Designers, stop saying yes, start asking why

Clients don t want you to do what they tell you – they want you to listen to them and then use an intuitive design approach to give them what they really want.

Over the past few years, I have trained thousands of new UX design students in General Assembly, Springboard and Truth About Design… When I analyze their projects, I hear them say over and over again: “The client asked for this” or “He gave such instructions.”

This phenomenon can be observed not only among aspiring designers. It usually looks like this:

  • The designer meets with the client.
  • The client asks for a specific solution – an application, a specific layout, to “make it like Apple.”
  • The designer nods and does what the client asks for. No research, no communication with users, just following the wishes of the client.

This is the wrong approach. Clients don t want you to do what they tell you, they want you to listen to them and then give them what they really need.

The best designers understand the real problem

Imagine you are remodeling your kitchen. You know you spill drinks a lot. Therefore, you tell the design firm that you would like a tabletop that is set at a slight angle so that the liquid flows in one direction. If a design firm just does what you ask for, you will be happy because you got what you wanted.

Clients don t want you to do what they tell you, they want you to listen to them and then give them what they really need.

But what if the design firm says after a while, “We ve done research on different ways to address this spill problem. We have found that the best solution is to use a custom-made countertop with grooves that collect liquid. This way you are protected from spills and the chicken eggs will not roll off your countertop because it is set at an angle. “

If they do, you will not only be happy, you will excitedbecause the design firm understood what your problem was and, thanks to their experience in the field, they were able to offer you a solution that betterthan what you could think of yourself.

This is the work of the designers – understand what the real problem is and solve it. This is the type of mindset that separates the $ 20 an hour freelance designer fighting for scraps on from the designer who is a trusted advisor to his clients and can borrow more high fees.

Clients are not design experts – if they were, they wouldn t need you!

Customers may even be intimidated by you, because in non-professional circles, “design” is still associated with “magic” or “art” rather than “craft”. This lack of understanding can make them feel insecure, and they can try to compensate by throwing in fancy words like “flat design” or “responsive web application” under the guise of what they think they need. Rather than rolling your eyes at the wrong use of terminology, your job is to translate what they say into design solutions that make sense to their real problem.

Even if you are working with bad clients who have a mindset like “I paid for this, so I want what I ask for,” it is your responsibility to get your point across and recommend a solution that makes sense.

Early in my career, when I was not very good at articulating these dynamics, I understood them intuitively. I would listen to what the client asked me to do, nod politely, leave the meeting, come up with a solution that makes sense, show it to the client, talk about why I did it, and almost always the client would say, “Great, this is exactly what what I wanted. “

Even if you work with bad clients who are set up like this: “I paid for this, so I want what I ask for”, As a designer, it is up to you to communicate your thoughts and recommend a solution that makes more sense – through research and a robust design process. In my experience, customers simply want the solution that best solves their business problem. If you can explain why what you recommend will make / save them more money, 8 out of 10 customers will agree.

If you can explain why what you recommend will make / save them more money, 8 out of 10 customers will agree with your proposal.

Two practical examples

Example 1: Website redesign

At the beginning of my career, I had a client who really wanted an Apple-like site. The problem is that the client did not have a compelling physical product — he was in the e-procurement sector and was dealing almost exclusively with tabular data. If you look at Apple s website, most of their sales pages are 75% product photos and 25% animation and text.

I explained this to the client and translated what he was asking for into what he really needed: a site that had the minimum amount of elements needed to clarify the point, an emphasis on strong typography and hierarchy, and a subdued color palette. Here s what we got:

The good thing about this 2009 design is that it focuses on what makes the design usable.

Example 2: Direct refusal to a customer

I recently had a client in Silicon Valley who asked me to discuss some product ideas we could create for users in India, Indonesia, Brazil, and China. The only source of information the client gave me was two 50-page presentations with general statistics on technology use and 4 professionally prepared 6-minute videos reflecting the life of one user from each country.

In this case, I told the client that I could not fix the problem. Moreover, the company as a whole cannot expect to solve this problem in any meaningful way without plunging deeply into the culture of these countries. These are the cultures that literally alien them – and they think they can solve the problems of these cultures from their offices in California, between table football sessions and tea breaks?

I recommended them two options:

  1. Send an interdisciplinary team to these countries for at least two years and ask them to document their experiences.
  2. Buy the top 5 design and research firms in these countries and turn them into offices.

The best we could do from our Mountain View offices is to look at general industrialization trends and see if we can extrapolate from the experience of industrialized countries through technology adaptation and wealth creation.

It s okay to disagree.

So the next time a customer tells you, “I need an app,” don t say, “Yes, which app and when?” Ask: “Why do you need an application?” Or “What application do you think will help grow your business?” The goal of the business that hires you is either to make more money or to save money thanks to the solution you created for them. This is hard for many designers to understand because we are so attached to our skill set and also because we enjoy making money! But if you focus on the client s business needs and work hard to understand the real problem behind the client s request, it will generate much more revenue in the long run.

Give them what they really need, not necessarily what they ask for.

Special thanks to Lauren jow and Gavan gibson for editing the article and assistance in writing it.

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