One of the principles in my upcoming book “Client Centric Web Design” (gratuitous plug) is that clients should focus on identifying problems and the designer on solving them.
Generally speaking this works well. It means that instead of a client asking a web designer to change the blue to pink, they instead express a concern that their pre-teen girl audience won’t like the blue.
The advantage of this approach is that it allows the designer to understand the underlying problem and maybe suggest alternative solutions. For example the web designer might suggest keeping the blue but adding more unicorns, ponies or other things pre-teen girls like!
The problem with limiting the clients contribution to design
When Marcus was editing the book he was worried that this implied that a client can never make a good design suggestion. That they were in some way incapable of providing solutions.
After initially dismissing this as Marcus being bitter about not being a designer (I like to judge him whenever possible!), it occurred to me that he has a point.
Many web designers take the attitude that clients cannot make valuable design suggestions. However, this is an arrogant point of view.
What the matrix teaches us about clients and design
I remember when I first watched the Matrix. It was an awesome film and I was blown away with the creativity and imagination of the film makers. When Matrix 2 came out I was less impressed but I was excited about them bringing everything together in the third film and once again blowing my mind.
The web was abuzz with ideas about what would happen in the third film. We all had a theory. We all had ideas about a cool ending. None of us were professional film makers, but we had ideas and some of those ideas where damn good. In fact, as it turned out, some of the ideas I read online were considerably better than the rather poor showing of the final film.
My point here is that a group of enthusiastic amateurs were capable of coming up with a more creative and more imaginative ending than the professional film maker. I was first in line to complain that they should have listened to their fans and taken their ideas on board.
How hypocritical then for me to suggest that our amateur clients cannot bring value to the design process. Marcus was right, you don’t need to be an expert designer to make a good design suggestion.
Sure, a professional designer will have a higher success rate and be able to spot problems a client might not see. However, that doesn’t mean the designer shouldn’t encourage, listen to and value the contributions clients make.
I guess this means I will need to start listening to Marcus’ design suggestions from now on.
So what about you? Have you had situations where your client has suggested a good idea? Did you embrace it wholeheartedly or feel a bit pissed off you didn’t think of it? What has your experience been of allowing the client to make design suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.