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Designer Deep Dive into Communication Skills

Designers going into a corporate environment need to understand that their designs will not speak for themselves. They have to learn the communication skills to collaborate with team members. There are levels of communication that go deeper than verbal or even surface layer non-verbal cues. Designers need these skills to help them navigate the context of where, when, and how they should be expressing their intent.

Clear verbal communication skills

The first layer of communication is how we verbally express our ideas. While even in Western cultures it accounts for a less than half of the exchange, we rely on it for confirmation. For example, designers learn to be explicit about communicating the intent of their designs to do ‘x’. The feedback from research stated that the team should change, ‘y’.

Read more about how to get more actionable feedback.

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Deep understanding of non-verbal cues

In most business exchanges in the United States, non-verbal cues often go unnoticed. Conversation participants will become more diverse. It is not a given that everyone will have the same cultural lens.

There is a wide spectrum of how cultures value communication methods. Consider how cultures value the use of words versus silence. There are existing cultural elements that lie outside of any particular exchange (i.e. individualism, collectivism, masculinity, femininity, and power distance).

Learn more about understanding cross-cultural paradigms.

Ability to observe culture and hierarchy

In Japanese culture, the role hierarchy comes through very strongly with titles and how people use language to address each other. U.S. communication style often reflects a flattened hierarchy, but the truth is that most people sense the importance of organizational hierarchy when the weight of decisions and consequences become more intense.

As a designer, when you are pitching your ideas, consider who will be in the room to plan and adjust the message accordingly.

Read this article on the understated American corporate culture of hierarchy.

Read more on U.S. and Japanese business culture.

Closing thoughts

Communication skill has implications beyond the team and pitching one’s work. Designers need to invest in understanding the context of their work environment. To get their message out in the most effective way, designers need to be open to the complexity of culture and hierarchy in the corporate environment.

Image Credit: Tookapic

Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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