September 21, 2020

A Principled Stand Against 11th-Hour Project Indecision

Christopher Lane

The Setting

We’ve all been there. It’s a major marketing campaign. A product launch. A new website. The kickoff of a live event months in the planning. You’re days, hours, or moments away from showtime. And then someone — someone senior — says it … “Are we sure about this?”

Panic time. Doubt sets in. Cue flop sweat. Suddenly you’re spending late-night hours you don’t have revisiting every decision that’s led up to now, when you should be moving forward with confidence alongside a unified team.

Sound familiar?

The Solution

At Rob Roy Consulting, we’ve discovered a tool to avoid these 11th-hour executive pivots — the design principle. Design principles have helped Rob Roy clients pull together and execute complicated and emotionally-charged projects with minimal drama and maximum confidence. We’re not the originators of the expression, but we’re all in when it comes to their creation and application. They help teams like ours make collaborative and correct decisions.

So, what exactly are design principles? They are IDEALS to strive for when building a digital experience. They enable the creation of a THOUGHTFUL EXPERIENCE driven by a clear purpose. Once established, they become shared AGREEMENTS among the individuals working to create it. Without them, there’s no way for a group to make considered and meaningful choices. Without agreed-upon values, decisions become arbitrary, especially in moments of crisis or last-minute doubts.

Over time we’ve seen how design principles apply to any challenge, any decision, any endeavor. They are not limited to creating digital experiences. They can become guiding ideals for your personal and business existence.

Our Rediscovery

Our recent rediscovery of the power of design principles began when a Rob Roy client needed to convert a live, in-person event into a virtual one in the early days of the pandemic.

It was a live conference that drew thousands of customers and prospects, a highlight for many in their sector. And for 2020, they needed to convert it into an entirely virtual experience. We had collaborated with this client on messaging strategy in previous years. Now they were asking us to help them transition to a digital venue, in a very short span of time. They had to try to live up to their audience’s expectations from previous events, and set new ones for this virtual format. And they had to establish expectations with ambitious, opinionated executives internally, and get aligned around major decisions. Quickly.

It was new territory. For them. For us. Thrilling and intimidating all at once. Lots of decisions had to be made in a short amount of time. What kind of experience were we going to promise? What did our audience actually need? What were their limitations, and what could they commit to? What technology platforms would we use? How much content would be required? How many attendees, including employees and partners, would need to be supported? And, most importantly, how could we stay internally aligned on decisions as things evolved quickly?

The company was already using one platform for meetings and small conferences. Due to its familiarity, there was an internal push to make it the key delivery method of the virtual experience. But it wouldn’t support private conversation spaces for attendees, which was a desired requirement based on a survey taken by our client’s customer base. The pressure of the deadline and the need to make fast decisions created a pressure cooker in which the most convenient choice would result in a compromised event.

How could we avoid this dilemma so early in our planning? Choices were being made in a vacuum, increasing the risk of 11th-hour pivots and last minute changes that would have undermined the event. We needed a set of guidelines — design principles — as to what kind of experience the client wanted to create. 

Rob Roy's (First) Seven Design Principles

Rob Roy set to work crafting these guidelines. First, we envisioned the ideal customer experience of the show. We then reverse-engineered that vision to codify the principles that would lead us through the uncertainty.


The attendees needed to be able to choose what they attended, and not feel forced into anything.


Our client wanted to ensure their customer community had a stake in the event, could contribute content, and see that their survey feedback was acted upon.


The ability of the attendees to connect with peers and network with one another was key in capturing the spirit of the live event.


Every aspect of the show would be required to ladder up to the chosen theme, reflect the look-and-feel of the company brand, and reinforce messages.


As the show would be unfolding during a challenging time of the 2020 Pandemic, the client wanted to ensure that attendees would not have to sacrifice too much time from their daily lives to attend, requiring the recording and re-playing of sessions at each person’s convenience.


With what the world was going through, our client couldn’t begin to have all the answers … but they did have the wherewithal to start asking the questions that could lead to stronger solutions for their customers.


Ensuring that our client’s messages were coming from a source of authenticity and deeply-held belief — not just the easiest thing to say for the sake of sales numbers.

It was design instinct, but codified and grounded in purpose. Made tangible, understandable and actionable.

And with a few tweaks, the client made them their own. The seven items above became the Digital Design Principles for the 2020 show, and the senior leadership team agreed to abide by them. Very soon, decisions that once seemed daunting became clearer.

A different technical platform was selected based on its ability to live up to the principles of Choice, Co-Creation and Community.

Speakers were chosen to adhere to the principles of Cohesion, Curiosity and Conviction.

The overall calendar was planned to align with Compassion.

There were still bumps in the road. Decisions had to be revisited. Technical issues forced re-direction of resources. And events outside of our control created a last-minute crisis of messaging. But the Design Principles we drafted kept us and the client moving forward. The show was a success.

No more “Are we sure about this?”

Welcome to “Let’s push the button on this!”

In my next posts, we will explore how the design principles helped us handle last-minute crises with the virtual event, and how we have been leveraging these principles in ways we never imagined since.

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