Stepping into a Fortune 500 straight from the startup world was like diving into an icy pool after a sauna. I mean, picture this: there I was, fresh out of this energetic startup environment, a place where wearing pajamas to work was practically the uniform, and BAM! Suddenly, I’m amidst the buttoned-up chaos of a Fortune 500 team. I felt like an alien who’d just landed in a foreign land and was struggling to decipher its strange sounds.

I noticed straight up how the designers, my folks, were holed up in their design-dedicated penthouses, or what some might call ivory towers. There was no mixing, no mingling. It was like high school all over again, with each clique staying in its designated corner. But here’s where things got dicey: these design concepts they we were churning out with blood, sweat, and a whole lotta coffee? They were drowning. Drowning even before they could take their first damn breath. I was stuck at this crossroad – do I stick with the familiar, with what I know? Or do I jump headfirst into the unknown? And if you’ve read the title, you’d know I’m not one to back down from a challenge. I dove.

But here’s the kicker: it wasn’t just about understanding a new corporate culture. Nah, that would’ve been a cakewalk. This was about a gap, a big freaking Grand Canyon of a gap, in our communication. Designers, on one side, were whipping up these magnificent concepts but were doing a horrendous job at selling them to the rest of the team. We were isolated, and not by walls or floors, but by our jargon, our approach, our stubbornness.

We lived in our bubbles, obsessed with pixels, hues, and typographies. But outside that bubble? Our concepts, our ideas, they were being overlooked, misunderstood, or worse, ignored. And man, if that doesn’t sting, I don’t know what does.

The Usual Suspect: The Designers

So, let’s talk about us, the designers. The ones with the fancy stuff, endless ideas, and the ability to debate over fifty shades of grey – and I’m not talking about the book.

First things first, we have our own language, Designer-ese, if you will. It’s a world where “kerning” isn’t some hipster kid’s name and where “palette” isn’t something you eat off of. We love our details. I mean, obsessively. Ever seen a designer get all googly-eyed about fonts? Yeah, that’s us, waxing poetic about serifs and how Helvetica is the vanilla ice cream of fonts.

Now, I’ll admit, we can sometimes sound like we’re part of some elite design cult. We throw around terms like “minimalistic approach”, “human-centered design”, or “responsive layouts” and expect everyone else to just nod along. But here’s the deal: not everyone gets it, nor should they have to. We’re so lost in our world of colors, spacing, and vector illustrations that we forget there’s a broader audience out there, one that doesn’t necessarily speak our lingo.

Enter the Know-it-All Syndrome. Look, I’m gonna call it like I see it. Sometimes, we designers can act like we’ve swallowed a design encyclopedia and have become the be-all-end-all authority on aesthetics. It’s not arrogance, per se. It’s this genuine passion we have for our craft. But here’s the snag: it can come off as condescending. Like, “Oh, you don’t understand why this specific shade of blue evokes trust? Let me educate you.” Yikes, right?

This leads us to the heart of the matter: our essential but oh-so-misplaced passion. Designers aren’t just about making things look pretty. There’s strategy, there’s psychology, there’s intent behind every choice we make. But when we’re presenting these choices, we often get tunnel vision. We’re like kids showing off our art, pointing at every color, every line, and hoping others see the magic we do. Sadly, that’s not how it always pans out.

Let’s get one thing straight: details matter. Hell, they’re the backbone of our job. But there’s a time and place for everything. When you’re explaining why a design choice matters, it’s not always about the color gradient or the icon placement. It’s about the bigger picture, the impact, the “why” behind the “what.” And that, my friends, is where many of us trip up. We’re so caught up in the nuances that we miss out on connecting with the very people we’re trying to impress or collaborate with.

The Culture Shift: PMs at the Helm

Hold onto your mockups, folks, because now we’re diving into the wild world of Product Managers. And if you think they’re just the folks who make calendars and send you reminders, friend, you’re in for a shock.

To truly understand the importance of PMs, let’s draw a parallel. Imagine a movie set – while designers are the set designers and cinematographers bringing the vision to life, PMs are the directors. They’re the ones orchestrating the bigger picture, ensuring every department is in harmony, and steering the ship towards the final vision.

In a corporate setting, especially in places as colossal as the Fortune 500 beasts, the culture often shifts towards what’s immediately tangible. Here, results rule, and Product Managers, with their goals, metrics, and ROI discussions, stand tall. They speak the language of results, of deliverables. Their primary concerns? User growth, revenues, retention, the whole nine yards. And let’s be honest: that’s where the moolah is.

