Can clients make good design suggestions?

Paul Boag

If the Matrix teaches us one thing its that sometimes the client can make better design suggestions than the professional web designer.

One of the principles in my book “Client Centric Web Design” 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 stunned by the creativity and imagination of the filmmakers. 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.

Despite an amazing first movie, the sequels to the Matrix were far less creativity than the ideas floated by the fan base.

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. Not one of us was a professional filmmaker, but we had ideas and some of those ideas were 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 filmmaker. 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.