Design: Beating Expectations

Ever design something that you’re so proud of, only for the client to make so many changes you’re left with something you’d never share on your portfolio?

We’ve all been there. The client has something in mind for their design and it’s reminiscent of something you’d see in clip art, or in 1991. You sneak in your ideas with the “as-requested” designs, only for them to completely dismiss the good designs and trudge on with the downright ugly designs? I’ve had numerous accounts of this.

But what can you do? After all, they’re the boss and the ones holding your paycheck.

Design a Solution

Here’s the thing, design should be a solution to a problem. In many cases, this is a business problem. Whether that problem is creating a recognizable company identity, connecting with potential or existing customers, selling a product, communicating the brand’s story, and so forth. There are so many aspects of business that can be solved or improved upon with smart and strategic design. Which is where we, as designers, come in.

A designer’s instinct is to make things look good aesthetically, which is often where differing opinions between client and designer come into play. The problem with aesthetics, is it’s subjective. You and everyone else may absolutely love your design, but if the decision maker doesn’t like it — the decision maker doesn’t like. Everyone sees and perceives things differently. For example, some people love orange, some people hate it; it’s purely subjective.

A good designer has a great eye for aesthetics; a great designer has an even better eye for business.

Design for Results

There’s typically a sort of road on which a design’s aesthetic is widely liked or disliked. When a good designer covers the bases and produces a generally well-liked design, that is for many- a win. And it should be! However, to be a great designer, we should be concerned just as much with the aesthetic of the design as we are the results. It doesn’t matter if we produced a truly great design, for say an event sign up — if no one signed up. Or for a product banner, if no one clicked it. In those cases, all the back and forth and fighting for good aesthetic was truly a loss. Whether you got paid or not.

As a designer, the single greatest value you can give your clients is ROI.

Find the ROI

To do this, you have to understand the problem(s) you’re trying to solve with design and content. You should also try to establish as many before and after metrics as possible. At the end of the day it’s not the best looking design that wins, it’s the best functioning. This concept is where things like A/B testing, UX/UI research and testing come from. As our digital age advances, our abilities to take design success from subjective to objective is also advancing. As a designer, you should be doing as much as you can to identify if and how your designs are actually producing an ROI, or not, and be able to course correct.

Know the Scope

The extent to which you dive into data, analytics and ROI of course comes down to scope. Will it be worth your time to worry about all of that for a $50 logo ?

No.

But would informing your client as to why you advise against a certain font or color scheme based on your industry knowledge and experience, not only better inform your client; but also, add value and help make your case for better aesthetic?

Absolutely.

Consult

Which brings me to the biggest business problem we as designers have to solve: design value. A lot of CEOs and decisions makers see sight’s like Fivrr and think “Hey, I can get a logo for $5, I’m being overly generous paying $50”. Which, they’re correct… if what they want is a $5 logo. Someone will always do whatever you’re doing for cheaper, but that does not make it better by any stretch of the imagination.

As a designer, you yourself are a business person, and you have to help your clients and prospects understand the value and importance of good data-driven design. So when a client is really pushing on you that they want to change mockups, and your expertise is sending off internal warning flares as to all the issues and consequences of those changes — TELL THEM. Educate and advise your client with your knowledge and expertise. If you see an opportunity to provide more value but don’t have the budget, work to educate your client as to exactly what they’re paying for beyond just a subjective image.

First and foremost you are an expert and a consultant, so CONSULT. Inform your clients as to why design decisions have been made, their benefits or intentions, explain your hesitations with going another direction. Design is a business tool, and it should be discussed as such. At the same time, if at the end of the day, the client’s request just doesn’t fit your aesthetic fancy but would still perform well, you have to let performance win. So know when to speak up and fight for the ROI of your design and when to let the client get exactly what they asked for. I guarantee, most decisions makers would rather go with your idea over theirs if it was in the better interest of their business to do so — but if they have no reason to believe otherwise, of course they’d rather stick with what they had in mind.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, whatever the decision maker wants is what the decision maker gets. You as the designer should absolutely respect that. But also as the designer, it is your responsibility to educate and inform your decision maker(s) so they can make the best possible decision — whether you agree with that decision or not. Taking the time to present information, data, facts and theories to your client is not only a sure way to increase your value, but it is a way to ensure the right design comes out of a project, and a design you can be proud of.

What do you Think?

How do you handle bad design requests or projects? I’d love to hear what you do when something isn’t going a direction you support and what you do to find ground that’s a win-win.

Design: Beating Expectations

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