Have you ever been in a meeting and felt like you were in a giant game of telephone? I hate that feeling. A big reason this happens is because people lose context. As I like to say, problems start when context stops.

What do I mean by this? Well, if people don’t understand something they end up making assumptions and judgments to draw their own conclusions. If people don’t know the whole story, they’ll fill in the blanks themselves. That’s why as a designer it is your job to create context. You need to create a lot of context so that there are no blanks that need to be filled in by the audience.

I can’t tell you the number of times people come to me with their idea for a product and in the first two minutes they start talking about the features and all kinds of details. The details matter, yes. But details are meaningless unless a person understands why those details exist in the first place.

When this happens, I always try and get the person to back up and set the context. I ask questions such as “This sounds really interesting, can you fill me in more on the audience for this product?” and then I also ask things like “What problems does the audience have that this product helps solve?”. Questions such as these help me quickly understand if the person has invested time in customer development and research. If someone can’t answer these questions, it’s a big sign that the product might not turn out too well. Without a defined audience and specific pain points, it’s difficult to create a solution that will stick.

If I’m the one presenting designs or a product concept, I always take time to set the context at the beginning. I spend a lot of time identifying the audience and summarizing their pain points.  It’s a great opportunity to remind people of why the product exists and make sure everyone in the room is on the same page.

Next time you have to present a solution you’ve created, regardless of your business, try taking a few minutes at the beginning to set the context before you show off your solution.

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