The secret sauce to getting design buy-in

4 min read
Hareem Mannan
  •  May 10, 2018
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We all know that an integral part of design is being user-centric, which ensures that a product resonates with the people it’s being designed for.

But designers often forget that there’s another key group that has a vested interest in ensuring a product is functional, usable, and meeting its requirements: stakeholders.

Oh. That’s not a sexy design word, is it?

Stakeholders have a vested interest in ensuring a product is successful. And while a design should work for users, it absolutely has to meet the business needs of those who are funding its creation in the first place.

Related: How to communicate better with stakeholders

At Excella, we’ve mastered the art of getting stakeholder buy-in for designs. And we’re ready to share the secret with you and the world.

Include your stakeholders in the design process

We start off our design brainstorming sessions like all designers do: In a room with coffee in one hand and a whiteboard marker in another, ready to start mapping what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know.

Photo by #WOCinTech Chat. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

But instead of just having a room of designers, we do things a little differently. We invite business analysts, key stakeholders, and sometimes even developers to be a part of not just this brainstorming process, but every design process from there on out. By opening the door to everything from sketching to usability testing, we’re able to have all kinds of team members be a part of the design process.

The reason is simple: We don’t know what we don’t know. By inviting team members with different specialties, interests, and talents to these meetings, we open the door to broader collaboration. The ideas that emerge from these sessions will already have buy-in across the team, which increases their likelihood of success.

“We don’t know what we don’t know.”

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Make personas for people you’re facing resistance from

Sometimes we forget that designers have a tool for understanding users they may not be familiar with: personas! Personas allow designers to connect with users they don’t know much about by creating representations of audiences to better understand who they are. Personas help us understand not only who they are, but also what they want to accomplish, who they want to be, how they use technology, and where their joys and frustrations lie.

Read more about personas: Predictive personas

We should also feel comfortable using design tools to better understand the teammates and stakeholders we may be facing resistance from. Personas will allow us to see our colleagues with with the same frame of empathy we use to understand our users.

Next time you’re having a tough time with a client, (privately) make a little persona for them. Even if it’s in your head, outlining their frustrations, motivations, goals, and the context with which they are making decisions will help you better understand how to navigate dealing with them, which may help you get buy-in from them in both the short and long term.

Usability test with your stakeholders.

I talked a little bit about the importance of having your stakeholders be a part of the design process, but how do you ensure buy-in on a more granular level without taking up too much time or scheduling a formal meeting?

Conducting a usability test with stakeholders can be a valuable practice in ensuring the finer details of your prototype are compliant with business requirements. Designers are, more than any other role on product teams, uniquely straddling the world of both business and user needs. Walking stakeholders through a prototype and making them complete the same tasks users would ensures they are seeing not only general concepts of designs, but also the microinteractions that tie the elements of a page together that create a holistic experience.

I’ve found it to be a great way to get stakeholders to provide structured, valuable feedback on what is being designed and how it aligns with business needs. Pairing this with getting them involved in the design process really opens the door to multiple layers of engagement and insight that allows for a more effective solution that meets both the business and user needs.

Try these few tricks and watch your stakeholders not only never get in your way again, but also become your biggest advocates and champions along the way.


We’re big fans of using Freehand to collaborate with our teammates. Freehand helps you do everything from wireframing to creative exploration, presenting to collaboration. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard