On Design Decisions & Hazing Your Clients

The design process contains countless twists and turns which can (read: “do”) alter the project significantly down the line. Sometimes they’re small things like this solid grey instead of that gradient; this width or that width; this color, this shape, this font, this etc. Sometimes they’re bigger decisions: this column there, this image, this message, this size.

All of the “this’s” are decisions that we designers make, sometimes aware, sometimes unawares. Have you ever slipped on the mouse, fk’d something up, and ended up sticking with it because it looked pretty good actually? I have. More than I feel comfortable admitting.

We’re designers, we make decisions. The decisions effect the final product. That’s why people hire us.

I was working with a friend on a website design/development project and I had sent him several sites to look at for inspiration. This is what I wrote him about looking at these sites.

The next step: I want to hear from you about each of the sites listed above. We could do it over the phone or you can do it in writing. BUT I want your time on this. I’d prefer that you look at these and write out your thoughts on each one… go through the sites a little… be very verbose: use a lot of words. instead of just writing little things, write longer things; things about how you like this and you don’t like that and about how your dad never played catch with you so there can’t be any baseballs on the site, and all-in-all just give me the WHOLE picture about what you’re feeling about these sites and the design elements that make them up, kind of like what I’m doing to you right now because, at the cost of you hating me, at least you know what I’m talking about and what I want from you.

Why do I need you to spend time on this? Why won’t I just open up photoshop and see what happens? Because I need your front-end input on these kinds of ephemeral design leanings for this project. As I design there are hundreds of little decisions I need to make, and I want to have your voice guiding me through those decisions so we don’t wast all manner of time getting things right.

Have I made myself clear? I need you on this. I need your time and attention for an hour or two to give me your best on this. Also, bring up sites you know of and like for this design.

Ok, posse out.

I wrote that to help my client understand why I wanted him to take this seriously, why I needed him to say more than, “I like the top one.” But I wrote it for another reason as well.

At the very end of the design process you want the client to be happy; you want the client to feel good about this whole thing, proud about it.

Yet, the ‘goodness’ or ‘baddness’ of a design is often so wishy-washy, hard to explain, often hard to make the experience of the design last. Who knows what comment will stick in Chuck CEO’s craw about the design and make him unhappy/happy depending on his/her lunch and morning commute.

If you want your client to like your design you have to make them work for it.

It’s kind of like hazing – that process by which military people beat the sh!t out of new military people to welcome them to the family. A few years back I remember all this press about hazing. What struck me as weird is how people would say things like, “yea, it totally sucks, how unfair, etc.” and then continue to haze new recruits.

I think the hazing was actually a big part of helping the new guys feel like a part of the team… eventually. I always think of being a freshman in the movie Dazed and Confused… running from the paddles. Or being a senior, running after the long-hair with my paddle, Aerosmith wailing over the top.

Hazing, senior spankings, they’re microcosms of bootcamp, which is a macrocosm of the buzz cut – all things that force you to put some “skin in the game.”

NB: I don’t want you to schedule a hazing meeting with your new client. We have to be a lot more strategic than that. What we have to do is allow our clients to get some skin in the game throughout the process of the design.

If Chuck CEO has some skin in the game, Jessica’s snide comment won’t force us back to square one, rather, Chuck will realize she’s talking about the thing he brought to the table, that he owns to some degree, and he won’t be as quick to dismiss what he’s sweat a little over.

It’s about ownership, about sweat. That’s part of turning pro as designer: realizing your client won’t be truly happy with the design unless there’s a little bit of their own sweat on the thing.

So, go paddle down on some freshmen, haze a drill sergeant, make some room in your process for the client to own some of the responsibility, to put some skin in the game.

The Matterful Monthly

A monthly for modern meaning makers from Chase Reeves about building lifestyles of significance.

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