A designer’s most powerful words

To give a bit of background into this article, I’ve never been much of a ‘yes man’ and I’m proud of that. To be a designer isn’t just accepting what your superiors say, you have to question their decisions to get context and motives for their suggestions and by doing so you can provide insight as to why it is or isn’t such a great idea. If I’m asked to design something that will have a detrimental effect on a client’s project, I will try to let them know in a constructive manner as to why they may need to rethink it and why it could be a waste of their resources.

Questioning decisions and offering alternatives is the difference between a designer and a pixel pusher.

I realise that depending on circumstance and who we work for, some of our hands may be tied when it comes to being able to express our professional opinion and we simply need to grin and bear it, however, there are two simple words that can help clients see the error of their way. ‘Why’ and ‘No’.

They’ll usually come in that order and sometimes you won’t even need the second one.

Question everything

Let’s assume that you’re designing an interface of some kind, whether it’s for a website or a mobile application, you will have spent a considerable amount of time researching, assessing the client’s brief and requirements, producing wireframes, ideas, flow diagrams and working on the content hierarchy amongst other things and after being given the thumbs up to continue, are ready to move on to produce design mockups in your design software of choice.

Now, let’s fast forward to the point where you’ve designed an interface based on all your research and you’re waiting on feedback…

Ping! There’s that email from your client with numerous suggestions for your design. Le sigh right? Granted, some clients are clued up and will come up with some good ideas and useful information to help with the project, however, if your client is one of these people that insists on changes for the sake of them to make themselves feel useful, question everything. If experience has taught me anything it’s that you should be prepared to stand up for your designs based on the research and planning phase of the project and while it’s not easy telling a client that they’re wrong, letting them figure that out for themselves is – so always ask for justification to their suggestions.

Why

Suggestions such as moving X feature to another area or altering the colour of a specific call to action can always be counter acted with questions like “why do you think that arranging the features this way will benefit your users?” or “is there a particular reason why you want to go against the brand guidelines for the use of that colour?”. Sometimes there will be good justification for the requests and that’s fine. I don’t ask questions such as these because I’m either precious about the design or lazy in that I don’t want to do the changes, they simply come from wanting a better insight into the client’s way of thinking.

On other occasions the client will respond with comments such as “ah I dunno…”, “…it was just an idea” or even more rarely “you’re right, leave it as is” and because they realise that they’re ideas are simply on the spot reactions rather than ways of improving their project, they talk themselves out of it. Told you it was easy.

No

It’s not very often I’ll flat out say no at a request but it has happened. As I previously mentioned, I’m not precious about my design work but if people from well outside the design process are making decisions based on a whim I will, for the sake of my sanity as much as anything else, pull out the big guns. No. Say it out loud, it feels good.

One such request involved turning a website’s main call to action into a flower purely because it was Spring. The website was for a florist’s though right? No, this was for a large used cars sales and van rental company.

What annoyed me most about this request was that it had to go through 3 other people before it got to me and nobody else questioned it’s validity. The job was later completed by someone else, as I knew it would, but at least I stood up for myself, my work and my sanity.

I am not a yes man and yes, I am proud of that.

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