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I hate green!

Q:How do you deal with a client who expresses a strong preference for something like, “I don’t like green!”?


A: We go to Disneyland every summer. (Every designer should, by the way.) But this summer we decided to take my nephew Rui. It’s important that you see what Rui looks like so I’ve included a photo. He’s not an imposing kid. He’s fifteen, shy and quiet. But he grew up in Philadelphia.

So during our trip to Disneyland we stop for lunch. The place is packed. I stand in line to place our order and I tell Rui to hover around the table area and snag one when it frees up.

A family eventually gets up and Rui makes a beeline for the table, sits down, looks over at me, and gives me a thumbs up. I give him a thumbs up right back. Then I notice a woman walking up to him. And loud enough for me to hear, she says to him, “I was waiting for that table.”

Most kids would have gotten up at that point. Rui calmly looks at her and says, “OK.” He doesn’t budge.

She’s now taken off guard. She says, “I believe you’re sitting at my table.”

Rui replies, “OK.”

She stands there for a few minutes and eventually walks off, obviously frustrated. It’s important to stress that at no point during the interaction did Rui raise his voice, scowl, or behave in a way that wasn’t respectful. He merely listened to what she was saying and acknowledged that he had heard it.

I’ve never been prouder.

When a client says, “I don’t like green”, most designers translate the sentence into “You must change the green.” But no one asked you to, did they? They merely made a statement about their subjective dislike of a particular color. Your job, as a designer, is first and foremost to listen. And then to gather data. Don’t jump the gun. How, if at all, does the client’s subjective taste enter into the success of the project?

Your role is to be a problem-solver, not a people pleaser. So beware the urge to change your work simply because someone voices a displeasure. You weren’t hired to be nice or to make friends. If you can do either of those while also doing good work, then go for it. But don’t do it at the expense of doing your job.

Let’s also remember that clients aren’t trained at giving feedback. When they make a subjective statement like “I don’t like green”, they might actually be trying to tell you that they don’t think the green works. It’s on you to figure that out, though. Ask the right questions to steer them back from that subjective answer.

“Do you think the green decreases the likelihood of a user achieving their goal? If so, can you elaborate?” (Insert your own specific goal there.)

You’ll most likely get an answer like “I don’t know. I just don’t like it.” It’s at this point that you better have a non-subjective reason for why you used that green. And give that reasoning in an objective manner. You don’t want to fight their subjectivity with your own.

But, on the off-chance that the answer is “Yes!”, ask for specifics on how. The client may have a valid point that you hadn’t thought of.

And if you’ve made your case and they still tell you they don’t like green, ask if they want you to explore other options. Then, and only then, do you consider changing the green.

But not to purple. I hate purple.

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7 thoughts on “I hate green!

  1. Mark Busse says:

    Hoo boy, I can’t wait to try saying “OK” to a client and then basically ignore their concerns and speak to them in condescending terms like a psychiatrist (“Tell me more about how you feel ..”). An alternative approach would be to include the client earlier and more often in the process, so that when visual language is revealed, there are fewer surprises in the first place. I’m a fan of the “style tiles” approach to gaining clarity, consensus and trust long before these encounters and conversation take place (http://www.alistapart.com/articles/style-tiles-and-how-they-work/) — and this doesn’t have to be used exclusively on web projects. Then if the client says they dislike an aspect of your proposed design solution, you have something to reference and fall back on as you discuss the reasons behind any visual language choices you made. And if they still dislike green, it’s time to pick a different colour.

  2. João says:

    Your role is to be a problem-solver, not a people pleaser. <- Nice one.

  3. Mike Monteiro says:

    Mark, you’re assuming an entire process based on one interaction. Our relationships with clients include many conversations and debates throughout the process. Good luck with your career.

  4. Sure, Mark is right that you need a good relationship with your client to try to stop this kind of conversation happening…but sometimes you just have to accept that the client is asking for something that isn’t instantly reasonable. It’s absolutely right to engage with them in a friendly manner to try and make sure they understand why their feelings and eventual wishes may not be best.

    It’s always galling to then have to still acquiesce to their requests, but at least you know that they are making a conscious decision to ignore best practice and reason, and you know where you stand.

  5. Meefo King says:

    Interesting read; always a tricky situation. I have been designing freelance and in-house for 10 years. In all that time I’ve employed the precise recommended tactics above: ask what specifically they don’t like about it, calmly explain the objective reasoning why it’s a good design decision from a UI standpoint, or how it contributes directly to the goals the client outlined for the project. Not one time–not even once–in all those years has the client replied with something akin to “that makes sense.” 100% failure rate. A good design decision and proper rationale just doesn’t make the client like Green.

  6. Canyon Blog says:

    Great post. This made sense to me. “I hate green” could mean several things; we are problem solvers, not mind readers, so we need to start asking questions. That’s why we call it Work. I have also gotten “It isn’t working, and I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t like it” — extra-credit fun figuring that’n out!


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