Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggghhhhh or How to get clients and teams to accept thoughtful work

Written by: Ben Kennedy
Topic: Design

As designers we commoditise taste. We spend years developing an intuition for proportion, palette, typography and narrative. We spend centuries honing a piece.

Then when a client or engineer doesn’t agree with our decisions, we get upset because we KNOW it feels better to us the way we chose it.

It’s immensely frustrating having to change the colour because ‘my daughter owns a flower arranging shop and she likes the yellow’.

What?!

Yes, being forced to do bad design by the inexperienced client is a huge problem.

Perhaps it’s the development team who has to spend their evening rewriting the code to polish that detail and the response is ‘it won’t make any difference to conversion, so we’ll do it if we get time’. There’s never enough time.

Most designers whinge and whine about being misunderstood, or worse bottle it up and then gradually watch their soul implode a decade down the line.

Someone else always has influence over the project so you HAVE to be a good communicator. At least enough to explain your design rationale, or work in a team where there is a very good presenter amongst you. (There is nothing wrong with this approach; in fact, some of the best teams I have worked in have had a leader who presented introverted designers work brilliantly and everyone worked to their individual strengths.)

Here is what I’ve learned so far about tackling these issues as a designer.

Design the process as well as the product

Request an extra design review as a new step in the process

This can be a preliminary viewing, just after the developer has coded it, with fewer eyes around so the details can be refined under less scrutiny and time pressure.

Once rationalised, prioritise the changes and put them in a shareable document. Make it as easy as possible for the dev to make the changes.

Be positive about the progress so far and then highlight how it can be even better, do not moan about what’s wrong. People want to feel good about their efforts to date, not pissed off because the ‘designer is moaning again’. You don’t wanna be that guy.

Rationalise why the details matter

Why should the team spend the time and budget honing the fit and finish?

Design details make products more trustworthy

The aesthetic, copywriting and interactive nature of an interface are the three elements a customer will evaluate in order to decide how much to trust a site.

Users have nothing else to go on – unless they happen to live near a physical branch of your store or service offering. Check out the Stanford Web Credibility project for more on this.

Good design is good for business. People don’t pay for things they don’t trust…

Attention to detail makes products more useable

Details make the difference between functional and frabjous.

The end user enjoys design resulting from exacting attention because it is easier to use. This creates a positive emotional state in their mind.

Happy people are more likely to take action if it seems natural, almost effortless.

Conversely, we’ve all physically traumatised our devices when confused on a site we desire products from, hammering buttons which don’t work as advertised.

The fractional increase in the line spacing to make the passage easier to read, and that minute change of blue hue which makes the button pop slightly more may seem trivial in isolation, but cumulatively the details combine to make a more useable product. Executed perfectly they can evoke surprise and delight.

More trust and useability means more action — normally some kind of behaviour change, like parting with cash…

The key to getting the design you want rests in explaining why those details make more business sense. If your client understands the strategic reasoning behind the colours you chose (and there should be strategic reasons!) then they will be much more reasonable when you explain why ‘the yellow’ isn’t an appropriate choice. The decisions have been made in order to elicit the desired response from your target audience.

I hope this helps you with what has been a thorn in my side for most of my career. I still struggle with it.

How have you overcome this issue?

Please share in the comments.