Understanding your customers is one thing. Understanding your internal stakeholders is another — but in many ways, the process is the same.
“You have to learn who the audience is and be able to speak their language,” Perkins says. This can be challenging for creative professionals working for highly specialized brands or clients, but the payoff is worth the effort, says Zack Rovella, creative director at Waltz Creative. His clients include physicians, accountants, engineers, and other technically-trained professionals. Speaking design to them, he says, is rarely productive. Instead, he’s learned to frame concepts in their terms — using language that describes their unique challenges, opportunities, and success metrics. “It's about giving them the confidence that we're making good decisions, and that we have a process to do that through design,” he says.
Ben Child, vice president of Brand at Quantum Metric, has been a creative leader at several small and midsize companies — most recently Workfront, which Adobe acquired in late 2020. In his experience, great creative work depends on strong relationships with stakeholders. Grab lunch with coworkers from other teams. Or, if you’re working remotely, make a special effort to converse over the phone or video chat rather than simply through emails and messaging apps. “First and foremost, you have to build trust,” Child says.
Gaining your stakeholders’ trust and confidence is about more than improving life at the office. The better you’re able to communicate with those responsible for setting the business goals, the better you’re able to design solutions that align with those goals. “There's an ‘Aha’ that happens once you understand them as people and you understand their business,” Perkins says. “Everything comes together really quickly after that.” Informed decisions replace guesswork, understanding ousts assumptions, and meandering meetings give way to quick, focused emails when creative professionals are able to situate their work within the broader picture.
As important as efficiency is for cutting costs and driving revenue growth, there’s an even better argument for staying in sync with your stakeholders. “If you can learn to speak their language, you can help yourself frame the problem better so that you can solve it better,” Perkins says. This is true whether the goal is reaching new customers or engaging better with the ones you already have. When creative professionals understand the relationship between their designs and long-term strategies, “it leads to more excitement behind the work, and it leads to better ideas.”