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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A weekly series where I answer students’ questions about being a designer. Send me your questions.