So, when you’re in a PM-driven environment, it’s like trying to make your voice heard at a rock concert. They hold the cards, the influence, and more often than not, the final say. They have this unique blend of business know-how mixed with a dash of technical understanding and a sprinkle of user empathy. The perfect recipe for getting shit… oops, stuff done.

Understanding PMs is crucial. These are the folks who know what the stakeholders want, who understand the pulse of the market, and have a roadmap in their minds. Designers might see a single product or feature, but PMs see a spectrum of interconnected elements, each playing a part in a broader strategy. They’re thinking about the next quarter, the next year, and sometimes even the next damn decade!

The key to navigating this landscape is to get on their wavelength. And it’s not about sweet-talking or trying to be their best bud. It’s about understanding their motivations, the pressures they’re under, and the targets they’re chasing. When they talk user metrics, they’re essentially talking about people, behaviors, and habits. When they discuss revenue goals, they’re looking at the sustainability and growth of the company. It’s all tied together.

This doesn’t mean you bow down to every whim or demand of a PM. Nah, that’s not the vibe. But it does mean recognizing their role, understanding their perspective, and figuring out how your designs play into the larger picture they see. Remember, it’s all about harmonizing, about finding the melody in the cacophony.

It’s crucial to be proactive. Don’t wait for them to come to you with a problem. Anticipate their needs, be inquisitive, ask about the goals, the “whys” behind the “whats”. When you understand their language, not only can you design better but you can present your designs in a way that resonates with them.

The Superpower: Speaking Different Languages

If there’s one thing I learned from bouncing around from startups to Fortune 500s and from boardrooms to design war rooms, it’s this: speak the damn language of the person you’re talking to. I mean, you wouldn’t bust out your sick skateboarding lingo when talking to your grandma about her knitting project, right? Same goes for business.

We live in a diverse business ecosystem. Just imagine the corporate world as a bustling marketplace in a big city. Every stall, every vendor, every customer speaks a slightly different dialect. If you can’t adapt, you’ll end up buying a llama when all you wanted was a latte. Hyperbolic? Yes. Point made? Hell yes.

So, let’s break it down. Adapting to the Audience: One of the first rules in the art of conversation is to know thy audience. If you’re pitching a design to developers, they probably don’t give a hoot about the latest Pantone color of the year. They wanna know how it integrates, how it functions, and maybe, just maybe, how much of a pain in the rear it’ll be to code. Tailor that pitch, peeps!

Moving to The Importance of Context: Remember, every conversation in business is about priorities. Your CEO might be losing sleep over user growth. Meanwhile, the marketing team could be obsessing over conversion metrics. So, if you saunter into a meeting and start discussing the virtues of a specific font over another, eyes are gonna glaze faster than donuts at a bakery. Unless, of course, you can relate that font to user experience and how it might boost retention. See where I’m going with this?

Now, it’s not just about what you say but how you say it. Perception is a wily beast. Two people can say the same thing, but if one’s all jargon-heavy and the other one’s clear and relatable, guess who’s gonna get the thumbs up? The nuances, the tone, the framing – it all plays a part. You might have the most revolutionary idea since sliced bread, but if you can’t express it in a way that’s digestible (pun intended), you might as well be talking to a wall.

Listen, you don’t need to be a chameleon, changing colors every second. But you do need to be like those fancy RGB gaming keyboards – adaptable, dynamic, and knowing when to light up in just the right way. Every department, every team, every person has a ‘language’, a set of priorities and concerns. By aligning your communication to that, you make sure you’re heard, understood, and valued.

To wrap it up, in the vast landscape of business, where various teams function like the organs of a body, make sure you’re the nervous system, transmitting and translating messages, ensuring everything runs smoothly. Because once you master this superpower, you’re not just a part of the conversation; you’re leading it.

Strengthening Your Arsenal

Hold up, friends. Let’s level with each other for a minute. Ever walked into a meeting, and it felt like you entered a Star Trek convention without knowing a lick about the series? Everyone’s throwing around acronyms and terms, and you’re just nodding along, hoping no one discovers your little secret? Well, the jig’s up! But fret not, we’re gonna armor up your arsenal so you can walk into any room, and not only get what’s being said but also sling that lingo right back.

Starting off with Business Acumen for working with PMs. My friends in design, look, I get it. You’re all about aesthetics, user experience, and creating the next eye-popping design that makes users go “Woah!” But in the corporate jungle, knowing the how’s and why’s of a design isn’t enough. We gotta delve into the what’s. What’s the ROI (return on investment) of that fancy new feature you want to add? What’s the impact on user metrics? And sweet baby Yoda, how’s it gonna affect the bottom line? You don’t gotta be Warren Buffett, but having a handle on the basic business metrics? That’s your ticket to the big league conversations.

