An Event Apart: “Proper Etiquette for the Advancement of Design”

Dan Mall speaking at An Event Apart Orlando 2016 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World on October 3, 2016.

Designing at your desk with Photoshop or HTML and CSS is easy, but getting your bosses and clients to give your work their stamp of approval is often quite a feat. In this presentation, Dan will share some stories of tools, methodologies, and non-traditional deliverables that can help you get the buy-in you need. Follow along to learn how to make everyone you work with say “please” and “thank you!”

Photo source: Zeffrey Zeldman
Photo source: Zeffrey Zeldman


  • Being a great designer isn’t enough to move your ideas along in your organization
  • “You can’t separate good policy from the need to bring [people] along and make sure that they know why you’re doing what you’re doing” — Barack Obama, The GQ Interview
  • Seventh-Day Adventist Church
  • Sometimes the best design doesn’t happen in Photoshop; sometimes it happens in a contract
  • Research = talk to people
  • “The easiest thing about the search for insight… is that it’s everywhere and it’s free.” — Tim Brown, Change by Design
  • 3 questions to ask at the start of a redesign project:
    1. Why redesign the site?
    2. Why redesign the site now?
    3. How will we know if the new site is better than the old one?
  • How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
    • Why does this work need to be done?
    • Why is change needed?
    • Why do those changes matter?
    • Why should other people care?
    • Why hasn’t this been tackled correctly?
    • Why will this time be different?
  • Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal
    • Sequence
    • Quantity
    • Exceptions
    • Complete list
    • Relationships
    • Organizational structure
    • Clarification
    • Native language
    • Emotional cues
    • Process
    • Time
  • A project with one goal is easy; adding another goal makes it that much more difficult
    • Prioritize goals
    • Get all the right people in the room together at the beginning
    • Have everyone vote on which goals they think are the top ones; then narrow down to top 3
  • SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
  • KPIs & OPIs (Key Performance Indicators & Operational Performance Indicators)
  • OKRs (Objectives & Key Results)
  • Just! Build! Websites! by Melanie Richards
  • The Design Presentation
    • “Don’t waste a client’s time walking them through what they can already see. Your job is to explain how what they’re looking at is the best way to achieve their goals.” — Mike Monteiro, Design is a Job
    • A great design presentation is a great information architecture presentation
    • Use the word “because” a lot; it indicates reasons for design decisions
    • O’Reilly
      • Breaking down page elements by organism in a spreadsheet; leaves you with something that resembles the mobile wireframes
    • Wireframes are hard to understand wireframe because they are an abstraction; they are not concrete
      • Clients usually don’t understand wireframes
    • Art Direction & Design Discussion: College of Engineering
      • “Design in subjective.”
        • Design is only subjective if you’re too lazy to make it objective
      • “Design is the rendering of intent.” — Jared Spool, Founder, User Interface Engineering
      • Design is about “the look”; Art direction is about “the feel”
      • The Question of the Hour: Does this site feel like the future of the College of Engineering?
    • Any time we are being intentional about a thing and showing someone, we are being designers
    • When you say “what do you think?” at the end of a presentation you open the floodgates
      • Direct the conversation
  • Your job isn’t just to make things look good

Speaker Links and Resources