findings with the group

  4. Propose a direction

  5. Help get the team there

Think of prototypes as your flashlights.

They’re how you spot risks, visualize opportunities, and get people excited about potential futures.

But there’s an art to sharing them effectively with your team 👇

Directions > concepts

Early in the design process you’re likely making a huge mess in Figma and experimenting with dozens of different concepts to see what feels right.

Suppose you narrow in on six designs that you think show a lot of potential.

The mistake many designers make is presenting these as six separate concepts to the team.

“if you're just sharing a whole bunch of work and you don't really make it clear what you were toiling over. You're going to get feedback all over the place” — Alex Cornell

That’s why I find the cave analogy so useful. It forces you to create a mental map and identify distinct routes that your team can take.

Each route might contain various concepts, but that’s not important just yet. First, you need to help stakeholders choose a high-level direction.

Here are some strategies to help you present these directions more effectively 👇

Establish your spectrum

“It’s important to establish the framework that was guiding your explorations so that it can create an architecture around the ideas that you show” — Alex Cornell

My go-to framework is a spectrum.

I begin by asking myself, “What’s the main variable that will dictate what we design and ship for this project?”

Then I anchor my routes at key points along that spectrum.

Many times the main difference between directions is appetite (how much time/resources we’re willing to invest).

Another spectrum I frequently used at Maven was power vs. simplicity.

Take email marketing for instance. Should we allow instructors to customize their own automation systems, or design an 80/20 solution that works right out of the box?

I usually begin my presentations with a simple visual representation of my spectrum. This helps people understand my mental model before we dive into specific concepts.

Help the team compare routes

I use simple pros/cons lists so frequently that I even turned it into a component 😅

But you can’t stop there…

You need to make a clear recommendation.

That's why Alex's dialogue typically looks something like this 👇

“As a result of all that background that you now you have, you could kind of either go this way or that way. Here are the reasons why you might go one way or the other. And here's a prototype of each of them. But this is why I think option two is the best direction” — Alex Cornell

Emphasize the tradeoffs

Another benefit of the cave/route analogy is it’s easier to communicate tradeoffs.

“Understand that if we go this way. We're not going that way, and there's certain things down that way that we liked, but we're leaving them behind.” — Alex Cornell

So when you’re presenting your ideas, make it clear what you’re saying no to by going down a specific path.

Name your prototypes

This is something that Alex did a lot while designing the Linear mobile app 👇

“Sometimes it's even worth giving each prototype a name. You know, this is the no menu option vs. the gestural option.”

Naming your prototypes gives stakeholders vocabulary which makes it easier to refer back to your designs.

But you already knew why naming is so important

Use my favorite phrase

Don’t forget to stress the fact that you’re not committing to a specific UI concept at this stage. You’re merely aligning on the map and choosing a high-level route to take.

One way I reinforce this idea is by overusing the phrase:

“it could look something like this”

This tiny disclaimer is a powerful communication tool and a great way to avoid visual nit-picking.

Now I know what you’re thinking… wouldn’t it be more obvious if the designs were low fidelity?

Possibly.

But you often get better feedback when something looks and feels real.

When you’re exploring a cave, high fidelity prototypes serve as the brightest flashlights 😉

Mastering the art of influence

When you think about storytelling in design... Alex Cornell is often the person that comes to mind. And that's a big reason why he's one of the most requested guests on the show.

So this episode is a deep dive into the finer details of communication:

  • The story behind his startup Cocoon

  • How Alex leverages his background in video

  • Alex’s precision and obsession with language

  • Why Alex left linear to work on generative AI at Meta

  • Why getting buy-in for your ideas is kind of like a math proof

  • Behind-the-scenes of the wild videos Alex made at Facebook

  • Lessons learned designing the Substack and Linear mobile apps

  • The mental models Alex uses to construct compelling narratives

  • a lot more

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

Join 10,000+ designers

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"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

"

I've been binging Dive Club lately and the quality is nuts

Literally the only show about design I watch”

Eugene Fedorenko

"

I've been binging Dive Club lately and the quality is nuts

Literally the only show about design I watch”

Eugene Fedorenko

hello@dive.club

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