Next up, Technical Acumen for working with developers. Here’s where the plot thickens. Designers, it’s time to nerd out! And I don’t mean the “which Pantone color for this year is rad” kind of nerd-out. I’m talking about understanding the bones and muscles of the beauty you’re creating. How’s it gonna stand? What supports does it need? How scalable is that magnificent design of yours when the developer crew dives into the back-end? Ditch the surface and dive into the deep end. When you get the constraints, the infrastructure, the ins, and outs of coding, you’re not just throwing designs over the fence and hoping for the best. You’re collaborating, understanding, and synergizing.

But here’s the real kicker: Beyond Acumen: Empathy and Active Listening. Numbers are cool. So are tech specs. But the real magic? It happens in the space between the lines. Listen, really listen, to what’s being said, and more importantly, what’s not being said. Feel the room. Get where they’re coming from. Empathize. When you truly understand and value the perspectives of others – that’s when you’re not just part of the team; you’re the heart of it.

To wrap this up, think of your arsenal as your toolkit. Each skill, each bit of knowledge, is a tool. And just like you wouldn’t use a hammer to screw in a bolt, knowing which tool to whip out and when – that’s your game-changer. You got the passion, you got the skills. Now, go fortify that arsenal and come out swinging!

The Art of Choosing Your Battles

Okay, friends. Pop quiz. You’re in a room, and you’ve got the floor. Your design’s up on the projector, and everyone’s eyeballs are on it. The PM leans in and says, “Can we change the shade of blue? It’s a bit… off.” Do you:

A. Launch into a 30-minute TED Talk about the importance of that specific hue in modern design? B. Whip out your Pantone swatch book, ready to defend your choice to the death? C. Take a breath, ask why they feel that way, and pick your battles?

If you chose C, gold star for you! You see, life, just like business, is chock full of moments where you gotta decide which hill you’re willing to die on. And more often than not, it isn’t that hill.

Starting with When Details Matter. There will be moments, trust me on this, when the nit-picky stuff—the exact pixel alignment, the specific shade of a color, the transition speed of an animation—will make all the difference. It’s the crème de la crème, the cherry on top. When it’s a make-or-break situation, where that detail embodies the essence of your brand or your message, then, by all means, go to bat for it! But…

And here comes the curveball with Adjusting Your Focus. How do you figure out which details to get all riled up about? It’s all about reading the room, the context, the project. Is that specific hue of blue crucial to the branding? Is it tied to some critical user feedback? If yes, go for it! If not, and it’s more about your personal preference, maybe it’s time to take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Look, we’re all passionate about our work. I’ve been there, lost in the sauce of design, pouring my soul into the details. But there’s a time and place for everything. The trick is to understand your audience’s driving factors. Are they all about user experience? Brand consistency? Revenue? When you align your focus with theirs, you’re speaking their language, and trust me, they’re more likely to vibe with what you’re putting down.

At the end of the day, it’s about finding that sweet spot—the balance between what your heart screams is essential and what’s genuinely pivotal for the project or the audience. When you nail that, you’re not just a designer or a PM; you’re a dang maestro orchestrating a symphony of collaboration.


Time to tie this all together, put a bow on it, and get ready to level up.

Starting with Words as Tools. Now, I’ve been around the block a few times (don’t ask how many), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that words? They’re like a Swiss army knife. Use ’em right, and they can open doors, mend bridges, and even carve out some epic opportunities. But just like any tool, they’re only as good as the hand that wields them. Use language strategically. Be surgical with your words. Want to influence? Don’t just talk; communicate.

Then, there’s the Power of Effective Communication. I’ve had my fair share of wins, but trust when I say this: shifting the way I communicated was the game-changer. Not just in how I pitched ideas or presented designs, but in how those ideas and projects were received, shaped, and eventually executed. Think of communication like the secret sauce. Without it, everything’s just a bit… bland. But sprinkle a bit of that magic, and bam! You’re cooking with gas.

Now for the grand takeaway. And brace yourself because it’s a big one. Ready? Here goes: Speak their language, but for the love of all things holy, don’t lose your freakin’ essence. We’ve talked a lot about adapting, molding, and fitting into these different boxes, but here’s the kicker: don’t get trapped in them. Sure, wear the hat of a PM, talk the talk of a dev, but at the core, you’ve gotta stay true to you.

Embrace adaptability; it’s the golden ticket in today’s ever-shifting landscape. But while you’re at it, stay authentic to your craft. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what sets you apart. That’s your superpower. Whether you’re a designer, a developer, a PM, or somewhere in between, your unique perspective, your flair, your mojo – that’s the gold.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.