The gentle art of persuasion
10 January 2005
The customer is always right ... sometimes.
It's an inescapable fact that when you're designing for money, it's always subject to someone else's approval. If they don't give your design the go ahead, then you're not going to get paid. (Or if you have a half decent contract you might get paid but your design won't get used; and at the end of the day isn't half of why you do this job to see your design in action?)
On the other hand, clients pay you for your expertise – presumably because they don't have it themselves and they trust your judgement and experience. Therefore, I'd like to think that it's the duty of a designer to sometimes persuade a recalcitrant client into approving a design. If you didn't believe it was the best option, why did you present it to them?
When you just spent days figuring out the right layout, colours and images for a design – spent hours finding the perfect font – and the first words out of a client's mouth aren't "I love it", then it can be heartbreaking. But obviously you made those decisions for some well thought out reasons, and it behooves you to explain – not argue, never argue – those reasons to your client. Persuade them that this is a good design, but keep an ear open to what they have to say.
If someone simply says they don't like a design it's hard to discuss it with them, let alone improve upon it, so I like to take a few deep breaths and ask "what exactly don't you like about it?" When armed with an exact list of perceived problems with a design you can tackle each of them individually – it's far easier to get agreement on a lot of small problems than on one big one.
Most often a response of distate is based purely on aesthetic pretiness, which in the field of web design makes up only one of many parts that determine a design's success. Aesthetics are also highly subjective. Some people love graffiti, others hate it, but I don't think any one person has the objectivity to declare it either good or bad. Although it may seem vital that the client has to like the aesthetics of a design, most of the time it's not essential, particularly if they themselves aren't part of the design's target group.
Ultimately, I think that when explaining a point of design you want to stray away from aesthetics and frame it in more of a logical and definable framework. Therefore, before the aesthetics of a design element are questioned, I like to explain how it meets both business goals and usability requirements. By pointing at an element and explaining the process behind the choices that make it up – by establishing a strong basis for that element's existence and appearance – it decreases the emotional blinkers that aesthetics often introduce.
Them: "I don't like reversed text."
Me: "Well, these studies show that readability is unaffected by the light/dark combinations of foreground and background, and is instead affected more by absolute contrast. I have of course ensured that the contrast is of optimum readability by running it through a contrast checker. Additionally, the background colour on this section reinforces the branding of the company and recedes from the brightness of the main section, lessening its visual demand upon the user."
You see how it goes.
Of course, if you have a bad design, all the persuasion in the world isn't going to do any good, but I've found that a reasoned and logical approach helps you deliver some understanding when everyone's not quite on the same wavelength.
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